Today’s policy making is no longer the sole preserve of political institutions and agents. Governments at different levels, from local to national, have to meet the evolving societal preferences for more inclusive approaches that consider the views of multiple actors, especially citizens. At the same time, there is widespread expectation that policy making should be more agile to keep pace with a changing reality which is increasingly driven by the rapid development, deployment and expansion of emerging technologies and data. Big data analytics in particular attracted a lot of attention recently thanks to its much touted potential to transform the way in which policies are being conceived, designed and implemented.
But how does truly participatory, data-driven policy making work in practice? What kind of data should policies be based on? Will simple charts be enough or do policy makers need better, more advanced tools to make informed decisions? PoliVisu decided to provide a glimpse of the 21st century policy making by running a networking session at the ICT2018 conference in Vienna. The event took place on 6 December 2018 and was organised as a role game that required participants to
Visualise: play with a map based on the actual traffic accident data collected by the Flemish police
Discuss: break out into groups and investigate the situation from four different perspectives i.e. cycling charity, pedestrian group, motorists association, public authority
Decide: answer map related questions and share the results with others
The results of interactive session are summarised per group below.
The profile developed for this group emphasized the charity’s concern with the number of cyclist accidents in Flanders, some of which were fatal. The organisation’s ultimate objective is to enable people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to cycle safely, easily and enjoyably in the region.
The first thing that caught this group’s attention was the great number of accidents overall, even in non-urban, far-away places. Participants also noticed that there are hardly any accidents when it’s raining, that most accidents happen in the early morning and late afternoon, and that cycling activity in general has been on the rise recently.
The group thought that more public transport and more cycling lanes could help reduce the number of road accidents involving cyclists, thus making the activity more attractive for the masses. However, additional research is needed to better understand what motivates people to start/cease cycling. Is road accident risk a significant deterrent for all or only some citizen groups?
The profile of this group was built around the recognition that walking carries a certain amount of risk. So one of the group’s aims is to ensure that more walking does not lead to more pedestrian casualties in Flanders, especially among school children.
The pedestrian group found the visualisation to be pretty good at giving a quick overview of where most accidents happen. Interestingly, participants discovered that people get hit more often in inhabited areas than on the outskirts or near motorways. Their suggested measure therefore focused exclusively on inner city areas (e.g. speed limits, safe islands, speed bumps, clear signposting). The group also suggested developing a dashboard that would be able to produce additional statistics/correlations, such as traffic intensity v traffic accidents.
The persona developed for this group was slightly provocative, as it stressed the association’s belief that accidents happen for many reasons, and that victims often bear the responsibility for what happened. Cyclists and pedestrians need to better follow the rules and guidelines before blaming the drivers, the profile card concluded.
After looking at the map, the participants noticed three things: the concentration of accidents in big cities; that most collisions happen with cyclists; and that only a few accidents end up fatally. Like the previous group, they also suggested inner city measures similar to the ones above. One recommendation that was different though was educational campaign for cyclists/pedestrians, as “motorists” thought some awareness building could help impart the necessary knowledge on the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders other than drivers.
The fourth group’s profile stressed the concern of Flemish policy makers with the number of car accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. A policy intervention is clearly needed but where should the region’s priorities lie?
The group immediately noticed that there are several major hotspots clustered around big metropolitan areas. Perhaps not surprisingly, alcohol was a major cause of road accidents, which also tend to happen in certain areas/intersections. What is surprising though is that there are no or few diseased victims in the city centres, which the participants thought can be attributed to lower speed limits. A policy measure that this group decided to introduce in the end was aimed at measuring traffic near schools to minimise the risk for the most vulnerable group that is children.
Insights collected from participants during the role game pertained both to their persona and the map itself. In the coming months, PoliVisu technical team will be introducing improvements to the tool based on the feedback provided at the networking session. After the changes have been implemented, users will notice a significant improvement in usability as they’ll be able to, inter alia, use +/- buttons to easily zoom in/out across the whole map; select accidents on the map as well as from a list; view accident photos in the pop-up screen; share the map in WMS for further integration; perform a more in-depth analysis using additional data on traffic volume, bicycle routes, road surface, traffic lights.
We will be running more sessions like this in the future, so stay tuned!