Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to create KML shape file showing boundary lines of election districts, regions, wards, constituencies

Polling station

Photo by secretlondon123 CC by-SA 2.0

We have local elections on 5th May so we’re thinking about ways in which our students might cover the live results as they come in for our area – Manchester. I thought it would be good to use a map showing the electoral wards that make up Manchester City Council which we could update as the results came in. Something like this….

Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I want to keep it SIMPLE so I just want to stick with Google maps which we can embed easily on CoveritLive. This means finding (or creating) a .kml file which you can import simply into My Maps – without using any code. KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is a special file format for displaying geographical data. It’s especially handy if you want to show boundary lines round countries, counties, electoral wards etc. There are other file formats that do this, but they can’t be used with Google Maps.

Does the KML file already exist?

This is the obvious first step and you may get lucky. I believe some councils do make such maps available on their websites. I couldn’t find one for Manchester. You might also find that someone has already created a kml file for your area so a search in Google maps might yield results. Or a fellow blogger might have created and shared one. You can refine your search using operators:-

Manchester filetype:kml

Searching a council website…

…is often a thankless task. It’s often better to use a google search but with operators. I decided to see what kml files the council did keep with the following search request:-

Manchester filetype:kml

which looks specifically for files ending .kml within the Manchester City Council website. After playing around with this, I discovered that the council did have kml files for individual wards. It also had a list of ward by ward election results from 2015. So, using the list of wards from 2015, I could search the Manchester Council website for each ward individually:-

Levenshulme filetype:kml

City Centre filetype:kml

Then, I simply downloaded the files onto my Mac.

So now I could import each ward into Google maps. Here’s how….

Importing KML files into layers in Google Maps

Create a new map in Google maps. See my previous post on using Google Maps. Click on import and import the first of those kml files you just downloaded. As if by magic, the outline of that ward will appear on your map. Create a new layer and import the kml file for the next ward. Do the same for all the wards until…..

Screenshot maps layers

Yep, turns out Google Map has a 10 layer limit and there are considerably more wards than that in Manchester and most places, I guess. So now I need to find out if there’s a way to merge the layers somehow or, perhaps, merge the kml files into one.

Merge KML files in Google Earth

I spent a lot of time Googling this one. There are certainly solutions out there but most of them involved some coding knowledge which I don’t have. But I came across a couple of posts which suggested the files could be merged simply by dragging them into a folder in Google Earth. That seemed do-able!

  1. Download Google Earth. This doesn’t seem to work at the moment on the Mac, annoyingly, so I had to download it on my laptop. I’d never used Google Earth before but I had no problem working it out for this simple exercise. The hyperlink above from Texas811 was very helpful.
  2. Open KML files in Google Earth. Just click File > Open and access the folder where you’ve saved all those kml files. These are now displayed in Google earth.
  3. Create a new folder in Google Earth and rename it. Add > folder. Drag all those kml files into this new folder.
  4. Save the folder as a new KML file. Do this by right clicking on the folder and clicking Save Place as. Save it to your computer.

You now have a single kml file that will display all the boundaries of all the wards in Manchester City Council in a single layer in Google Maps. Like this….

And that opens up all sorts of options for showing the results as they come in.

Hacks/Hackers Manchester – Contributoria and Quarantine

Openness and participatory media were the broad themes of January’s Hacks/HackersMcr meet-up. What kind of magic happens if you open yourself up to a community of strangers either face-to-face or online? And is there such a thing as a free lunch – in the Northern Quarter, at least?

We were very pleased to welcome Dean Vipond of Contributoria.

“Contributoria is a community funded collaborative platform for journalists launched at the start of 2014 and supported by the Guardian Media Group in the UK. This cheeky short film has been created by illustrator Nic Hinton and animated by @BennyCrime and explains what’s on offer at the online platform. It was first shown at the International Press Institute conference in Johannesburg in January 2014.”


Dean even brought some revolutionary media product called a NEWSPAPER to share out. Hacks/Hackers were fascinated….

Paper copies of Contributoria


There was a very different presentation from artist, Richard Gregory, who talked about his conversation project in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Walk in to the Kabana curry cafe on the right date, and you could get your lunch for free in return for engaging in conversation with the artists. You follow a conversation menu and just see where it takes you. Are there lessons to be learnt as we seek meaningful engagement with online communities?


As always, thanks to Kosmonaut for letting us hijack their basement and apologies to the table tennis players if we encroached on their game….


Manchester – a Data Journalism hub?

I wrote a guest blog post for Open Data Manchester looking ahead to the Data Journalism event they’re holding on Tuesday 23rd September at MMU’s trendy new digital innovations space, The Shed.  Here it is….

Photo by Yan Arief Purwanto on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by Yan Arief Purwanto on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Journalists don’t do maths.

It’s a sad cliche but there’s a lot of truth in it. Journalism is traditionally considered a “humanities subject.” In fact, I’m convinced a lot of people go into journalism precisely because they think it means never having to do maths ever again.

But increasingly journalism is becoming a numbers game. It’s no longer just about searching for scarce information; journalists need the skills to filter and analyse the over-abundance of data that’s out there. Other industries are already using Big Data and journalism can’t afford to miss out on this vast source of stories and hard evidence.

We’re very lucky here in Manchester. We already have journalists doing great things with data which we’ll hear more about at ODM’s next event on 23rd September. Some of you may have met Data Journalists and wondered how they got to be that way. I’m guessing most of them didn’t learn how to do it at journalism school. They’re probably self-taught enthusiasts who saw the way newsrooms needed to move and made sure they acquired the necessary skills.

