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Giving public sector researchers the intelligence they need to inform better planning


Ireland’s All-Island Regional Research Observatory (AIRO) was initially established as a pilot project with the guidance and lead of the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) and the National Centre for Geo-Computation (NCG) based in the National University of Ireland Maynooth

The initial aim of the project was to provide reliable information through the collection, analysis and mapping of data relevant to the cross-border region. It was aimed to act as a spatial, social and economic databank resource for community, public and private bodies. Since then the AIRO project has broadened its horizon and developed a series of interactive mapping tools for all local and regional authorities in Ireland.

Getting started

We spoke to Justin Gleeson, Data and Technical Manager, National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) about the project. He says: “The idea was to develop a data portal that would provide relevant and time-series information for the public sector to help evidence and inform planning. There was lots of data out there but it was not being managed properly and it was therefore not available for decision makers and researchers. We wanted to enable decision making to be done on an evidence basis.”

Justin says the aim was to produce specialist data sets that could be used by individuals who would not normally have access to this information – or who would otherwise have to look hard to find it.

Having worked in the GIS industry in the UK for a number of years, Justin was already familiar with InstantAtlas. He says: “Lots of Regional Observatories in the UK were using it and I have always been impressed by software. It was ideal for what we were trying to do – we didn’t want to develop a GIS system. It was more about presenting data in an easy-to-access format. Simplicity was the attraction.”

The first data set used was census data for every local authority and regional authority. This is a rich source of intelligence on local communities and helps to explain demographic changes – for instance the maps can be used to show the changes in particular age groups over time in a specific locality. Recent outputs have included:

Justin is also impressed by the speed at which applications can be updated with new datasets. The 2011 provisional census results were released in Ireland on the 1st July 2011 at 11am. At 6pm that day Justin and his team had updated all of the InstantAtlas mapping tools on the website to incorporate the new figures. This has generated great interest amongst all local authorities across the country and Justin believes InstantAtlas is the ideal tool for visualising the new trends at a local level.

recorded crime map | AIRO

Meeting the need

According to Justin, the resource has proved popular and it has helped people get a more indepth understanding of what the data can be used for. For instance, individuals are using the intelligence to develop funding applications.

“We have done a couple of enhancements using the Google Maps facility which gives the reports a different look. For some people this makes a big difference because when they open up the resource for the first time, they immediately feel more comfortable,” he says.

Future developments

Justin has updated the website with a housing module containing data from the Department of Environment Survey of unfinished estates. This report released in 2010 was based on an audit of the number of new developments unfinished in the wake of the property market collapse. The report attracted a great deal of media attention and allowed users to visualise the location of these estates across the country. The next big release is going to be based on a large crime dataset. Although this information is available to the public it has yet to be fully accessible and in mapped format.

  • InstantAtlas helps AIRO disseminate existing information
  • New data sets can be added quickly
  • The intelligence is presented in an easy-to-use format
  • Comparison between different geographical areas is much easier than it was before
  • Comparison is made easier with one source of intelligence

New! AIRO we have begun the process of migrating all of our Instant Atlas mapping modules from Flash based technology to HTML 5 see reports

Other stories and news that may interest you

NEW - Launch of All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) Website and Dublin City Council Housing Monitoring Tool

Fingal County Council (ROI) - How Fingal County Council is using data presentation to evidence strategic planning

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) - Using data presentation to get detailed insight on health and social inequalities to a wide range of users

Locus Insight, Ireland - Helping individuals and organisations gain insight from public sector data using interactive online reports


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News and Articles


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The Institute for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Texas | ‘Making data available to the community through easy-to-use data presentation tools’

Public Health Organization

Public Health Organization – ”Using data presentation to aid the policy-making process”