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‘Providing the insight to help decision-makers target resources more effectively with West Yorkshire’s regional Data Observatory’

Background

The Yorkshire and Humber Data Observatory Programme consists of several initiatives each providing either tools or processes to collect, store and analyse data. This insight is used by local government officers, the general public and other stakeholders to improve understanding and decision making either within an authority or across authorities throughout the Yorkshire and Humber region. The West Yorkshire Observatory - a ‘one-stop-shop’ website for information and intelligence about West Yorkshire - is one of these initiatives.

Funding was initially made available through the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (RIEP) and the Programme was part of a wider Regional Observatory programme including South Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. The project included a review of existing Observatories and the technologies they used to deliver the project. Following a review, it was agreed that a solution based on the Humber Observatory technology would be the most appropriate.

Getting started

A cross-organisational officer working party was set up to develop the project which was designed to replace the five existing and independent systems run by Bradford; Calderdale; Kirklees; Leeds and Wakefield. In some cases these systems had been in place for many years and were based on differing legacy technologies. Most of these systems consisted of online tools that had become unsupported or were out-of-date, and the cost for replacing them was considered too high.

Speaking on behalf of the West Yorkshire Observatory, Malachi Rangecroft (Intelligence Manager in the Intelligence and Improvement Department at Leeds City Council) says: “Replacing individual systems, run by each of the local authorities, with one that was based on a single shared technological platform that could be quickly implemented and easily maintained was considered a much more cost-effective and efficient solution.”

Another advantage of selecting a single solution was the ability to ensure that core national and local data used by partner authorities was consistent, accurate and only needed to be loaded into the single InstantAtlas Server once (providing consistent data to the five West Yorkshire authorities and to the public). The intention was to save a considerable amount of officer time in sourcing, loading and providing data for each of the previous systems used by the individual local authorities. The team then began to build the website and incorporated InstantAtlas as the data visualisation software element.

Meeting the need

The Observatory provides key statistics, profiles with contextual information and interactive mapping which allows even non-technological users to easily visualise and identify selected areas and themes with ease. Having this powerful resource online means users are able to target existing resources and supporting the evidence-base for policy related interventions. It also allows users to search data by theme, geography, list name of indicators, compare areas or search for individual themes.

Malachi is aware, from positive feedback, that the Observatory has a wide range of users which includes various partner agencies as well as public users. Partners from the third sector continue to use the Observatory as a resource to provide local evidence and intelligence at a small area level with comparative figures to support community-based bid writing. Academics and anyone who is interested in local data are all invited to become part of the user community.

“Each authority is promoting the website as a one-stop-shop for data and intelligence and our aim is to ensure there is a direct link between the data that is available and the reports we provide. That means anyone who finds data in one of our reports can track it back to the website for themselves which improves data transparency across the region,” says Malachi.

Google Analytics shows that there are up to 300 West Yorkshire unique visitors per day (with up to 2,000 unique page views per day) and peaks of visitors corresponding to announcements or Tweets regarding updates on the site. He says: “We also know that 54 per cent of visits are returning users indicating they are getting value out of the system. Each visit last between five to 12 minutes with an average of about six minutes.”

The team has also received positive feedback from elected members. One councillor from Morley, South Ward in Leeds, says: “I am impressed by the ease of access, together with the depth of data available. Overall looks excellent to me.” The Head of Scrutiny and Member Development says: “This is very exciting and my colleagues in Scrutiny will certainly look to see how it will add value to our evidence gathering sessions.”

How the Observatory is being used in Bradford

Stephen Davis, Analyst at Bradford Metropolitan Council explains how the website is being used in Bradford. “We have been using the observatory as a tool to help managers to plan resources and services in response to local need, corporate priorities and wider agendas,” he says.

“An example of how a service has used the Observatory is the use of the interactive maps which has allowed Children’s Centres managers to understand where their users are from – in relation to each of the Children’s Centres, something that was very difficult to provide previously.”

An interactive area profile map produced for the Neighbourhoods Service has allowed ward data to be presented visually using a number of key measures and themes with comparators all on one screen. Prior to this, neighbourhood profiles were resource intensive and distributed using Excel worksheets to over fifty Neighbourhood Wardens and Officers every time an indicator was updated. Now it is automatically updated and users can go to the Observatory direct where they can view the most up-to-date profile as well as downloading the supporting data. This has also led to greater consistency, efficiency, transparency and users can now access the same data which is being used to inform decisions being made at a ward level.

