The power of citizen-generated data: why even failed repairs count

Participants at our Restart Parties may have noticed the flip-charts we use to log all the devices that we see. In fact, even if you left with an unrepaired item, your visit will not have been a waste of time. Every little bit of data we collect has been going into our Fixometer database, where we are steadily compiling valuable information about which products that are failing the most frequently, why they are failing, and whether we are able to repair them.

What have we learned?

Currently, we’re researching which stories and insights we can get out of the data we are collecting together with 15 repair groups in our network (our full data set is available free for download here). We’ve found that the items brought to us most frequently are medium-sized laptops, mobiles, and small kitchen items.

The categories with the most number of devices fixed are again medium-sized laptops and mobile phones, and this time lamps. These figures may tell us more about the numbers of these items that are purchased than the ease with which they can be fixed: our highest numbers of devices not fixed at events are also laptops and mobiles!

If we are looking purely at fix rates, then we see different results: paper shredders – which we rarely see – have a 100% fix rate, followed by lamps at 68%, desktop computers at 66%, and headphones at 64%. Although we don’t see them very often, flat screens, aircons/dehumidifiers and projectors have the lowest fix rates at our events.

It is particularly important to us that data is collected about the failures of specific parts. The majority of mobile phone problems are with the screen, battery and charging port, while for laptops, slowness and screen problems are most common. With enough examples of the same problem occurring, we are in a good position to suggest design changes to stop a specific recurrent fault from happening, for example by improving software support or ensuring that spare parts are available and easily replaceable.

What’s next?

We’re working on extending the reach of our Fixometer, to help multiple organisations collect and share data in comparable ways. As of July 2017, we have data on over 3,600 devices brought to Restart Parties. It is a good start, but we need more to bring about change. We’re not the only ones collecting data about repair: Repair Cafes and Fixit Clinics are happening all over the world.

Our aim is to team up with other community repair groups and organisations to learn how best to compile these different repair logs. Information about key causes for product failures from this database will give us the evidence we need to put pressure on manufacturers and policy-makers to provide more repairable future products and better support.

We are currently comparing the types of data that other groups already collect at their events. With this information, we’ll be able to determine a set of core details about electronics that should be logged at all community repair events, and a set of optional details. We’ll make it easy for the data collected by every groups to be aggregated and shared with anyone who needs it.

Meanwhile, our own Fixometer app is in further development. We’re adding features to increase the amount and quality of information we collect, such as enabling Restarters to input information live at Restart Parties as they fix. We’re also working towards translating the interface into other languages, such as Italian and Norwegian, and helping Restarter groups embed their impact in their own website and social media channels.

Why does it matter?

Our repair data is also important within a broader context. “As part of our wider mission of actually saying that there’s a systemic problem with the over-consumption of electronics”, says Restart Data Lead, Neil Mather, “it’s good to let people know that there’s an environmental benefit to fixing, and we are keeping tabs on what that impact is.”

So far, our Restart Parties have avoided 4,445kg of electronic waste from entering landfill, and prevented 95,602kg of CO2 emissions, which is equal to the manufacture of 16 cars! See our FAQ for more information on how these figures are calculated.

Our work with data forms the backbone of our advocacy and helps us be as effective as we can be with our fixing. “The important thing is getting the stories right” – says Neil – “you need the data to back that up and to produce those stories.”

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