The digital team at the Department for Work and Pensions has designed an application to give policy teams easier access to the information they need to identify and develop policy interventions.
The data visualisation tool – named Churchill for the former prime minister who established the Central Statistics Office in 1941 – offers policy teams access to data on geographical areas, policy interventions and trends over time, which aim to help teams develop evidence-based policies.
In a blogpost, Ryan Dunn, the head of data science at the department’s Newcastle hub, said that policymakers were major users of data, and need access to up-to-date and trusted data for both policymaking and to answer questions from ministers.
This includes a range of information, with a particular need for accurate data on a local and regional level, which is important for benchmarking and comparisons.
The Churchill tool uses only openly available data, including DWP statistics and others from the Office for National Statistics, bringing it together to encourage policy teams to incorporate it in their decision-making.
It allows users to compare places within and across policy areas, explore those areas in more detail, look at trends and changes over time and also compare that to how the make-up of policy areas and people have changed.
The aim is to help them identify which areas might need further investigation or a policy intervention, Dunn said.
“Churchill allows policy makers to safely explore the data by geography, time and characteristics to develop and deliver data-driven and evidence-based policy,” he said. “It’s data for people who don’t like data!”
The tool was designed by a multi-disciplinary team, with user testing to iterate the product, and Dunn said that it had received “great feedback” from the first users.
According to Dunn’s blog, one of the alpha testing group – Nicola Smythe, a DWP strategy manager – said that the information was presented in a way that was “easy to understand” and doesn’t need the user to ask policy analysts for interpretation. “It’s saving time and it’s making policy more efficient and accurate,” said Smythe.
The team is now working to add more data to Churchill and make it available on the internet to a wider audience.
The government has committed to making better use of data, and its transformation strategy outlines plans to improve the data skills of all civil servants, not just those who use data on a daily basis.