Researchers changed open data policy and created an online resource of over 10,000 public toilets – helping the elderly, pregnant women and people with medical conditions.

Impact

  • Bichard and Ramster's research highlighted the need for open data about public toilets, leading to the first national standard for this data and a change in Ordnance Survey policy to remove licence restrictions on public toilet locations.
  • The Great British Public Toilet Map is now the UK's largest database of publicly accessible toilets, listing 10,268 facilities to date.
  • The website has recorded 117,561 unique users since its launch in 2014. The public have added nearly 1,000 toilets to the site.
  • Health services and charities now routinely include details about the map when giving information to patients.
  • The project led to Dr Jo-Anne Bichard advising on the BSI British Standards for the design of accessible and standard toilet provision.
  • The research team was asked to provide research evidence for:
    • Toilet planning at the London 2012 Olympic Games
    • The London Assembly review of the capital's public toilets
    • An update of the public toilet design guide for police, architects and local authorities in Hertfordshire.

"I've suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for the past 10 years and have only learnt to manage it by researching everywhere I go beforehand, so that I know where all the toilets are. Finding your site has meant that I can access all the info I need from my phone wherever I am. It's been quite liberating, thank you for creating!” (User comment, The Great British Public Toilet Map)

About the research

"Previously there was no way for people to find out where the nearest toilet was, no matter where they were in the UK. The information was spread across hundreds of council websites, and really hit and miss - sometimes there was nothing online at all," says Dr Jo-Anne Bichard from the Royal College of Art's Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

With colleague Gail Ramster she has led the research project Tackling Ageing Continence through Theory, Tools and Technology, looking into ways of reducing the impact of incontinence on the quality of life.

"Through research involving over 100 users and providers we identified that the lack of information on toilet provision presented a significant barrier to access," Dr Bichard explains. "We've heard from lots of people, particularly people with medical conditions, about how difficult it is to plan a journey, not knowing whether there would be toilets available at the other end, or whether they would be suitable for their needs."

Bichard and Ramster campaigned for local councils to publish the data they had. This led to a change in Ordnance Survey policy to remove licence restrictions on public toilet locations, and over 100 councils publishing toilet data.

The researchers gathered toilet data from the OpenStreetMap project, from council websites and through 296 Freedom of Information requests, and developed The Great British Public Toilet Map – the largest database of public toilets in the UK.

"We've had lots of supportive comments sent in thanking us for the website – people with Crohn's disease, IBS, prostate cancer, bowel cancer. It's really touching how people have taken to it and want to see it continue to improve for others like them," says Dr Bichard.