Repair data @ Fixfest 2022

[photo by Mark A Phillips]

Fixfest 2022 took place in Brussels at the start of October, and we went along to share the topic of repair data and the data work of the Open Repair Alliance.  Read on for a summary of the highlights and key areas for follow-ups.

Fixfest 2022

Fixfest is a regular global gathering of repairers and tinkerers, activists, policy-makers, thinkers, educators and companies from all over the world. It takes place every couple of years. The most recent Fixfest was in October 2022 in Brussels.

The Open Repair Alliance was founded at the very first Fixfest in 2017 in London and has since collected and shared 62,000 records of repair data.  In Berlin in 2019, we ran a small citizen science event that went on to inform the online microtasks that have fed in to our Insights.   This year, our focus was on the ways in which repair data is collected and what it can tell us.

Knowledge is power: how to record repair data and what it can tell us

We had a stall at Fixfest over the course of the conference, where anyone could come and chat to us about the data work of the Open Repair Alliance – or even ask us to run ad-hoc queries of the Open Repair Alliance data to answer a burning question!   You can find a set of links related to our Fixfest booth here.

Additionally, we co-facilitated a dedicated session on repair data – Knowledge is power: how to record repair data and what it can tell us.  The session was organised by Margaret Hersee of Chesterfield Repair Cafe, and Monique Szpak and Neil Mather of The Restart Project.

We opened the session with a brief introduction to the journey of the repair data – from repairs at community repair events around the world, to collection and digitisation of that data, to the combination of that data by the Open Repair Alliance, to the use of the data in policy and campaigning.  You can find the full presentation here.

We then broke out into lively group discussions for people to discuss their successes and challenges around data collection.  Community repair events (such as Repair Cafes, Restart Parties, Fixit Clinics) are busy and bustling events run by volunteers.  It’s not always easy to log information at the event, and to find the time afterwards to upload it somewhere in a digital format. We discussed approaches with which to tackle these challenges.  

[photo by Mark A Phillips]

The three main themes that surfaced were:

  • how to raise awareness of why repair data collection is important; 
  • what tools can be used to simplify the data collection; 
  • and who can be involved in the data collection.

We’ll summarise the discussion here, and will be publishing a more detailed report on our own experiences of the different data collection methods in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

Raising awareness of the power of repair data

Repair groups often start to collect their own repair data organically – it can be fun and motivating to reflect on the successes of your group, and can also be helpful for funding applications.  Things such as types of items seen and whether they were fixed or not are often collected by groups.

In other cases, a group might be part of a larger network of groups, and the network coordinators ask the groups in the network to collect additional data.  As it takes time and effort to collect the data, it’s important to know why it is being collected and what it is being used for.  This is especially true for information that might not be obviously or immediately useful to a single group – such as age of items, what the exact fault was, and what the barriers to repair are.  In addition to explaining the long-term uses of this information in campaigning and policy consultations, it is worth exploring how this information can be of use to individual groups and to individual repairers, too.  For example, insights from the data can show a repairer the successful fix rate of the category of item they have tried to fix.

Some specific suggestions for raising awareness were:

  • Present to volunteers why repair data is important.  Run tutorial sessions and Q&A sessions on how to collect it and why.
  • Run competitions to add a fun element to recording the data.
  • Produce charts and reports that show the impact for the network as a whole.
  • Share news back to groups of how data has been fed into campaigns and policy consultations.

Ideas to simplify data collection

There are many ways in which repair data can be collected – and lots of different people who could be involved in the collection. We discussed both of these topics.

Tools and techniques for data collection

We discussed the various ways in which different community repair groups collect repair data, including flipcharts, paper forms, spreadsheets, digital forms, and bespoke web applications built for repair groups.  Each of these have their pros and cons and suitability for different contexts. We agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution – but by sharing experiences and ideas and solutions we can all help each other improve our data collection.

Some ideas discussed:

  • Provide a starter paper form that any new group could use and adapt
  • Investigate paper-to-digital workflows using tools like Google Lens
  • Provide an Open Repair Data Standard compliant Google Form
  • Allow for spreadsheet imports in to platforms like Repair Monitor or
  • Record audio interviews at events and transcribe afterwards
  • Take photographs of devices for either manual or automatic processing

Who collects the data

Even with tools and techniques above, there is still the issue of who has the time to collect the data.  Generally so far it is hosts and repairers who collect the data.  However, event organisers are often busy running the event itself, and repairers are busy fixing, so they don’t always have the time to spend collecting comprehensive repair data.

Some ideas discussed:

  • Involve event visitors
    • Visitors to events have their own knowledge on the item and the problem – as well as potentially any repair attempts they have tried themselves or useful information they have found already. 
    • Visitors could e given a checklist of questions with which to ‘interview’ the repairer during the repair – this helps to give the visitor a more active role, and frees the repairer.  Repair Cafe Wales have been trialling this approach.
  • Try dedicated data volunteers
  • Follow up with repairers soon after the event
    • Repairers tend to really enjoy sharing information on their repair attempts – they just often don’t have time to do it (other than verbally) during an event.  Asking for more info a day or two after the event could help.

Other topics discussed

  • Who owns the data?: Anyone who collects data wants to feel some ownership of this data – so being able to extract the data from any digital platforms is important.
  • Share qualitative data: in addition to quantitative data (such as item type, brand, repair outcome, etc), it is motivating for people to collect and share qualitative data – such as the stories behind the item and the people who brought them.

Next steps

It was great to be able to meet with the global repair community again at Fixfest, and to share successes, challenges and ideas around repair data.  There will be a global Fixfest discussion platform set up soon, to keep the conversations going until the next in-person Fixfest event – and data will be one of the channels.  

As mentioned, we’ll be sharing a more in-depth report on our own experiences of the various repair data collection methods soon – watch this space.

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