Tom Smith talks to Instant Atlas about how OCSI Data Packs and data visualisation from InstantAtlas are helping organisations deliver effective and resource-light Local Information Systems

‘How OCSI Data Packs and data visualisation from InstantAtlas are helping organisations deliver effective and resource-light Local Information Systems’

Background

Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) (http://www.ocsi.co.uk/) is a spin-out research consultancy from the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at the University of Oxford. Since launching in 2003, it has worked with more than 100 public sector organisations at local, regional and national level to improve the evidence-base for making decisions.

Tom Smith is managing director at the consultancy. He says OCSI’s aim is simple: “Our ethos is turning data into better decisions. We take complex data sets and deliver accessible intelligence”.

“In practice this means using data published by government, or held by organisations, to improve services. Since we launched we have seen significant growth in the number of Local Information Systems (LIS) and over time they have become powerful and flexible systems for users to manage, visualise, report and analyse data. We are now at a stage where we have sophisticated off-the-shelf packages from Geowise and others to help.”

Getting started

Tom always put great emphasis on working with the organisations that are delivering information systems. “Done well, LIS are an important part of the research and intelligence toolkit to help improve local services,” he says. However, he felt that many organisations were spending significant time and energy “feeding” their LIS, when they could have been trying to “understand the story from the data, and the implications for local services and commissioning”.

This led OCSI to develop the idea of having key data sets ready-collected and designed to load straight into an LIS. “We realised we could offer Data Packs, that would be regularly & automatically updated. This would save organisations the hassle of having to find and collect the data themselves, manage it and keep it up-to-date,” says Tom. “It also means that as far as analysis and data visualisation is concerned, the data is already there ready to be used.”

Cost is also an issue as maintaining an LIS can be resource intensive. He points to analysis by the Department for Communities and Local Governmentwhich has found that LIS set up costs have been falling but the cost of maintaining them is still high. By having the data ready-collected it means resources can be used more effectively.

Meeting the need

“The Data Packs provide the content which can load that directly into the LIS,” says Tom. “Given that InstantAtlas has become one of the ‘go-to’ tools for data visualisation it made a lot of sense to make sure the Data Packs could play nicely with it.”

Tom is clear about the benefits of Data Packs. He highlights Bradford LISwhere work was done to establish the cost savings of using them. The analysis found the council saved around 85 per cent of the cost of doing the work internally. “As well as the savings, the Data Packs are enabling councils like Newham, for instance, to keep its LIS going with a small team,”says Tom. “This is especially relevant at a time when many organisations are facing massive pressure to reduce costs in every area, yet still need good intelligence on how well services are meeting local needs.”

Tom also believes that OCSI’s experience in working with data helps its users. “Data Packs are not just about packaging and delivering a bumper-load of content from national sources. We have enormous experience in using the information and we know about the strengths and weaknesses of certain indicators. We answer a lot of questions from users on what the data means and how to analyse it – our data support is a valuable part of the service.”

Future developments

Looking ahead Tom believes changes in the way public services are being organised and delivered will see local authorities operating in a very fluid environment. He cites the example of public health becoming part of their remit which in turn means local research teams can find themselves facing requests for information from entirely new groups.

For Tom this means OCSI will have to evolve alongside and think about how data can be used across different platforms. “We have to be part of the move to take data out of LIS silos – to where conversations are taking place, and where local service decisions are being made, rather than thinking about data & information in a big warehouse that we have to go and look at.”

Key benefits of linking OCSI Data Packs with InstantAtlas

  • Organisations are able to develop LIS with data visualisation elements that are automatically updated requiring a less resource intensive approach
  • Key data being is presented in a meaningful and accessible way
  • Less time spent collecting and managing data, more time on analysis and helping local stakeholders understand what the data means.

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