Twitter Gritter

The weather is getting colder, and, even though it’s still October, there have already been some #uksnow tweets on Twitter.

Sandwell Council Gritter in Birmingham in mid-summer

When I was in the Big Society Vanguard area of Eden Valley, recently, we were talking about the real difficulties which heavy snow causes in that area, which is in England’s most sparsely populated constituency. Last winter, people were snowed in for days, cut off from services and shops, and no one was able to get through to them. And people experienced real difficulties getting information about which roads were clear, which had been gritted, and when. This caused further difficulties in that people sometimes set off on journeys and then came to a section of road that wasn’t gritted and got stuck.

During this conversation, I mentioned the “Twitter Gritter” initiative, started by the wonderful Dan Slee at Walsall Council. Last winter Dan was giving real-time information on Twitter as gritters went out about which routes were being cleared. So, I made a mental note to speak to Dan about how he does this, what technology is involved, and how it might be replicated elsewhere.

So, yesterday, on arriving at the Beyond 2010 conference in Birmingham, I spied Dan across the room, and resolved to quiz him about just how he does it. And this produced a pretty amazing revelation. Dan told me that there is no expensive technology involved. The gritter driver simply texts or emails him as they are about to set out on a route and he puts the information out on Twitter.

This is one of those examples where really simple ideas don’t get spread, when the solution is so straightforward and effective. I had assumed that more people weren’t doing it because it involved some kind of expensive solution, linking GPS devices on gritting lorries with a control centre and online mapping. But, no, some of the best ideas are the most simple ones. And this is yet another example of the ability of the internet and social media to take offline information and amplify it.

This could be another classic Big Society initiative. Dan is employed by Walsall Council, but, it seems to me that there is no reason why local volunteer co-ordinators couldn’t be appointed to receive texts or emails from gritter drivers and output the information to Twitter, Facebook, hyeprlocal websites, and text messaging networks.

We can do this, can’t we?

3 thoughts on “Twitter Gritter

  1. I remember watching the twitter gritter tweets last year, and this has prompted a project in our community to do a similar thing. I see this as big society in action.
    I read a similar post this morning on 5tth.blogspot about people in council offices frightened of losing their job stuffing envelopes. I don’t think they should ‘lose’ their job, but they should be employed to do more… not stuffing more envelopes but using digital ways to do their job, faster, better, more efficiently. The twitter gritter is a good example, many more could be possible, and save a lot of trees too.

  2. JFDI.

    There are some really clever ways to do simple jobs. Whilst you sit in your office (in Penrith, say), it may not dawn on you that there are others all round the area who haven’t had the luxury of a clear road to get to work. Often it takes some serious TV about 200+ people stuck on Stainmore for you to realise that snow has been falling hard and fast elsewhere, and is stopping people getting out of the door, let alone to work or the GP or to pick kids up from school etc.

    What we need to do now is show everyone the roads that are NOT gritted, not safe, not open, not accessible. And to help our council discover how they can help. Do I need to come to Penrith for a copy of my Council Tax bill to claim the bursary for my daughter to do her A levels? No, you can email it. (Now you can! I know it took 23 mins, but you can now, for everyone!!) No-one needs to drive to Penrith any more……

    Our village is more than capable of leaving all the wellies for the kids coming in on the school bus at 4.30 in the bus shelter at the other side of the flooded beck, thanks to a local farmer and his tractor. Just get the kids back here to then wade across the river…..The parents can stay at work then…..

    We can sort out the first mile issues just fine.

    Believe in us, and we will believe in you.

  3. Pingback: ICE INNOVATION: Ten case studies and ideas to innovate in the winter « The Dan Slee Blog

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