Posted on: 27 June 2016

The forthcoming Local Government Association conference seems like an appropriate reason to reflect on how data has the power to change the way we interact with our elected representatives.

Accurate data is crucial to informed decision making, but getting relevant data in front of our MPs and our councillors can be a difficult task.

There are two key challenges for those working in public affairs. Firstly, there is the challenge of collating data.

On the positive side, useful data is much more widely available today than it once was.

The Open Data principle means we can download spreadsheets of data broken down by all manner of geographical boundaries from sources such as the ONS and the House of Commons library, covering issues such as employment, poverty or availability of broadband.

If this publicly available data helps to advance your arguments then you are in a fortunate position.

If not, you’ll need to consider an investment in collation, whether that means commissioning the likes of Oxford Economics or the CEBR, or taking a more hands on approach and making the calls and emails yourself.

The second challenge comes in the presentation of that data. The digital era offers organisations the opportunity to interact with stakeholders in a new realm and in more engaging ways: whether it be through animations, infographics and videos or data visualisation tools.

Where once we may have relied upon a printed map of the UK to show trends, now we can click into regions, constituencies, local authorities, wards or LSOAs and drill into the detail.

We can present information in vivid colours and through graphs and pie charts, making comparing and benchmarking both a straightforward and engaging process.

So whether you’re conversing with an MP or councillor at a conference or are sat in a face-to-face meeting, pulling out relevant and visually interesting data is streets ahead of where it once was.

In a world where substantiation is key, data visualisation tools are king. They help to present relevant data to decision makers allowing them to make an informed decision that’s right for their area.

For some campaigns we can add a third challenge. If mobilising public support is required to help move an issue up the agenda, then the sharing of data is also key.

And here data visualisation tools again come into their own, allowing members of the public to research data on their area and take appropriate action, which might include sharing on Twitter, Facebook, emailing their friends, or directly raising the issue with their elected representative in writing or in person.

The use of data remains a relatively untapped tool in public affairs. But the possibilities offered by digital in terms of the accessibility, and visualisation of relevant data have the ability to change the way we have conversations with our elected representatives.