How data reporting is helping to drive efficiencies at Conwy Borough Council and ensure strategic planners have access to the latest local intelligence
Conwy County Borough Council serves a total resident population of 111,800, 80 per cent of whom are settled along the coastal strip in the larger towns of Abergele, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno.
Mark Bowler is Principal Research Officer at the Borough Council and explains that when he joined in 2008 they had a website to provide information for council staff including: business managers; analysts involved in strategic planning and managers who were responsible for delivering development plans. The areas it covered included the 2001 Census, deprivation and economic development.
The website gave access to a series of spreadsheets containing local data by theme but Mark is the first to admit it wasn’t well structured. “It wasn’t easy to find what you wanted,” he says. “We realised we needed a new approach and this was not just about presentation but about the way that the data was being collected and updated.”
“I visited the LARIA annual conference where I came across InstantAtlas. Afterwards I attended a number of Welsh Government meetings where projects using InstantAtlas were being discussed so we decided to start using it,” says Mark.
Having presented a business case and been given the go head, the team started to use InstantAtlas. Mark says the relatively small Research Unit put a lot of effort into getting the data up to date and ready to link with InstantAtlas. The Unit was fortunate that its efforts coincided with work being carried out by the Wales Data Unit. “The Wales Data Unit was setting up Infobase Cymru and we realised there was some overlap with what we were doing so we started working more closely with them,” says Mark. “The way this works is that we take more of an interest in local data whereas Infobase is more concerned with national data.”
Meeting the need
Data reporting is now available through StatsConwy (in Welsh) which gives easy access to a wide range of statistics and indicators for different areas in Conwy. The statistics cover a range of themes including people, economy, education, health, housing and crime.
According to Mark, users from within the council are very pleased with what it provides because it means they don’t have to go to other sites looking for the data as it is all in one place.
“The structure of the site means that it is much easier to get the data you want via the themes and then drill down into local data. We find that the maps are used less by staff because they are probably looking for the detail straight away,” says Mark.
StatsConwy is available to the public but Mark says he hasn’t conducted a detailed analysis of the usage statistics. The unit has however seen a significant reduction in the amount of work it has to do to fulfil request for data. “We do get a lot of calls from students and now we can direct them to the website instead of spending time finding what they want,” says Mark. Less time is also spent by the unit on updates. “We would previously have updated between 20 and 30 separate spreadsheets each requiring formatting – now we have just one.”
An equally significant benefit is that the council knows everyone is using the same data which makes local comparison more meaningful and accurate.
Like most councils, Conwy is facing finance restrictions and this is being felt by the Research Unit. In an ideal world Mark says he would like to attach narrative analysis to each of the reports so that users can see data and then download an explanation. This would help them understand what the data is telling them and also explain to colleagues what they have found. Mark is also keen to explore links with other organisations to see if they can contribute data and help to grow the intelligence resource they have created. On the list are academic institutions, the Department of Work and Pensions and local health bodies.
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