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Using UPRNs to visualise public service data


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Industry voice: Combining data with maps can draw more people into the debate on social and public service issues, writes Richard Duffield, senior consultant at GeoPlace

People like to look at maps. They get drawn into the detail of places’ locations, where they are in relation to others and how it all fits into a bigger picture – city-wide, regional or national. Maps can be a source of fascination.

This makes them a great medium for engaging with public sector colleagues and the public. Adding data to specific locations can raise awareness of issues, stir the viewers’ interest and bring them into a discussion on challenges, priorities and policy.

It is possible to do this for public services, providing a visualisation of the factors affecting the need for and delivery of services in specific locations. To make a compelling map we need to combine various data, and the unique property reference number (UPRN) can provide the glue to hold all the pieces together.

Enabled by free access to Ordnance Survey’s maps via the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), a number of public sector organisations  are putting this into practice and plenty more are showing an interest. There is scope to do this on a national scale, providing a myriad of pictures on public need, highlighting issues such as areas of deprivation and laying the ground for the more effective delivery of services.

The UPRN is the unique identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain, created by local authorities and managed by GeoPlace, the joint venture between Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Association. It is a 12-digit code specific to that address that can be related to all types of datasets.

This means that, while it is not visually interesting in itself, it can be combined with the easting and northing coordinates of a location to provide the basis of a data picture for that place, and combined with others in the surrounding area for the visualisation of the data on a map.

Wales initiative

The recent GeoPlace conference featured two great examples, one from Welsh Government and the other from the National Audit Office.

One of the established examples is the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD), built up by the Welsh Government to convey the scope of deprivation issues in different parts of the country. It includes a mapping feature that makes it possible to identify the factors that can contribute to deprivation for specific Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs). These include income, employment, health, education, access to services, community safety, physical environment and housing, with rankings for where the area stands in relation to others in the country.

The new iteration of the WIMD, scheduled for release later this year, continues to measure the proximity to services, to capture deprivation as a result of a household’s inability to access key services considered necessary for day-to-day living. Amongst data sources from the Welsh Government and wider public sector, some of these services can be identified through  AddressBase. It is available from Ordnance Survey, again free of charge to all public sector organisations under the PSMA – to which information can be added for each address – and includes services in the public sector such as GPs, schools and leisure centres, and some in the private sector such as supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and petrol stations.

All of these services have an address to which a UPRN is attached, which makes it possible to visualise on a map exactly where they are in relation to where people live and how far they have to travel. This is a crucial factor in understanding social deprivation and conveying it visually can make policy makers aware of the extent of the problems much more effectively than blocks of text and numbers.

Data can be drawn from other sources, if it is attached to the UPRN, to provide further insights. This opens the door to approaches such as colouring areas according to attributes in the data to highlight the extent of a problem affecting deprivation.

All this can draw more people into the debate over planning services for Wales, both in where they are located and providing the public transport that makes them accessible for many people.

NAO investigation

In its recent report, Challenges in using data across government, the National Audit Office (NAO) highlighted the lack of standardised identifers used across government, including one for addresses, so that an individual, organisation, event or location can be linked across system and organisational boundaries. The report suggests that a solution for the address problem is available via the UPRN.

Speaking at the GeoPlace conference in May, the NAO stated that it has also been investigating the wider potential of better use of data, aiming to build pictures of public need and service availability across England, and working with the Department for Transport to look at access to services by bus and train services. It wants to identify common patterns and any inconsistencies to contribute to its discussions with government departments, and to help citizens understand the relationships between needs and the availability of services.

Among the possibilities is to use the maps in understanding the impacts on a community if a service is removed or relocated. Or it can highlight the relationship between a specific issue in one locality – such as a high prevalence of a health condition – and the provision of particular services and other factors. Again, that geographic visualisation can do a lot to attract people’s attention and bring them into the discussion.

It can also contribute to the drive to join up services more effectively on a local or regional basis, and to national planning as departments and agencies extract more visual insights from the data. There are challenges involved: more data needs to be collected for some services, such as which types of treatment are available at particular GP surgeries or health centres, and people will continue to see the need for extra pieces. Some organisations are making progress with this at a local level but so far there is no approach to doing it nationally.

But the volume of data is growing and becoming more granular, and technology is evolving in a way that makes its processing and analysis much faster. More organisations are eager to harness the power of data and seeing that maps – drawing on UPRNs and AddressBase – provide an effective way of bringing it to life and telling a story.

GeoPlace is making a big contribution through its management of the UPRN dataset. Now we need to go further in exploiting the potential.

Contact Richard Duffield at [email protected] for a discussion on how you can use the UPRN to gain greater insights into your data.

Image from GeoPlace

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