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Case study: Integrating data to address policy challenges

Changes in policy are often associated with interconnected systems such as transport, climate change, healthcare provision and social infrastructure. It is therefore crucial that policymakers have access to the increasing collection of datasets across our natural environment and other sectors such as health and economics to facilitate improved decision making.

However, much of this data is currently spread across a variety of platforms which work in silo, making it difficult for users to analyse, assess and ultimately deliver improved policy outcomes. Therefore, we need a way of enabling policymakers to connect data across these sectors.

To address this challenge, researchers at The University of Manchester, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), are working together to build a ‘Digital Solutions Hub (external website)’ which will provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for data from different siloes to sit together in one virtual place.

The Digital Solutions Hub (DSH)

The DSH will integrate more than 40 petabytes of NERC’s environmental data with UK wide socioeconomic, health data, and other environmental data. Built on JASMIN, NERC’s supercomputer, the DSH will allow for data to be analysed and modelled in ways not possible before. The tools and data stored on the DSH will enable policymakers to review the impacts of previous policy interventions, help in the development of new policies and help to avoid the unintended consequences of change. It could also be used to help build support for policies where there is not consensus.

Climate Just a tool on the Digital Solutions Hub

An updated version of Climate Just will be launched in January and will be available on the Digital Solutions Hub. Climate Just is a mapping tool that links climate change data with an understanding of social and spatial vulnerabilities. A key aim for the tool was to inform planning at a local level as well as UK[1]wide policymaking for responses to climate change. The tool shows the geographical distributions of characteristics like older age and ill health that influence the impact of weather events, highlights aspects of local environments that could heighten or offset the severity of weather events and suggested how well people could prepare. Climate Just previously led to the inclusion of social vulnerability in practitioner guidance published by UK professional planning bodies and has informed climate adaptation strategies and risk assessments at both a local and national level.

The success of the DSH programme relies on its tools, resources, and underlying data meeting the needs of a growing community of potential users.

The DSH: built for users

Working with Open Data Manchester (external website) on a series of workshops across the UK we delved into the processes, workflows, and workarounds that users of environmental data employ, so researchers could get an understanding of the challenges users faced and what they wanted from the DSH. The workshops found that most people experienced barriers in getting, analysing, and managing environmental data. These barriers included discoverability and shortages of data, concerns about data provenance, the presence of restrictive IT environments and a lack of relevant analytical expertise. Poor data culture and a lack of coherent and centralised data management infrastructure were also found.

How the DSH will help

The DSH is attempting to break down the barriers of data driven tools by considering these challenges in its development.

In doing so, the DSH will benefit society by improving decision makers’ ability to make informed decisions through the integration of data that have potential benefits for the future prosperity of the UK.

Learn more about the Digital Solutions Hub and gain early access to its data and tools, and learn about our upcoming events visit the Digital Solutions website (external website) or email the Digital Solutions team.

Director: Professor Richard Kingston Co-Director: Professor Dave Topping. University of Manchester