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Future Cities Catapult collaboration with Emu Analytics and LB of Barking and Dagenham brings new data products to market

In January 2018, Future Cities Catapult began a 6-month R&D collaboration with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. This collaboration stemmed from our flagship project Tombolo, funded by Innovate UK in which Future Cities Catapult and Space Syntax aimed to help cities understand the value of their data to address the city’s challenges.

During Tombolo, we developed a tool for connecting geospatial datasets (the Digital Connector) and a new web-based data visualisation platform (Urban Data Explorer). Working with the LB of Barking and Dagenham allowed us to, explore city data challenges through applying the Digital Connector to real city challenges and bring the Urban Data Explorer to market.

The Digital Connector is free software that helps standardise the early-stages of geospatial data work – formatting, combining, and exporting geospatial data in a common format so that data models and insights can be shared and replicated. With the help of Barking and Dagenham’s data science team, we applied the Tombolo Digital Connector to a set of data tasks focused on benchmarking against other London boroughs.

Coinciding with this, we collaborated with the London-based SME, Emu Analytics to develop the Urban Data Explorer. Through this we demonstrated the commercial viability of data tools built to complement combined datasets, namely data visualisation tools tailored to the needs of local government, and help them and their stakeholders tell stories with data – with less effort.

In summary, the project successfully led to:

  1. The open release of new geospatial data importers and data models that evaluate the quality of London’s boroughs through the Digital Connector. These are now freely available to any data scientist across the country keen to build in similar analysis.
  2. The development and launch of a new web-based data visualisation tool designed with cities for cities that showcases the outputs of the Tombolo project and data models developed by Future Cities Catapult and Space Syntax.
  3. A commercial contract between Emu Analytics and London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, to build and host a customised version of the web-based tool for LB of Barking and Dagenham, demonstrating more commercialisation from Tombolo.

The Project

Barking and Dagenham wanted to communicate key borough data insights to their stakeholders through their Borough Manifesto. The manifesto had been developed in conjunction with residents and highlights the social and economic indicators prioritised by residents. The council’s data team wanted to ensure that the goals of the manifesto are quantitatively addressed and appropriately communicated to wide stakeholder groups inside and outside the council.

The Opportunity

Future Cities Catapult saw an opportunity to develop indices (informed by the manifesto) and make them available through the Tombolo Digital Connector. This would allow the code of these indices to be shared freely and openly with local government data scientists across the UK on GitHub. This would in turn enable other local authorities to benefit from the user-centred research undergone by Barking and Dagenham and reproduce results relevant to their areas. Through this project we trained Barking and Dagenham’s data science team on how to use The Digital Connector so to generate more insights through combining data.

Designed with local government in mind, the Urban Data Explorer was built to display place-based information important for both internal and external stakeholders

Designed with local government in mind, the Urban Data Explorer was built to display place-based information important for both internal and external stakeholders

Visualising Data: The Tombolo Data Visualisation Application

We also wanted to use this collaboration as an opportunity to rapidly build and deploy a new web-based tool for data specialists and public sector organisations; one which would allow data specialists to tell data stories quicker, better and understandable to decision-makers within their organisation. The Urban Data Explorer was developed and launched at City Data Hack in 6-weeks with the support of Emu Analytics and LB of Barking and Dagenham.

Learn more about the Urban Data Explorer, watch this 5 minute video.

The Outcome

The Tombolo Data Visualisation Application has equipped Barking and Dagenham with the ability to share their analyses internally and externally. It led to them purchasing a fully hosted and extended version of the software for their own purposes from Emu Analytics. This allows their stakeholders to view over 50 metrics relevant to Barking and Dagenham, provides them with the ability to update and maintain geospatial datasets themselves, visualise them with handy editing tools and compare them to other datasets held in the tool.

For Emu Analytics and other SMEs, this now demonstrates and opens more commercial opportunities for SaaS data platforms in local government. For Future Cities Catapult and Space Syntax, it leaves both companies with a software platform that can be extended to other clients and software development initiatives in the UK and abroad.

If you’re interested in telling better stories about your place through data, check out the Urban Data Explorer. If you’re a data scientist combining geospatial data, try the Digital Connector.

Jon Robertson is the author of this case study. He’s the delivery lead for Tombolo and City Data Hack organiser. Follow Jon on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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