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Understanding human mobility and changing behaviours post-pandemic


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As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, now is the time for the public sector to harness new sources of data to better understand human movement and interactions, writes Martin James, UK director at Precisely

One of the new challenges facing the public sector derives from changes in people’s behaviour, particularly as we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many people, the lockdowns have impacted their working routines, shopping habits and how they use city, town and neighbourhood centres. This is going to affect how public authorities plan their services and contribute to local environments, which in turn will require new streams of trusted data on which to make key decisions.

Demographics data, including on human mobility, is becoming increasingly significant, providing local authorities with the crucial context of how residents, commuters and visitors interact with city and town centres. They are sensing new patterns emerging in how people use shopping and entertainment areas, believe that some of these will persist into long term trends, and want to gain a better understanding of the public’s movements and interactions.

The time has come to find and make use of demographics data on a larger scale, integrating it with existing datasets to support policy and planning in several areas of public service. At Precisely we can see this trend emerging from conversations with our public sector clients.

It comes from past experience of helping organisations to build datasets that have evolved to move beyond their original use and provide new insights.

Demographics data as an asset for housing

One key case has been for housing associations to have a better understanding of the demographics of their tenants. They have a responsibility to provide a safe and appropriate environment for their tenants/customers, and understanding their demographics is vital to the services they provide. The data can support key decisions in providing a flexible yet unique service for a broad spectrum of tenants.

One housing association has recently leveraged lifestyle and demographics data by enriching its existing property database to create profiles of the various types of tenants or customers receiving its services. Using this information, it was able to analyse the volume of different profile types it is serving and leverage the insights to provide more targeted services.

There were two key immediate benefits. One was that the organisation was better able to assess the main factors when assigning properties, so it was able to match new tenants to the right neighbourhoods - for example, by housing families with young children or tenants nearing retirement age in their own clusters according to their profiles.

A follow-on benefit was the ability to leverage these insights when building new homes, helping the association to make smarter decisions in planning and funding. It can now plan housing and associated requirements around the demographic profile of who will ultimately be living there, and even work with the relevant local authorities when it comes to planning the surrounding areas - for example, by better identifying where community centres or playgrounds should be built.

Demographics data is more than just static datasets

But we're also now starting to look past static demographics in the public sector, with a new focus on innovation in dynamic demographic datasets - using human mobility data to inform research and urban development. This new generation of data does not require vast wrangling or analysis to derive insights and can be easily integrated into existing business systems.

Traditionally, mobility data has had limitations, with a reliance on data from cellular phones through telco operators. This typically yields low accuracy and tends to rely on areas with a high density of people to be effective.

Other alternatives have been Wi-Fi or beacon data, which provide high levels of accuracy but have also been proven to be difficult to scale, and can be expensive to deploy.

Today's human mobility data is derived from GPS or SDK data sourced from apps and wearables at an aggregated level to ensure full compliancy with regulations such as GDPR. Insights from this data are highly accurate (to around 10 metres) and require much lower levels of investment than more traditional sources.

All of this provides the basis for analysing footfall in a particular area, understanding patterns in how visitors use it, running predictive analysis on changes in the provision of community assets or retail outlets, analysing catchment areas and local commercial activity, and optimising communications networks.

This has already been applied to busy city centres across the UK, including in Liverpool and Leicester, providing critical insights into the changes of footfall patterns at different times of the day and week, and comparing these snapshots to the same period a year later. This analysis has provided hard evidence of how numbers changed during the pandemic lockdowns and in response to events such as the reopening of non-essential retail and the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. It has also provided an overview of how footfall patterns changed across different cities in the UK.

Dynamic data paints a more complete picture of our communities

Dynamic demographics, such as human mobility data, is a major asset for the public sector, painting a complete picture of how communities are reacting to events such as Covid-19, and contributing to a better understanding of their movements and interactions. In turn, this can support the response to public health issues, helping to deliver more efficient and personalised provision of services to the public, including for lighting, parking and waste collections, as well as providing housing services that are better targeted to specific needs.

To learn more about human mobility data, download our e-book, Human Mobility in an Evolving World. If you missed the UKAuthority Innovation and Data4Good 2021 event, make sure to watch our presentation on dynamic demographics here.

About Precisely

Precisely (formed from a combination of Syncsort and Pitney Bowes Software & Data) is a global leader in data integrity, providing accuracy, consistency and context in data for 12,000 customers in more than 100 countries, including 97 of the Fortune 100. Our public sector solutions allow customers to increase citizen engagement, create cost efficiencies and enable the smart places of tomorrow. Learn more here



Image from iStock, Whyframestudio

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