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Meeting local community information needs with bilingual microsites


The Local Government Data Unit Wales (the Data Unit) is part of the local government family in Wales. Originally the Data Unit was set up in 2001 to help local authorities and the Welsh Assembly Government use data more effectively so that they are able to understand local priorities and improve the services they provide to the people of Wales. The Unit is now presenting the latest national statistics on its local information system InfoBase service as well as providing access to seven regional information systems.

Local government leads, or contributes, to a wide range of strategies and partnerships. Most require a robust database of small area information to inform planning and service delivery. In the light of this, the Data Unit, along with partner organisations, developed a small area multi data agency dataset at a small geographical level across all Wales (SAMDA). The first version of SAMDA, a CD entitled ‘Data for your local area’, was produced in September 2003 and the second version was published on the Data Unit website in 2005.

In 2008 a project was set up to look at providing a web-based area profiling tool to replace SAMDA. The Data Unit compared a number of different software packages. It needed software that provided good functionality and could produce reports in addition to maps. This was the feature that set InstantAtlas apart from the others.

At the same time the Data Unit also carried out research to establish who would be the main users and to find out a little more about them. They found that users could be divided into three distinct groups: -

  • Those with limited technical skills (both computer and data) simply wanting overview information, maybe a couple of times a year – primarily members of the public (nicknamed ‘Bethan’).
  • Those technically proficient but with no knowledge of official statistics, wanting to use data to inform, for example, funding bids and planning – primarily voluntary organisations, councillors, and local authority officers (nicknamed ‘Alys).
  • Those with advanced computer skills and knowledge of official statistics such as researchers who are already using data (nicknamed ‘Carys’).

After further research, the Data Unit established that the second group would be the prime users so the systems were developed primarily with this group in mind, whilst not neglecting the needs of the others. Users from each group were identified and involved in testing throughout the 11 months of development and continue to be called on whenever there is a major change to the systems.

Meeting the need

To meet the need for an online information system geared to its key personas, the Data Unit launched its national InfoBase service in June 2009 (InfoBaseCymru). Several Welsh local authorities were keen to have their own mini sites based on InfoBaseCymru. The first local site, InfoBaseCaerffili, was therefore launched as a pilot at the same time as InfoBaseCymru, thus creating the InfoBase service.

The national and local systems contain relevant data for the area – local authority, regionally or nationally. Users are presented with information in standard reports, tables and maps and each mini site is given a customised look and feel for local or regional use.

The Data Unit has a requirement to deliver its InfoBase in both English and Welsh languages. InstantAtlas Server (IAS) has built-in multilingual capabilities that enables the Data Unit to accomplish this. All text values that appear in the InfoBase presentation layer websites, whether static or dynamic, can be stored in multiple languages. The InfoBase administrators at the Data Unit can upload text into the InfoBase systems in both languages. The text values for the different languages are managed, uploaded and downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet to make the task of translation and editing very simple. Users of InfoBase can switch between English and Welsh using a drop down menu located in the InfoBase footer or by selecting their language of choice from an initial splash page that the Data Unit has designed.

Anne Williams, InfoBase Project Manager, says that the success of InfoBaseCymru and the initial pilot sites initially took the Data Unit by surprise. “The feedback we got from local authorities was very positive and they wanted us to use more local data that was specific to local needs. So we have ended up creating mini sites for individual authorities,” she says.

Examples of these mini sites include Bridgend County InfoBase and StatsConwy. In total there are ten mini sites that are now live, or are under development. Each of the mini sites is a subset of the main InfoBase website but they have their have their own data which is collected locally and which inform key policies within that area.

According to Anne, one of the key benefits of developing these mini sites is that it has made local data more readily available which means that local authorities don’t have to spend time answering questions because they can direct users to the relevant InfoBase site to find the answers themselves. It also means that data can be collated once and held in one database rather than several organisations collating the same data. “Development wasn’t without issues but Instant Atlas has been very responsive to our needs,” she says.


Key benefits

  • Users can access very specific and relevant national and local data in an easy-to-use interface
  • Promotes consistent data use and enables efficient and effective information sharing, acting as a focal point for Welsh data
  • Facilitates an increased understanding of national and local circumstances and needs
  • Researchers spend less time responding to queries from users, freeing them up for other work

Want to learn more about Local Information Systems for your local authority? - click here

Other InstantAtlas Welsh stories and reports that will interest you

Conwy Borough Council - How data reporting is helping to drive efficiencies at Conwy Borough Council and ensure strategic planners have access to the latest local intelligence

Pembrokeshire County Council - How Pembrokeshire County Council’s online and interactive data resource is helping to reduce ad hoc queries for information

Data Unit Wales - Why would you want a local information system? - Read more

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