Mapping the future

By Matt Leach - on 27/09/2013

As the next big upgrade to Community Insight functionality is launched, HACT's Chief Executive Matt Leach looks back on a year of development and innovation.

When HACT and OCSI launched Community Insight in December last year, our aim was to build a complete but affordable solution for housing providers wanting to access and make sense of the wealth of open data on the communities they work in.  Increasing amounts of open data is now becoming available from all parts of government, not least as a result of the Open Data White Paper.  And we wanted to build a tool that was accessible to all staff across housing providers, not just data specialists, analysts and GIS officers.

Over the last nine months, some 60 housing providers owning nearly a million homes have shared our vision and come on board as subscribers; we’ve established an active user community, which helps guide and prioritise development work; and we’ve worked hard to improve Community Insight’s usability and capabilities. 

Since Community Insight’s launch, we have been fully committed to a programme of continuous development and improvement.  We purposely designed Community Insight as an online, subscription based service to ensure that it was much more than just a one off, grant funded project that would decrease in value as it aged.  Rather we wanted something that could be continuously developed and improved, benefiting from an ongoing income stream that would enable it (and incentivise us) to respond quickly to the availability of new data sources and the development of new and affordable visualisation technologies. 

The first half of 2013 saw improved reporting functionality, new and differentiated stock type uploads, new datasets, one-click hotspot mapping, and the launch of Population Insight – a free tool enabling all housing providers to access detailed population demographic information from the census.  Autumn 2013 will see the launch of a host of new features requested by our users.

Earlier this month, we launched “My Patch” – which enables Community Insight subscribers to instantly access information on housing providers letting properties in their neighbourhoods, providing the first access to CORE lettings data recently released by DCLG following an FOIA request by HACT.  It's already proving its worth, enabling housing providers to identify potential partners and competitors in their neighbourhoods, and opportunities for collaboration or rationalisation of services.

The next big upgrade to Community Insight functionality arrives this week – with subscribers being able to use Community Insight to access open data on crime previously only accessible (in a slightly un-user friendly way) from the national police website.  Monthly and annual crime and ASB stats will be directly available as part of Community Insight’s core data sets and heat mapping, and individual neighbourhoods will be comparable on the basis of types of criminal incident, as well as overall crime levels (as is currently possible).  An additional page will be added to the long form reports to provide you with even more information on crime and ASB levels in your neighbourhoods.

And in October, users will be able to upload their own data into Community Insight, with great new tools available to interpret this new information resource, building easy to use and customise neighbourhood resilience matrices and flagging up priority areas for engagement and investment.  All of this will integrate neatly into the Social Value online mapping and analysis tool HACT and OCSI will be launching in beta this autumn (initially exclusively to Community Insight users). It will provide instant access to local social return and economic impact reports on neighbourhood and community investment at the press of a button, and building on the work of Daniel Fujiwara, published earlier this year and exciting follow up work due to be published in late October.

When we relaunched HACT in June 2012, our new board set us the task of developing innovative solutions to real challenges facing the housing sector.  At the time, we didn’t think that would include working with great partners to develop new data analysis tools for those working at the interface between housing and communities - with OCSI bringing in data and analysis expertise from their work with local government, community and open data groups.  But that process of development and innovation has been fantastic, exposing us to new ideas, new possibilities and new partners (including Microsoft, with whom we are taking forward an exciting new partnership aimed at maximising the impact of Big Data on the housing sector).  We’re massively excited about this month’s new Community Insight features, but even more about what comes next!

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