David Pegg: Smart community platforms – using the ‘power of where’ to help us build back better

Written by David Pegg, Director Consulting Services at CGI UK

As we look beyond COVID-19, communities are asking how they can build back better. They are looking to put priorities like sustainability, health and resilience against future shocks at the centre of their recovery.

Public sector budgets are likely to be tight in the aftermath of the pandemic so these aspirations may seem like pipe dreams, but they don’t have to be. Today, location enabled technologies, underpinned by Open Standards and Open Data, are powering applications that bring communities together around shared social goals while enabling authorities to work more efficiently. Active Travel, a solution built and supported by CGI in partnership with the Welsh Government, is just one example of a smart community platform being used in Wales to harnesses the ‘power of where’ to support authorities as they develop policies and improve their communities.

Getting active in Wales

Getting out and about on walks and bike rides has been hugely popular during the pandemic. Outdoor activities gave people a chance to stretch their legs, see the sights and fill their time while shops, restaurants and cultural spots were closed.

Working with CGI, the Welsh Government is utilising geospatial data to promote active travel journeys, create new routes and improve existing ones. Using the Active Travel service, people can plan ‘active’ journeys, with walking and cycling routes displayed on a map. This visual format is the most intuitive and engaging way to communicate a lot of information at once. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

The Welsh Government has funded Active Travel via grants to 22 local authorities to pay for the development and upkeep of route infrastructure such as footpaths, cycle ways, signage and public toilets and the Active Travel Network Map.

Creating efficiency and accessibility

At the heart of Active Travel is a database fed from multiple sources, including location data sources such as Ordnance Survey and Sustrans. Members of the public can also update Active Travel on the status of route infrastructure, so if someone encounters a cycle way that is unsafe or can’t be used, they can submit a report to notify the authorities and other Active Travel users. This will ensure that any issues can be quickly dealt with, improving the area and giving everyone the opportunity to access paths and walkways.

As well as encouraging community engagement, the solution supports Active Travel’s funding model, enabling the Welsh Government to monitor the condition and usage of the assets it has paid for.

Routes to success

Working with Welsh Government and Active Travel teams, CGI designed a browser-based location service. This acts as a one-stop-shop for creating and editing Active Travel Network Maps and can pull the council’s existing data into the system which is then managed and maintained. It can also enable local authorities to connect nationally while also managing their own routes.

Active Travel provides a shared platform to each of the 22 local authorities, enabling them to create, maintain and promote Active Travel routes. The application provides a single-source of information and data about public spaces such as schools, public toilets and cycle parking, bringing benefits and information to the Active Travel routes user base.

The functionality has been built on the DataMapWales open data platform, built by CGI for Welsh Government to enable effective data sharing between people in communities, businesses and local and central government. The platform enables user to search for, view (in an interactive map) and download or stream 173 data sets across a range of topics, from Active Travel to World Heritage sites. DataMapWales also provides an application delivery platform. Active Travel is the first to go live and will quickly be followed by a service to support vulnerable people.

The approach taken to Active Travel means that the solution has removed the need for local desktop systems thanks to its online editing capabilities, which provides all local authorities with a common approach. Routes are also accurate and easy to create, so that users are empowered to share their experiences.

Councils have been under increasing pressure over the past 12 months, so their workload was kept in mind. As a result, the application provides statistics to reduce the authority’s workload when fulfilling their policy obligations with the Welsh Government.

Building back better

With 1,300 CGI members based in Wales, CGI is one of Wales’ largest IT employers, delivering world-class IT solutions in areas such as application services, infrastructure, managed IT and cyber security to some of the

UK’s largest public and private sector organisations from our offices in Bridgend, along with our North Wales office in St Asaph.

With over 40 years’ experience we offer a comprehensive set of integrated location-enabled services, underpinned by an unrivalled blend of skills and expertise including geospatial experts, software development, data management and cloud deployment. We provide the design, delivery and ongoing maintenance of location-enabled business and operational applications.

CGI is uniquely positioned to unlock ‘the power of where’ for organisations in Wales, as we are recognised by the Welsh Government as an important contributor to the continued economic development of Wales and have been awarded Anchor Company status.

Acknowledging the challenges facing local authorities, we help them to transform place-based service delivery to improve outcomes for their local communities. Improving access to active travel infrastructure is key to helping people become more active, as well as contributing to local authorities’ net zero ambitions.

By incorporating the ‘power of where’ and the latest technology into their roadmap to recovery, councils across Wales will be better equipped to improve and support their communities and services.