Understanding Our Places

November 21, 2019

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by Issy Petrie, Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

During Scotland’s Towns Week we’d like to take the time to reflect on the importance of accessible and reliable data in empowering town communities.

At the Carnegie UK Trust, we work to support ambitious policy and innovative practice for towns across the UK. We know that to improve wellbeing – at an individual, community and societal level – first we need to understand those places.

In 2015 we led a partnership to develop Understanding Scottish Places, an online platform which enables people to understand the key characteristics of their town and their town’s role within local networks.

Since then, the site has been updated twice with new data and functionality and continues to support people who wish to learn about their places. Managed by Scotland’s Towns Partnership, the site also provides support to undertake a Your Town Audit to gather local information alongside the official statistics on the site.

After the success of Understanding Scottish Places (USP), last month the Carnegie UK Trust was delighted to launch Understanding Welsh Places (UWP), with support from the Welsh Government and managed by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The development of the site benefitted from the support of a consortium of experts, representing the many different interests of town communities in Wales.

Understanding Welsh Places presents data about demographics, the economy, public services, the environment, and culture, all at town level (everywhere over 2000 residents). From UWP, you can find out the number of schools and school places in your town, how many shops there are, how far people travel to work, and where they commute to.

We know that towns don’t exist in isolation and that they are part of local networks, and the movements within these networks shape how the town works and how the town feels. So both USP and UWP display information on where people commute to, and local inter-relationships which show how dependent or independent the town is on nearby places.

The websites also cluster towns into groups that share similarities – we hope this helps town communities to find other places they might learn from, and also to find ‘unusual friends’ who are perhaps more similar than they first appear. As local authorities increasingly use local data to embed evidence in their practice, communities too should be able to incorporate evidence into their plans.

But we would like to see more data available at a local level – to fully capture the cultural richness of our different towns, the state of our environment, and more information about mobility. Only with better data can decision-makers pinpoint the interventions they wish to make, and monitor the local outcomes that result from the changes.

We would also like to see town communities better supported to use data themselves. Over the coming year the IWA will be engaging with towns to support them to use this tool, and to learn from how communities are already putting data to work.

Understanding Welsh Places is an ongoing project, and we would love your feedback on what information you’d like to see presented about towns. If you have local place-based research or plans for your community, we’d love to include them on the website so please upload your town plans here.