A new way of representing data is giving intelligence-led policing experts, political scientists, and infrastructure planners the tools they need to make critical decisions. By representing sophisticated analyses in a way that was previously not possible, they can respond to urgent needs more efficiently and with finely tuned planning.
This outcome has been supported by Dr Roger Beecham’s work in the field of `visual analytics.’ He developed new interactive data visualisation techniques that can paint a rich picture about where and when events, such as crimes or health incidents, take place. West Midlands Police – an organisation to benefit from the research – has adopted crime analysis and planning techniques developed by Dr Beecham and his team.
“The visualisations are in the form of carefully designed interfaces that can be easily used with the right training. They contain features such as multi-layered, interactive maps and graphs,” explained Dr Beecham.
“These interfaces have been designed to equip subject-matter experts with the tools to identify rich data patterns that represent where and when events are taking place. This means those working in the particular field or workforce can prepare and respond with greater efficiency.”
The interfaces have been designed to equip subject-matter experts with the tools to identify rich data patterns that represent where and when events are taking place.
By exploring and revealing patterns in data, Dr Beecham has given political scientists insight into the shifting geographies of the 2019 UK General Election, and voting patterns during the 2016 Brexit referendum. He has offered explanations behind votes by region, on an area level, for both Brexit and the US Trump election.
Dr Beecham also develops new visualisations to support more detailed statistical modelling activities. The visualisations are a means of both representing data and proposing suggestions to refine the accuracy of visual data analysis.
Visualisations developed by Dr Beecham are being used to support the analysis of Covid-19 cases and deaths data. Currently, he is modelling transport data to analyse how bike use is changing in the pandemic. The aim is that, as the pandemic develops, the research can be used to offer insight into evolving transport needs.
Mapping transport demand
The Rapid Cycleway Prioritisation Tool, which provides an interactive map for every transport authority in England, is the result of a nationwide transport modelling project led by Dr Lovelace – based in Leeds’ Institute of Transport Studies – and colleagues, including Dr Beecham.
It is a freely available tool that, through the insights it provides, will support decisions on how the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund is spent for the best long-term benefit.
Part-funded by the Department for Transport, the project highlights specific locations where there is demand for cycling infrastructure. As a result, new cycleways introduced into cities will allow many people to continue the healthy habits they started during the lockdown.
Dr Beecham’s PhD research made much use of visualisation in analysing use of London’s bikeshare scheme. The work formed part of a four-year engagement with transport authorities.
Through public engagement events, such as exhibitions, the findings proved invaluable when collaborating with transport policymakers. Interactive visualisations revealed key insights into how different categories of cyclist use the scheme for commuting, participate in leisure and group cycling activities, and make decisions about where to cycle in different conditions.
Such insights pave the way for remapping cycling infrastructure to meet commuters’ needs, and promoting cycling as a sustainable mode of transport.
Innovating crime analysis
New approaches to visually analysing crime data developed by Dr Beecham and colleagues were incorporated into VALCRI, an EU-funded project. It aimed to develop a handheld visual analytics platform for crime analysis.
Dr Beecham proposed new interfaces for representing detailed, multi-faceted patterns in crime reports through a partnership with West Midlands Police. He worked with their Police Analysts to reform their existing data analysis processes by re-designing their ‘Statistical Process Control’ (SPC) charts.
We developed a new way of communicating with analysts – creating interactive documents that exposed problems with established processes and allowed analysts to explore, give feedback on, and propose alternatives.
He pioneered the research by combining more than 170 SPCs monitoring crime data – such as times, locations, and types of offences – into interactive maps showing how crime patterns in specific geographic areas vary over time.
“As we were overhauling established ways of working with SPCs, the process needed to be collaborative from the beginning,” said Dr Beecham.
“So with this work, we developed a new way of communicating with analysts – creating interactive documents that exposed problems with established processes and allowed analysts to explore, give feedback on, and propose alternatives.
“This was the first project I’ve worked in which subject-matter-experts – in this case, Police Analysts – were really contributing to the visualisation re-design process, which is exciting.”
Part of the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy’s research team, based in the School of Geography, Dr Beecham is on a team of researchers working in the field of urban analytics. They conduct research at the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, and are supported by the Alan Turing partnership.
Dr Beecham has delivered workshops at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded Consumer Data Research Centre, where the researchers collaborate with a variety of local and national stakeholders.
If you would like to discuss this area of research in more detail, please contact Dr Roger Beecham.