Category Archives: Data

Using data to set priorities and get funding – A real life example

Back in the Summer of 2013, I was asked to deliver a ‘data presentation’ at each of our four Locality Partnerships. The brief was pretty simple – each partnership was having a workshop to set their priorities, and to do that, they wanted an understanding of the needs of each area. Each member was asked, prior to the session, to canvas views from residents and visitors to each Partnership area on what they liked, and what they would change about the areas.

To support the qualitative data, I was asked to look at as much quantitative data as possible, and present to the group the key messages that the data told. You can download a copy of that slidedeck here.

After the presentation, and much discussion, some priorities were identified, one of which was to reduce isolation in the elderly. The South Locality has an older population than the other localities (slightly older overall, but some wards very much so), and higher life expectancy. Having looked at the data, it felt right to me that this should be one of their priorities. Project groups were set up in the workshop, with named leads, to tackle each priority.

Fast forward to Spring 2014, I was approached again to support the Locality Partnership. This time, the project group had identified a potential source of funding to support the work, through Our Place In order to complete the bid, we were asked for data that demonstrated that there were people who would benefit from the project targeting isolation in the elderly, at quite short notice.

So we decided to use census data to establish how many older people there were, living alone, at the time of the census. Using table DC1108EW from the census (Living arrangements by age and sex, available on NOMIS) gave us the data that we need – the number of people by ward aged 65 or over, who were living alone, and the number of people aged 65 or over who were widowed.

Chart showing over 65s by Ward
Chart showing over 65s by Ward

The area of focus for the bid was Village ward (Timperley – an economically diverse Ward comprising the Broomwood Estate, and surrounding areas), and the data showed that there were 826 people aged over 65 living alone, which equated to almost 10% of the population of over 16s in the Ward. The high number, and the high concentration, meant that Village Ward seems like a very good place to deliver this kind of project. Here is the population pyramid for the Ward – very different from Trafford as a whole.

Population pyramid for Village Ward, Census 2011
Population pyramid for Village Ward, Census 2011

I found out that on Friday 3rd October that we had been successful with the bid, and had been awarded £20,000 to deliver a range of projects in the Ward, with various partners. Clearly there was a lot of input from other partners in the bid, bu the contribution that the data made should be evident.

Increasing ‘inward investment’ (bringing money into Trafford, by applying for grants or other investment) is one of the things that the Innovation and Intelligence Lab is hoping to do, and this evidences the fact that there is a need for it. As well as increasing investment, however, the work should also go some way towards improving the lives of elderly people in the Ward. Reducing social isolation will make them happier and healthier, which is obviously a good thing to do, but could also reduce demand on other services, such as GPs, and social care.

This, then, in a few short paragraphs is one clear example of how we’ve used data to prompt discussion, and identify a need. The data then supported the bidding process for an amount of money, AND allowed the partnership to target the money and resources in the place it would be most effective. The next step from a data point of view is to measure the effectiveness of the project, and see whether the model is worth repeating in the other Locality areas, to positively affect even more people.

High Five!

Don’t leave me hanging.

Data Journalism – not just for media types

Yesterday evening, (23rd September 2014), on a wet and trafficky night in Manchester, I went to an Open Data Manchester meetup at The Shed – Manchester Metropolitan University’s Digital Innovation Lab. I was late, because of the wet and the traffic. I was also, for reasons that will go unexplained, running to the event through Manchester in a fluorescent emergency jacket.

@_datapreneur in a fluorescent jacket
Picture courtesy @stevieflow

The event was a data journalism special, and brought together some of the leading practitioners and experts in the data and digital journalism fields.

Speaking were Francois Nel and Megan Knight from the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Central Lancashire; Paul Gallagher, Digital Innovations Editor at the Manchester Evening News; Aidan McGuire of ScraperWiki; and David Ottewell, Head of the Data Journalism Team for the Regions at the Trinity Mirror Media Group (basically the big regional newspapers, like the Manchester Evening News, and the Liverpool Echo).

