Suffolk Observatory | ‘Bringing partner organisations closer together through a shared intelligence platform’
The Suffolk Observatory is a partnership between Choose Suffolk, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk’s District and Borough Councils, NHS Suffolk and Suffolk Police. It is the home of data, statistics and reports about Suffolk provided by partner organisations. Data is presented around the key themes of education and skills, economy and employment, health and care, population, deprivation, housing, environment, transport and travel and crime. All areas of the county are covered, right down to district, ward and parish level, with information easily accessible in a variety of formats.
The Observatory is designed as a resource for anyone writing reports and presentations as well as those helping to inform strategic and business planning, prepare funding applications, or support academic research.
Lyn Baran is Group Manager Business Development, Suffolk County Council. She says the initial impetus for the Observatory was the joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA). “We started to think seriously about the idea back in 2008. At that time there were a lot of barriers that were either real or perceived as to why it could be difficult,” she says.
As a small team that was being asked to service the intelligence needs of the partnership Lyn says that it wasn’t always easy to reach consensus between the partners and so Lyn wrote a proposal with a three-pronged approach to moving ahead. First Lyn suggested creating a data-sharing protocol to address concerns that had already been raised. Second was to build an intelligence sharing network to bring together analysts and researchers with a shared interest in data and intelligence and third was to develop a platform on which the intelligence could sit.
“The reaction to my report was positive and in the first year we started to tackle information sharing by creating a protocol. We then started to build the virtual network of individuals who wanted to share and provide the information,” says Lyn.
When it came to the platform, Lyn says the usual approach would have been to develop the business case and then go out to tender. However, Lyn felt that a better option was to ask the social enterprise Choose Suffolk to continue to host the Observatory on behalf of the partnership. This meant that the project was handled and delivered in a different way than it would have been had the public sector been responsible. Data presentation was an integral part of the development and InstantAtlas was selected.
The team ran workshops with partner organisations to establish potential audiences and came up with three:
Meeting the need
The partnership used a local company, Solstice, to the design the Observatory website and the principle throughout was to make sure that intelligence could be made accessible to all and available at the lowest possible level. Lyn says this has always been the intention but now it supports the localism agenda.
There was a soft launch in December 2010 and the team is now gathering feedback. “We also demonstrated the site to councilors and other groups. The response has been very encouraging and people are clearly interested in using the site,” says Lynn.
One of the main partners, Suffolk County Council, hit the newspaper headlines in 2010 with its decision to adopt fundamental change by outsourcing almost all its services as part of a planned 30 per cent cut in its £1.1bn budget. Under the New Strategic Direction almost all council services will be tendered to social enterprises, or companies over the next few years. Lyn believes the Observatory will play an important role in helping the council make the transition from provider and help it commission services effectively and efficiently.
Lyn says that future developments will be focused on finding out what data the audience groups want to see and she believes this is part of the general move away from national data sets.
“We are really keen to develop the website so that local people can have an input – we want to help people find local assets in community, for instance the location of community centres and village halls.”
“This is just the beginning. We wanted to get the platform up and running and then go back to the community to find out how we could develop content according to their needs,” says Lyn.
Other UK stories of Interest
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Bristol City Council | ‘Giving Bristol and its neighbourhoods access to local data in a visually compelling and easy-to-understand way’
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council | ‘How Sandwell’s LIS system is adding value to the Local Strategic Partnership’
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