Creating the code for a better country

MyQ.ie feeds estimates of ticketed waiting time into your mobile phone

Mark Montgomerie with his app myq.ie outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau in Dublin – the app helps people save time when queuing for public services. Below: computer code can make life a lot easier. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mark Montgomerie with his app myq.ie outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau in Dublin – the app helps people save time when queuing for public services. Below: computer code can make life a lot easier. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Mark Montgomerie watched as scores of foreign nationals collected their tickets and sat down, settling in for an afternoon of hanging around the overcrowded Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) office on Burgh Quay. By his second visit to the Dublin office, Montgomerie was fed up spending a whole afternoon waiting to renew his visa.

“There was a machine in the background issuing tickets and saying which number had to come next. I wanted to create something more electronic and useful. After the second time I had to wait in the queue I got talking to some developers and we kicked around some ideas.”

In July 2014, Montgomerie launched the myq.ie app to help people save time when queuing for public services. The app, which was created through crowd-sourcing using data provided by previous customers, calculates queuing times at the GNIB offices, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Intreo Centre on Parnell Street.

“All it does is when you get the ticket you punch in the number of the ticket in your phone and instead of sitting in a queue you can do something more useful with your time,” says Montgomerie, who moved to Ireland from New Zealand in 2011 and works as a management consultant. He created MyQ.ie in his spare time with the support of Code for Ireland.

Code for Ireland, which launched nearly two years ago, was created by volunteer coders and developers to help improve the lives of people using technology and to connect communities with their government, says co-founder Ciarán Gilsenan.

Facilitating role

“We see a lot of people from communities trying to engage with their users and we can connect those dots,” says Gilsenan. “We’re just acting as facilitators. People may not know anything about technology but want to build something in their community.” Inspired by Code for America, which builds online tools to make government services easier to use, Code for Ireland hopes to use technology to find solutions to problems faced by communities across Ireland, says Gilsenan.

The Code for Ireland team of seven people, assisted by a larger community of up to 700 people around the country, are working to create applications to make life easier when dealing with healthcare, education, safety and security services. The group also works with young people who have graduated from the CoderDojo coding clubs, encouraging them to apply their technological skills to help build services in their local communities.

The latest project in development is a water quality app which uses data from Irish Water to show how clean our drinking water is. “The information is already there on the site but it’s not easy to use,” says Gilsenan. “We’re asking Irish water for the data because it’s hidden in their website. Let’s make it really simple for people. If you give us that data we can give people the latest information on the quality of their water.” A spokeswoman for Irish Water said they had provided Code for Ireland with the latest data from local authorities which is updated on a monthly basis. Asked whether Irish Water would be willing to display the app on its website, the spokeswoman said the information was already available to customers online through water.ie.

Locating defibrillators

Code for Ireland has also created a mobile phone application to help people recover their stolen bikes and the “Save a Selfie” app in collaboration with the Order of Malta and Dublin Fire Brigade which helps members of the public locate emergency equipment such as defibrillators in their local community.

Gilsenan says the code used to create the MyQ.ie ticketing app could also be used in hospitals by patients waiting for blood tests and other ticketed appointments. “Applying it to a hospital would be the same thing,” he says. “Let’s say we went into James’s and had access to the [blood-testing] ticket counter. We could feed that info back in real time and say come back in an estimated two hours.”

A spokesman for St James’s Hospital in Dublin said the hospital already has its own queuing system in place for blood tests and had introduced self-registration kiosks for outpatients. However, he added that the hospital was open to engaging with new technology and innovation to improve its services.

Gilsenan says Code for Ireland could also build a notification system whereby users would receive a reminder on their phone 30 minutes before they needed to return for their appointment.

The GNIB queuing app is “the first test” to see if people are interested, says Gilsenan. However, he says the Government is reluctant to engage with the group’s offer of new technology services and that the GNIB does not want to be “the guinea pigs” for the trial period.

After the MyQ.ie app was launched, Montgomerie approached the GNIB requesting to advertise the free app to people queuing in the office.

“The only way to promote it was to put posters up in the toilets,” says Montgomerie, who met with Superintendent Mary Delmar in December 2014 to discuss promoting the app with the support of the GNIB. One year on, he is still waiting for a response from the GNIB.

“My simple request was can we put up posters in the main office. If we put them up people will be able to use the app. But they [GNIB] did nothing.”

He says with support and collaboration from the Government and with access to service providers, Code for Ireland could develop their ticketing application across multiple departments including tax, safety and healthcare. “There is a lot more we can do if we just had interest from them. We could enhance the services they deliver at literally no cost to them. We’re volunteers, we’re not trying to make money out of them,” he says. “The app is 100 per cent free and always will be. The code is open source so anyone can use or adapt it. If the HSE wanted to use it in James’s they can just grab the source code.”