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Research tool tackles 'patchy' public sector data

Research news published: Friday 13th November 2009

An online tool to help public sector research and information units is aimed at improving the use of graphs, charts and other visual ways of displaying key policy data.

The presentation of such data to decision-makers is currently "patchy", a leading analyst has told Headstar.

Launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), 'Dataviz' (http://www.improving-visualisation.org/) is an online resource designed to help improve graphical and visual representations of research results and data, by gathering together more than 200 examples of graphs, charts and other visual data displays used in the public sector.

Dataviz (http://www.improving-visualisation.org/) was created for CLG by Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI: http://www.ocsi.co.uk), whose managing director, Tom Smith, spoke to Headstar about some of the problems with visual data and research - the use of graphs and maps to present information - in the public sector: "The general level of data visualisation in local government is patchy. There are some good examples out there, but also some very poor examples."

This issue becomes even more significant when the information is used as evidence by policy-makers. "Although we're good at visualising differences between areas using maps, we're much worse at portraying trends over time for decision-makers, or how different groups are benefiting (or not) from particular policies", said Smith.

These problems - combined with a lack of skills and knowledge in analysing gathered data - mean that presenting policy information and completing good quality research within the public sector is often problematic. As Smith points out, this is especially true in local authorities - a point highlighted in an Audit Commission report, 'Is there something I should know?', which found that while nine out of ten councils think good quality information is a top priority, less than five per cent are able to gather or access this information.

To read a full report on this issue in E-Government Bulletin, visit:
http://www.headstar.com/egblive/?p=259
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