Megan Knight and Francois Nel were first up, talking about data journalism around the globe, why data journalism matters, and that the only way to get better at data journalism is to keep doing it.

Very good questions were asked of the pair, one about checking the accuracy of data, one around business models, and a very interesting question, about what the career options are for prospective data journalists, given that news sites, such as the Guardian Datablog, do not pay for content. This, in particular, got me thinking. More on this later…

Next up was Paul Gallagher, of the Manchester Evening News, who spoke of the ways that digital is changing newsrooms, with live-blogging, social media, and other technologies.

Paul Gallagher of Manchester Evening News speaks at Open Data Manchester
Paul Gallagher (@pdgallagher) of Manchester Evening News speaks at Open Data Manchester

A fine example he gave was that the fire at Manchester Dogs Home was live-blogged, a freelance drone operator was commissioned to take aerial photographs of the scene, and the MEN set up a Just Giving page, which had reached over £1 million of donations before the newspaper went to print.

Aidan McGuire of ScraperWiki then revealed some new tools that ScraperWiki had been developing to support data journalists – for both obtaining data, and working with data.

Finally – David Ottewell, Head of Data Journalism at Trinity Mirror spoke about data journalism in practice.

David Ottewell, of Trinity Mirror, speaks at Open Data Manchester (picture courtesy
David Ottewell, of Trinity Mirror, speaks at Open Data Manchester (picture courtesy @stevieflow)

He ran through an incredible number of examples of the sorts of work that his team do. From a World War One soldier search tool , to ‘Real Schools Guide‘ (which, incidentally, caused a flurry of activity in this Local Authority).

What really struck me, though, were the parallels between David’s team, and the Innovation and Intelligence Lab here in Trafford. We are both made up of a collection of analyst-types (Data owners/analysts in Trafford, data journalists in Trinity Mirror), a coder, and David has a graphic designer, which I want, and am currently trying to demonstrate a need for.

The outputs are similar as well, in that we are both trying to use data to tell stories. The eventual outcomes are slightly different, though. David and his team are primarily trying to engage with the public, and while we also need to engage with public, we are also trying to use the data that we have to reduce demand on our services, redesign those services, or attract investment into Trafford.

This is where I think we need to get better. We are very good at interpreting, analysing and visualising data, but I suspect that the stuff we come up with could be delivered to the public, service leads, political leaders etc in story form, and it would be much more compelling.

Which goes back to the question asked of the University lecturers – what career paths are there for data journalism students? I would really like a trained data journalist to work out of my Innovation and Intelligence Lab. I think all organisations that hold and use data could do with someone trained / skilled in data journalism to help make sense of it all, especially in the public sector. These people could take on the role of writing good news stories for comms teams to push out on Councils’ blogs. They could turn lots and lots of data and information into properly-readable articles for service leads about the services they are responsible for, and could offer a new way to gain and use customer insight.

This might be something of a hard-sell to those who approve the creation of new posts, particularly with finances the way they are. So for now, my immediate take-away from the Open Data Manchester event is that I will encourage all staff in The Lab to do the free online Doing Journalism with Data Course, which will at least ensure everyone is at the same level in terms of understanding tools and techniques.

Open Data Manchester Presentation 2014/07/29 – Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab

I was asked if would like to talk about the nascent Innovation and Intelligence Lab at July’s edition of Open Data Manchester. Obviously, I jumped at the chance. It was to be a local authority special, with John Gibbons from Salford also on the bill – talking about INSPIRE (which Salford do very well)

At the meetup there were approximately 15 people, including:

  • Representatives from charities (NSPCC, Children’s Society, GMCVO)
  • Government Digital Services standards people
  • Manchester data people

Most people fitted into more than one of these.

I’ve tried to capture the gist of what I said, and what the room said as I went through the slides, below.

Slide 1

Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab
Slide 1 – Introduction

Here I introduced myself as Jamie Whyte, Head of Trafford’s Innovation and Intelligence Lab, part of Trafford Council.

