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:
– data practitioners
– the public and other interest groups
– internal audiences (such as managers and councilors)
Meeting the need
The partnership used a local company, Solstice, to design the Observatory website around InstantAtlas Server 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.