So that’s why I approached ODM to see if they could help bring together the worlds of data and journalism here in Manchester. I believe our city has the potential to become an important hub for developing the next generation of journalists who will be numerate and digitally literate as well as having all the core journalism skills we still need. We already have the building blocks – ODM itself, a sizable tech industry, no shortage of journalists and hundreds of journalism students who want to acquire skills that will make them employable after they leave university. The challenge is to get these elements working together, learn from the experts already working in our midst and make sure that filters through to the classrooms where journalists learn their skills.

It may also mean encouraging people who really like numbers to consider a career in journalism.

So with all this in mind, we’re launching a Manchester chapter of the global movement, HacksHackers which is all about creating networks of journalists (the hacks) and technologists (the hackers) who together can “rethink the future of news and information.” Manchester seems the perfect city to do this! We’ll be organising informal events ( including hack days) that bring together our city’s journalists, developers and designers. We’ll be announcing details of our first meet-up very soon so look out for #HHMcr and if you’d like to keep in the loop, do leave a message in the comments here.

Join the ODM community for an open data journalism special on 23rd September.

Flexible, Distant, Open

Photo by Andrew Dennes under Creative Commons License

Those three words are going to dominate my life for the next couple of months.

I’m starting the second, optional module of my Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCaP). In order to satisfy my tech-hungry, future-gazing soul, I’ve opted for the Flexible, Distance and Online Learning Module (FDOL). I’m also intrigued by the learning method. It’s an open, online course and we’ll be joined by lots of colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden as well as colleagues from around the world.

I’ve no idea how the logistics of this will work but it sounds intriguing. It will be interesting to see which technology we’ll decide to use to work together and keep in touch – Google+, hangouts, email?

We’re going to be using Problem Based Learning (PBL) which is another first for me. I’m a little daunted by it, to be honest. I’m wondering if it will create a huge workload because we won’t be given a clear direction by a teacher; we have to find our own way which sounds like we might go down lots of dead ends before finding the right answer. But if we’re working in groups, we should be able to manage this successfully.

But only if the group works well together…. I wonder what we can do right at the start to help the group function well. We have a facilitator to help us when problems arise but I’d rather we avoid problems altogether!! How well do we need to get to know each other? Will we socialise online as well as work together? Or will it be a set of very functional relationships which produces good results for the whole group?

We’re encouraged to use social media during the course. That’s easy for someone like me who lives on social media but I wonder how it might feel for someone who is not used to Twitter etc? Might it feel like an extra challenge to overcome before the learning can start? Might it seem irrelevant? Already, there are colleagues posting first time tweets which is great to see and I hope we can make them feel welcome and help to show them how social media can help their work and development.

The good thing is we’ll all have some knowledge to bring to the virtual table, we’ll all have problems we’ll need some help with. My main hope is that we can support each other and maybe have a little fun.

If you’d like to follow my progress, I shall be working on a portfolio as part of my final assessment. Please feel free to drop by.

My challenge for 2013. What’s yours?

What’s the point of 2013?  It’s the year AFTER the London Olympics.  It’s the year BEFORE the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire.  It’s a year without focus or excitement.

So, having accepted that 2013 will be sad and meaningless, we need to create our own individual methods for getting through what will seem like an endless 365 days.  There’s no LOCOG any more to do this for us.

My advice is to set yourself a January challenge.  With luck, it’ll take you beyond January and into the latter stages of February.  Then we can regroup and think how we’ll get through the rest of the year.

My January challenge is to collaborate on writing a chapter of a book about teaching with team projects in Higher Education.  It’s being edited by Dr Janice Whatley from the Salford Business School at the University of Salford.  My contribution will be a tiny part of the overall book but it’s still a challenge.  I’m very new to academia and the demands of academic writing.  I’m hoping to learn lots from the people I’m working with on this chapter.

Our chapter will explore a session we participated in during the PGCAP (Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice) Core Module in the Sep 2012 semester.  We formed action learning sets which worked together to “flip the classroom” as we explored different learning theories.  Each action learning set was asked to investigate a particular learning theory (in my case – experiential learning).  Our challenge was to check the relevant Wikipedia entry for inaccuracies and gaps and add our findings to the specific page.  We did that pre-session.  Then the whole class came together and mind-mapped our learning theories to present to the rest of the group.  Q & As followed as we challenged and sought relevance for each of the learning theories.


I found editing wikipedia really exciting! Could I really delete something without the whole internet collapsing?


I was then hoping to go to a Manchester Girl Geek wikipedia edit day to learn more about writing and researching for wikipedia because women are under represented – but other work stuff got in the way.  Can we have another one please?

But back to the book chapter.  I’ve not done collaborative writing before and I’m intrigued to see how it works.  I’m used to “owning” what I write and then letting a second pair of eyes see the finished project and make what adjustments they see fit.  Collaborating on a google doc is a very different process.  Will it make me more self-conscious about what I write?  Will I be intimidated by the quality of my colleagues’ work?  How will I feel when somebody re-writes my work?  Will I ever dare to re-write my colleagues’ work beyond simple proof-reading?

So far, I’ve volunteered to look at some of the literature on using technologies for collaboration and how to make groups work.  I’ll be starting with Laurillard, Wenger, Conole and Jenny Moon.

My main challenge is how to get any meaningful work done whilst my daughters are off school…..