Using data visualisation to help Local Authorities better manage their resources
The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), is the professional body for people in public finance. It has 14,000 members working throughout public services, national audit agencies, major accountancy firms and other bodies where public money needs to be effectively and efficiently managed.
Chris Greene is Head of Information Services at CIPFA. Part of his team’s responsibility is the collection of local government data across a multitude of services, including financial, staffing, activity and performance information from all UK local authorities. This data is analysed to help local authorities better manage their resources.
The traditional approach has been to present the information in hard copy publications, which later evolved to include spreadsheets. However, Chris and his team were looking for something more “cutting edge” that would allow them to present data in a useful format.
“We came across marketing material for InstantAtlas and decided to send staff to some training sessions. We realised that we would need the basic package, plus some bespoke enhancements,” says Chris.
Chris explains a data upload tool was needed to make data collection and input easier because there was such a large volume of data. “We have 15 years’ worth of data for 500 organisations covering 45 different topic areas – so to say it was extensive is putting it mildly,” he says.
“Although we undertake extensive quality assurance procedures, InstantAtlas also helped us to identify some outstanding issues that wouldn’t otherwise have been spotted, improving the quality of the published information further.”
Meeting the need
The new reports were launched in August 2010. Local Authorities pay a subscription to use the service and feedback from Local Authority users (mostly service managers and directors) has been captured in a customer survey. Chris says this was positive and has justified the need to have data presented in a visual format. However, he is aware that some of the data is already getting out of date.
There is such a large volume of data that it would help users to filter topics of interest. Chris is hoping to create a number of bespoke profiles that will allow users to choose specific topics to explore, each with relevant indicators. For example, someone interested in spend on local libraries might want to go straight to the data on spend per head of population without trawling through the entire data set.
Chris would also like to extend the data that is available – currently this only makes use of data that CIPFA collects directly. But there are other data sets that would enrich the content. “I see a great deal of potential. We just need to make the most of it,” he says. “Many organisations don’t have the resources to spend on analysing data and we can do it for them and at the same time present it in such a way that it is easy to understand.”
Other InstantAtlas stories that will interest you
Institute for Public Policy Research - How a think tank is using data presentation to turn a project on the needs of older people in London into a useful resource
Consumer Credit Counselling Service - Using data visualisation to highlight patterns of debt in the United Kingdom
NESTA - How interactive online mapping has helped NESTA reach a wider audience