Protecting the public through data analytics

By Tim Archer | 19 January 2021

During the ongoing crisis, the public’s exposure to data has increased substantially. Whether it’s the reporting of mortality rates, hospital admissions or even understanding the position of the “R” number, people have become much more data literate (in many cases without them even knowing it). How has this happened? The key comes down to how data is being presented.  

Overly complicated graphs, rows of excel data and technical jargon will make people switch off and heighten the risk of data misinterpretation. However, presenting data in a clear, digestible manner, that is accessible to all, keeps people engaged. This was something highlighted in The Government Data Quality Framework; which outlined that users must be kept regularly informed about data quality and accessible information should be included with any data sets, reports or other data products.

This focus on data has been fundamental in shaping our understanding of the crisis. With national lockdowns over and early-stage rollouts of a vaccine now taking place, there is much optimism for the future, but critically vigilance is still needed. The clear and present threats remain across the country and with the tiered system set to be reviewed on a bi-weekly basis, the need for the public to stay informed on the presence of the virus amongst communities remains high.

To be able to do this effectively, people must build on this thirst for information and make use of publicly available data – this is where tools such as the NHS Digital’s Neighbourhood View can make a real difference.

The NHS Digital’s Neighbourhood View is a dashboard that brings together coronavirus triage data, combined with coronavirus cases, to show the latest trends, numbers and rates of coronavirus across each Middle Super Output Area (MSOA) in England. The data available within the dashboard is based on public information and by centralising this into a single platform, it means people now have instant access to vital resources.

The MSOA map also lets people see cases within incredibly small areas, as little

as 7,000 people. The advantage of presenting the data in this manner means a person can freely access and search any postcode for information about a neighbourhood and understand the presence of the virus in that area.

The dashboard was created by NHS Digital, in partnership with Goldman Sachs and Aire Logic, as well as TrueCue. TrueCue’s role involved helping to design a data model by building out visualisations using intuitive interactions and performance tuning for high volumes of expected traffic.. Part of this involved running a series of tests to optimise the dashboards for mobile viewing, as well as engaging with NHS Digital’s analytics teams to offer guidance on improving the user experience.

Once the desktop and mobile versions had passed the final testing stages, the dashboard was then released to the public in November. Being able to view real-time rates of infection across immediate neighbourhoods and compare it to other regions of the country, is critical in helping the public to move safely around during this third lockdown and with any further restrictions that may be implemented.

Although the primary audience for Neighbourhood View is the general public, during TrueCue’s time working with NHS Digital, it also helped to develop multiple private dashboards that are only available for the NHS and local authorities. Not only will these help council leaders to identify areas under strain, but they will also allow key workers in public health roles to fine tune their messaging and build trust with stakeholders.

With a new highly transmissible variant now identified and infection rates on the rise again, we must continue to remain cautious until a vaccine is available nationally. The dashboard is a valuable tool that will help people to make smarter decisions about their movements and provide reassurance for anyone who may be worrying about the presence of the virus in their local area.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been the most challenging year of a generation, but there is hope on the horizon. The combination of accurate data and technological innovation has proved crucial in the ongoing fight against the pandemic and as we progress through 2021, having access to this trusted information will help the public to remain vigilant and take the necessary precautions. It will also provide local authorities with the information needed to support and protect the most vulnerable people within their communities.

Tim Archer is analytics director of TrueCue    

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