This is a slide taken from a presentation produced by council officials and circulated around local community councils in April.
On the face of it, it looks like pretty good news. Afterall, the map shows 7% more people are “satisfied” with the way anti-social behaviour is being dealt with, and there are even places where people are “very satisfied” about how officials respond to concerns over anti-social behaviour. Helpfully, the map shows places where people are less satisfied too, indicating those areas which might need a bit more attention.
Greener Leith had an enquiry from a local resident recently who asked us to find the source of the data that underpins these maps, because the council presentation didn’t link to it. And now, we’ve found it, it’s not really clear these maps tell us anything useful at all.
First of all, the map is based on survey results from 411 people in the area. This gives the results an accuracy of +/- 5% at Neighbourhood Partnership Level in Leith. And of course, the more you try to break the results down to smaller and smaller areas, the less accurate the results get.
The council report on the original survey results suggests that at ward level the results become +/- 7% in Leith Ward.
But these maps break the down to far smaller areas than wards. Each area of analysis in these maps must represent the views of a tiny handful of people, but the officials who made these maps and whoever put them into a presentation don’t seem to have put any caveat anywhere making this clear.
And what about the blank bits of the map? What can anyone say about them?
So it would seem that any claimed “improvement” in anti-social behaviour is pretty close to the margin of error in the survey. Some of the other indicators in the presentation were within the margin of error.
For example, can this map which claims to represent what Leithers think of how the council deals with dog poo really tell us anything at all? Even that 2% “increase” is within the margin of error.
The Facebook question and not really many answers session.
Ironically, in the same week Neighbourhood Partnership staff held an online Q&A on Facebook, where we’d requested hard data on how many fines the wardens had issued on Dog Fouling, Litter and Fly-tipping in the last year.
Officials refused to provide the information then and insisted that the request be treated as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
This will be the third year that Greener Leith has had to use FOI legislation to get these same statistics out of the council about local council services. How many more years will we need to put in the same request, before this data is published routinely?
Good community engagement needs transparency from the council
Lest you think, this post is just bashing the council, it’s not. These two examples illustrate a broader point.
Last Friday, Leith Neighbourhood Partnership held a community conference in a bid to give local people the chance to influence the priorities of that public agencies will focus on for the next three years. You can read a more detailed account of it from Peter Mathews here.
At that meeting, there was a call for more accountability, and more information, from the neighbourhood partnership, as people struggled to make reasoned judgements over which issues should be priorities for action in the coming years.
If there’s a genuine desire to move from simple consultation to more in depth forms of community engagement that give locals more of a say over how local services work, it’s hard to see how “non-experts” will be able to participate meaningfully in these discussions if officials do not commit to providing timely, sensible, reliable information on service performance.
Opaque “sciencey” looking propaganda maps, don’t really help anyone.
Whilst Neighbourhood partnership staff have made a laudable effort to share census results for the area more widely, there seems to be little appetite for sharing internally held council, police or health data, and explaining what the information might mean for the people who use and depend on these services – even when this could help people to come up with better ideas for improvements.
Reassuringly, we understand that Councillor Deidre Brock, who is the current Chair of the Neighbourhood Partnership has asked officers to review the governance and representation of the body. Here’s hoping it also looks at the capacity building work that would be required to support broader participation in community planning. On this week’s evidence, there’s a bit of work to be done.