Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council | ‘How Sandwell’s LIS system is adding value to the Local Strategic Partnership’
Research Sandwell was formed in April 2006 and is the principal provider of research and intelligence support to the Sandwell Partnership, the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP). Members include Sandwell Council, Sandwell NHS Primary Care Trust, West Midlands Fire Service and West Midlands Police. Research Sandwell works to support and challenge the policy and decision-making processes of Sandwell Council and its partners through the provision and use of high quality intelligence.
However, as well as providing help and guidance on research and consultation projects, the main aim of the team is to deliver a Local Intelligence System (known as Sandwell Trends) for the partnership.
Alex Hawley, Research and Information Manager, Research Sandwell tells us more about how InstantAtlas is being used by the team and how it has helped meet their objectives.
“We first acquired InstantAtlas Desktop in 2006 and we could instantly see the appeal. We were still significant users of other software for our back office GIS work but we knew that InstantAtlas would give us something different that we could share with our partners,” he says.
InstantAtlas was first used for the State of Sandwell report. The team developed a series of interactive reports that were uploaded to a library. This was the starting point for the transition to Sandwell Trends which is a fully-fledged LIS system.
Meeting the need
Alex believes Sandwell Trends has taken Research Sandwell’s work to a different level. The team has developed considerable expertise and has pushed through a number of new developments. For example, drop down boxes allow users to produce a unique query. They can then use an editor to develop a series of maps and charts which effectively incorporate a series of different views (within ‘widgets’) into a single report. A new tool has also been developed that allows users to save their query which can emailed as a link to other users, or re-run at another time. Thumbnail views for interactive maps have been used so that users can select and zoom in on a report that is of particular interest. All these features mean that offices across the LSP can develop their own topic pages according to their area of interest.
According to Alex, Research Sandwell is now in a position where it is giving LSP partner organisations the ability to own the interactive reports and dictate the way that data is presented. With this comes the responsibility of ownership which means that data has to be kept up-to-date. For instance, an individual partner like the West Midlands Police will begin to have ownership of data relating to crime and antisocial behaviour.
Alex says this is both liberating and “scary” because it is changing Research Sandwell’s role. Rather than being a team that delivers reports together with an interpretation, they are allowing partners access to the data in such a way that they can begin to interpret it themselves.
“We are in effect harvesting power of all the individuals involved. The value we add starts at a higher level because users have been able to look at their data which means they come back with more intelligent questions,” says Alex.
Sandwell Trends was launched in August 2010 but already the user audience is growing and feedback has been positive. “There has been good feedback in particular from the voluntary sector because all too often they weren’t aware of how they could get this sort of information,” says Alex.
It has naturally been well received by the council and the LSP. Alex says this has been helped by having an official research champion – councillor Simon Hackett. Councillor Hackett is an advocate of the system and has made sure that all the LSP partners are on board. Alex says getting buy-in from the LSP partners has been crucial to the success of Sandwell Trends.
The team is now looking to develop functionality using Google Maps within the latest version of InstantAtlas and also look at the HTML mapping templates. One other likely development is the use of double maps which would give users the ability to choose a second data set and display the two alongside each other.
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