Slide 2

I used this slide to talk about how use of data in Trafford has evolved, including my role. I have worked for Trafford for 14 years (i think I said 12 at the meetup), in a variety of data roles:

  • Schools’ data analyst
  • Children’s Social Care data analyst
  • Schools, children’s social care and child health data manager
  • Data innovation (covering all council services)

I then compared the current Innovation and Intelligence Lab to the Playstation 3 – and that PS4 equates to bringing the other public sector organisations in Trafford into the team.

(I also had it explained to me that there are 5 controllers and only 4 Playstation because the PS1 had two versions of controller – first without analogue sticks, then second with)

Slide 3

Now we start to get into the lab itself. I spoke about the fact that we are part funded by Trafford Council, and that the Cabinet Office/Open Data User Group/Local Government Association part-fund us through the Release of Data Fund.

I also spoke about the fact that the lab will consist of some council data people, a javascript/html programmer-type, and then data and/or data people from other organisations in Trafford – such as Housing association, police, leisure, CCG, Public Health etc.

I talked about the fact that we would be combining data with emerging technologies, and other Digital Social Innovation methods to radically improve the way we work. Methods such as crowdmapping/crowdsourcing, collaborative workspaces, data – open/linked, and others (read more about that on Nesta’s blog, and my response.

I also emphasised the fact that the Lab would be totally transparent in the way that it operates – blogging and tweeting as we go along, and releasing any data that we use as open data, where possible.

Slide 4

Map of blue plaques in Trafford
Blue Plaques as open data, and mapped

This is the first example of an open dataset released by the Innovation Lab. To find out more about it, you can read a blog post I wrote about it.

Discussion in the room picked up on the fact that following publication of the data, we were notified by members of the public about two further plaques that we didn’t have mapped, and weren’t on the list that is published on the Council website (Paul Young and Benny Rothman). This is almost a miniature example of how opening data can help organisations sort their own data out.

This data and report has been shared with English Heritage and Open Plaques.

Slide 5

This was all about the project with Gorgeous Gorse Hill – to combine their community planting with some sort of data visualisation with flowers. See this post for more info.

Slide 6

This slide looked at some of the things we’re doing to try and make data more real to people who are making decisions about services. The data shows children who have had their height and weight recorded as part of the National Child Measurement Programme.

We wanted to look at different ways of visualising data, and we think that this 3 rotating model would go some way to making the data more real for our public health analyst, and other colleagues in public health.

It was at this point that i mentioned I was thinking about the possibility of using Oculus Rift and VR technology to take this principle to the next level, by allowing people to climb into charts or maps , and walk around, picking out points and data items at will. We are pretty far off this though, I think…

Lot’s of discussion at this point around information sharing, where we have the technology to match this data to other data sets, but Information Governance rules prevent us from doing so.

Slide 7

Drawing to a close, i touched on some of the things that we’ll be working on. 360 Giving, which is a means by which we’ll be publishing open data about the money that we give as grants to voluntary organisations through ou participatory budgets.

libraries is extremely interesting for us. We are hoping to base the lab in a library, and develop the collaborative space so that it is accessible for all people in Trafford. I also spoke to the Head of Libraries in Trafford about opening libraries data, on the morning of the ODM meetup, and she was totally up for it.

We are currently in the process of implementing a new customer relationship management system, and I am working with the project team to ensure data is open and accessible, as an open311 endpoint.

Lot of discussion here around libraries data, and the possibilities that it would bring.

Slide 8

My contact details, though I left off my email address (accidentally jamiedotwhyteattrafforddotgovdotuk) and my telephone number (on purpose).

I also issued a plea for anyone to get involved, who feels like they could work with us. I emphasised the fact that we are looking to work with staff in any public sector organisation who may have an idea, developers or SMEs who may want data, or to test an app with us, students, in particular those doing STEM subjects at Trafford College, and voluntary/charity organisations, who would benefit from data in terms of identifying areas of need, or support with evidencing bids for grant funding.

The point was also made that it would be good if we could get hold of charities’ data, to really give a different view of Trafford.