How the Observatory is being used in Kirklees

Andy Shackleton, Research Officer at Kirklees Metropolitan District Council says: “Kirklees Metropolitan District Council has been visualising data for many years using standard GIS mapping and Microsoft Excel which were used to produce area profiles created as pdfs which were very time-consuming to create and keep up-to-date. Developing Profiles for multiple areas using InstantAtlas has made this task much easier and something that would have been impossible to do using any other method than via InstantAtlas Server. Similarly interactive maps can now be created easily and in a quantity which would be impossible without it.”

“As an example Children’s Services have been able to access both the most up-to-date data for their bespoke areas quickly and easily. Kirklees Observatory has developed profiles and data views for Children Centre areas that relate to Children's Centre defined areas and have been populate with a range of useful and easily accessible data. This was something that was also not previously available to Children’s Centres”.

Mary-Weastell

Mary Weastell, Strategic Director Business Support, Bradford Council says: “The project has revolutionised the way in which the public sector is able to work together with local communities and in partnerships. It has increased our knowledge-base and strengthened the decision making process.” Read more >>

How the Observatory is being used in Wakefield

Stuart Robinson, Corporate Performance& Intelligence Manager at Wakefield Council says: “The Wakefield Observatory is fast becoming the place to look for data on the Wakefield District, providing a quick route to data that previously was difficult to find, and the standardisation of data to a range of geographies makes comparisons quick and easy.”

“The Observatory is also an important tool in support of Area Working in Wakefield. As well as offering a secure repository for partners to share reports and analysis, the Area Profiling tools within the Observatory are speeding up the production of profiles, improving data quality and facilitating intelligence-led area plans.

“The Public health team is leading on a number of novel developments, including the preparation are dissemination of small area data and mapping for indicators in the Public Health Outcomes Framework. Advance work is also underway to embed content from the Observatory, in real time, into the Wakefield JSNA (Joint Strategic Needs Assessment) website. As well as offering a wide range of evidence for the JSNA, these links ensure that the JSNA benefit immediately and automatically from the quarterly data pack updates from OCSI.”

Future developments

Malachi says that the intention is to continue to develop and promote the Observatory, as it will be the key local information system for disseminating the 2011 Census. In addition, the project team is hoping that more locally-sourced data from partners (such as the NHS and West Yorkshire Police) will provide a wider range of timely data and information.

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Key benefits

  • The Observatory is a one-stop shop for information, data and intelligence and is now the primary location for strategic documents, such as the local JSNA and the State of the City reports
  • The Observatory profile has been raised and local authority teams have been encouraged to use the Observatory as the place to disseminate their data and intelligence products
  • Data contained in the Observatory can be used to answer ad-hoc inquiries saving precious time and resources
  • The Observatory provides a partnership platform – not just between individual local authority members but also with the NHS, the police and other strategic partners
  • The data visualisation tool has made it possible to provide the depth of data and variety of information now available through the Observatory
  • The Observatory supports the transparency and Open data agenda, as users can see the evidence data used to inform decision making. Data is available at a variety of spatial levels. These include Wards, Lower Super Output Areas and locally-determined neighbourhoods, as well as flexible user-defined areas
  • The Observatory reduces the problems of duplication of accessing and storing data and leads to significant efficiency benefits
  • The Observatory has led to enhanced partnership working and the sharing of expertise across West Yorkshire local authorities
  • Collaborative working to improve data collection has ensured that all partners and members of the community have access to the same information and data gaps
  • The Observatory has improved efficiency and consistency of data collection and analysis. Time can be better spent interpreting and analysing data, rather than in gathering it
Mary-Weastell

Mary Weastell, Strategic Director Business Support, Bradford Council says: “I am extremely pleased and proud to sponsor the West Yorkshire Data Observatory project. This is a prime example of the benefits of joined-up thinking and working that has meant for the first time local authorities in West Yorkshire have been able to provide seamless access to data and intelligence at a local level.

The West Yorkshire Data Observatory provides information which is up-to-date, easy to access and straightforward to understand, whilst maintaining a strong credibility for accuracy and accountability and building a first class reputation with local decision-makers across Councils and key partners.

The project has revolutionised the way in which the public sector is able to work together with local communities and in partnerships. It has increased our knowledge-base and strengthened the decision making process. The intelligence contained in the West Yorkshire Data Observatory has been pivotal for both informing key strategies and service delivery plans which will shape the future, and keep focused on key priorities and also help local people to better understand and access information regarding their community and neighbourhoods.”


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