Monitoring performance against environmental standards using data visualisation
Perth & Kinross Council delivers or facilitates a wide range of services including education, land use planning, roads, housing, care for vulnerable people, parks, street cleansing, economic development and refuse collection.
The Council produces an annual report to provide an assessment of the current environmental state and help it monitor trends. The report also provides a strong evidence base to evaluate the effectiveness of the Council’s efforts to deal with environmental pressures in land use and sustainability terms. The first State of the Environment Report was published in September 2007. The indicators are updated as and when data becomes available and a number of them are used in the Perth & Kinross Single Outcome Agreement. The Council views the report as an essential tool in meeting its sustainability goals, improving the environment and providing the public with access to information.
The State of the Environment indicators are organised into nine key areas which include climate change, air quality, landscape and geology, biodiversity, historic environment, transportation, waste, communities and energy.
We spoke to Shelley McCann in The Environment Service about the Council’s decision to use data presentation for the State of the Environment indicators. Shelley explains that they had been using PDFs but felt that static reports were out of date by the time they appeared in the report.
“We also wanted to present information in a way that could be analysed spatially and that could be easily accessed and understood by most people. Some people see and think in images so this helps them to understand the data,” she says. “The idea was to update on a rolling basis rather than once a year.”
The Council decided to use InstantAtlas and Shelley was involved in the project team that was tasked with taking the indicators and create dynamic online reports. Around 100 data sets were aggregated to a common geography, templates were built and times series data added.
The result is State of the Environment Mapping - an interactive map allowing users to see at a glance how their area (e.g. ward, intermediate geographies) is doing compared to other areas and the regional average.
It provides information about the Perth and Kinross environment and community such as how clean the air is, what areas are susceptible to flooding and how many of people are able to easily catch a bus from their homes.
Meeting the need
Shelley says State of the Environment Mapping is used by members of the public to look at their neighbourhoods because it includes a number of indicators that relate to quality of life. It is also used by community planning partners and individuals both within and outside the Council in compiling Environmental Reports as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment process. The outputs (exported PDF files) are also used in many Council documents. “Above all it ensures we have a common data source across the Council and all our partners whether they are in health or housing,” says Shelley.
The feedback has been very positive so far and users have identified the fact that reports can be tailored for their individual use as a major benefit.
“We are looking to expand State of the Environment Mapping into more than a baseline reporting tool and are thinking of extending it other sectors such as economic development. We are also hoping it can play a part in our renewable capacity strategy,” says Shelley.
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