Greater London Authority aims to provide a more flexible approach to big data through Witan project
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is developing a platform for predictive data modelling, aimed at supporting long term planning on issues such as population, employment, transport and energy usage.
Paul Hodgson, geographical information systems and infrastructure manager for the GLA, spoke of the plans at Socitm's spring conference, held in London yesterday.
He said the Witan project, on which the authority is working with big data specialists Mastadon C, is aimed at giving planners in the GLA and London boroughs more flexibility than they can currently obtain through using spreadsheets.
“Traditionally they've done stuff on Excel spreadsheets, which was great for them because it gives them complete control of the models, but it does have limits,” Hodgson said. “It doesn't scale very well and it's quite hard to have good version control.”
He said the team looked at several black box solutions on the market, but these were hard to adapt for the purpose, and some visual engagement models that did not have the tools needed. To fill the gap, it has been working with Mastadon C using funds from Innovate UK to build its own system to create models and allow policy makers to change the inputs. This would enable them to explore scenarios and make projections.
It will also give the public the ability to view some of the outputs from the modelling and understand long term plans from City Hall.
He said it will draw on sources scattered around the organisation's departments, much of which is not available as open data on the London Datastore.
Secure hub and spoke
This has also prompted work on a City Datastore, which will include data held by the authority and the boroughs, working on a 'hub and spoke' system through which all could share it securely.
Hodgson said the GLA does not hold all of the data it could need for planning, especially that related to frontline services which are mainly the responsibility of the capital's boroughs. Pulling it all together would give planners in the authority and the boroughs a more comprehensive view of the long term demands on their services.
“For example, you might have a cluster of four or five boroughs wanting to work together to solve a particular problem,” Hodgson said. “This would potentially allow them to explore stuff outside their legacy systems and exchange data.”
Conference chair Eddie Copeland, director of government innovation at the innovation charity Nesta, said it is working on case studies to show what can be done with data pulled from multiple public authorities. It hopes to show the potential for saving money and encourage some funding from central government funding for digital at local level.
Picture by Mai-Linh Doan, CC Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 through Wikimedia