There was also a short discussion around whether we could create a sandbox environment, where we have a secure place where people can come and do stuff with anonymised data, but that can’t be released. There is definitely something in this, but we need to work with proper information governance professionals to make it work legally.

For everyone that was at the meetup, thanks for listening so intently, and for comments. If I’ve missed anything critical, or got anything wrong here, please let me know, and I can change it…

Say it with flowers – bringing open data to a new audience (hopefully)

When we set the Innovation and Intelligence Lab up, we were very keen that we would be totally open about what we’re doing. Blogging as we go along, getting stuff out early on in the development process, and capturing all the decisions we were making so that we, and others, can learn from what goes well, and what doesn’t.

The problem (for me) with this style of running commentary, is that there’s no ‘ta-daaa moment’. Because the stuff we’re doing is being constantly exposed as it develops, it feels like there’s no room, or need, for a launch.

Sometimes, however, we do stuff that’s aimed at a totally different audience, and I think that this is one of those projects.

A couple of weeks ago, my twitter timeline was full of photos from Gorgeous Gorse Hill, a group in the North of Trafford who have taken it upon themselves to improve their neighbourhood. On this occasion, they were tweeting photos of BT boxes in the area, boxes that had been brightly painted with a variety of designs.

Something is happening in Gorse Hill.  Data shows that there are a much higher proportion of 20 – 40 year olds here than anywhere else in Trafford. MediaCityUK is close by, and a local Councillor, Mike Cordingley mentions a tangible buzz.

Now one of the intended aims of the Innovation and Intelligence Lab is to increase awareness and understanding of data. There is a huge amount of data available to make use of, and we know that there are a number of people engaged with our Local Information System, InfoTrafford, (~600 people per month), or who follow us on twitter (~1,000 people), but the stuff that we do is likely to never get near a significant proportion of the population. A challenge that we face is how to make sure those people who are not at the digital party are as informed as those who are.

So, back to me, scrolling through pictures of painted street furniture on a saturday night. I was struck by an idea. Here was a group of residents who were looking to improve their local neighbourhood through planting, and tidying, and art. They had the wider community mobilised to water baskets, and pick up litter. What if we combined this guerilla horticulturism with data. I could reach a TOTALLY new audience, by visualising data with flowers. I tweeted gorgeous Gorse Hill with my idea – could we combine planting with data?

Naturally, they wanted more info, so I quickly came up with a couple of things that we could do. We could cut a hedge in such a way that it looked like a slopegraph showing turnout in the local elections for the last ten years. We could plant bedding plants in a pie chart arrangement, showing the ethnic breakdown of residents. Something to do with children achieving the recommended level in SATs.

I should note at this point that I do not understand plants, so wasn’t sure of what was possible. But GGH liked the idea. They invited me to a project meeting, where i could pitch the idea to the rest of the group. So I went down on a boiling thursday night, with an unprepared 10 minute pitch. I could tell from their faces when i first started to talk about open data, and streetlights, and gamification of the urban environment, that i needed to rein it in. So I spoke about some basic data that we hold, and how we could visualise it, and then it happened. The group started to throw in suggestions – a census of local wildlife, visualising use of carbon in the neighbourhood, and having a trail of temporary installations, where the community could discover the data. Data that tells the story of Gorse Hill. This was the absolute best possible outcome I could have hoped for. They were up for it, and the indications were that it will have a positive impact on the community.

That was last week (17th July), so the next steps for me are to meet with the project lead, and plant expert, to look at the data available, and how we might represent it using bedding plants, or shrubs, or trees, or whatever. Each visualisation will be accompanied by  a carefully-worded plaque (laminated cardboard, not like bronze or anything) describing the data, and explaining where to get more information.

Of everything that I’ve done – this is one of the most exciting for me, because it really has the potential to bring open data to a whole new audience. And if we can make it work in Gorse Hill (population 12,042), then maybe we can take it across Trafford (population 228,000). And then…who knows?

I’m looking forward to providing further updates as things happen with this project – especially photos and feedback from the community.

As always – if anyone out there has any planting ideas, they’d be gratefully received, however outlandish they may seem..!