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Case study: Visualising key employment indicators for decision-makers and public

What was the issue?

South Tyneside is amongst the Local Authorities with the highest levels of unemployment in the country, and worklessness is locally a top priority. Good reporting on the issue is important for senior members and officers in the partnership, as well as to the public and local media, in order to:

  • highlight where progress is being made, and identify the impact of the recession;
  • ensure that the frequent reporting by local media on unemployment issues uses up-to-date and accurate data.

The Employment Team in the Borough identified a need for a reporting tool to visualise key unemployment and workless data and trends, as well as progress against Local Area Agreement targets and other key indicators, with the major audiences being (1) senior decision-makers; and (2) the Borough press office (to publish monthly news item for citizens and the local media).

What was done?

Based on the specification provided by the Employment Team, the Council Information Support team developed an Excel tool, presenting different views onto key worklessness datasets: monthly and quarterly information on employment, unemployment, economic activity and inactivity rates, key benefit dependency and the monthly job seekers allowance counts. Information is available for South Tyneside and comparators, as well as sub-borough information.

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When the latest data is input into the tool, Excel functions automatically calculate the latest rates and populate all the data tables and charts with the information. Graphs can then be updated quickly, and the information exported to a word document where interpretive context is added prior to distribution to senior managers.

Both the tool and the Word document summaries are published on the Council website and distributed to local media, using direct screen-shots from the Excel tool (see here for an example of the document summary)

How did visualisation help?

The main audiences for the visualisation tool are senior decision-makers across the Council, as well as local media - "we needed to show as much as possible of the data in graphical form that they could understand". The tool was initially sent to just the Council Executive team, but is now routinely distributed to heads of services, the Local Strategic Partnership Board, and local council members.

Several key points underpin the success of the visualisation used:

  • "Flows" are visualised on a map to help understand commuting patterns into and out of the Borough - linked to data on worklessness and numbers of jobs;
  • Maps and colour coding are used to illustrate complex concepts, for example how the economically active, inactive, and unemployed groups relate to each other and the overall working-age population;
  • Colour coding is used to link together the same datasets across the whole tool - for example highlighting the same datasets shown over time (and on different pages of the Excel tool);
  • Data for local political boundaries and priority neighbourhoods is presented, to ensure relevance to officers and members;
  • Standard desktop application (Excel) is used to ensure all users have access (and ensure cheap development and update costs);
  • The fast updating process ensures that a large amounts of key data can be quickly interpreted and provided to the key audiences.

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Technical development of the tool

South Tyneside estimate the initial development of the tool at around 60 analyst-hours, with further developments adding another 30 hours.

Monthly updates take between 10 and 90 minutes, depending on which economic datasets have recently been published. Excel techniques are used to update the tables and visualisations in the tool automatically, once new data is loaded in.

The tool has been uploaded to the ESD-Toolkit, and is available for use/ adaption by other local authorities - see http://www.esd.org.uk/esdtoolkit/Documents.ashx?doc=48&agency=598.

Further contact

Emma Cunliffe, Information Support Officer
South Tyneside Council, 0191 424 7658.