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London Atlas 2021: a behind the scenes look at data collection

The latest London Atlas of homelessness services launches next week, updated to reflect the changes brought about by the ongoing pandemic. But how is it actually put together? Becky Rice, LHF Atlas project manager explains what happens during data collection.

Our mini, cross-organisational Atlas team comprises of Gareth Thomas at Homeless Link, Tom Shirley from Illustrating Impact and me. Homeless Link is commissioned by LHF to undertake the bulk of work on the project, but each of us have days allocated to the project each year – days which are crammed full with sourcing, presenting and scrutinising data and then transposing this to visualisations and looking to continually improve the site.

London Atlas 2021: a behind the scenes look at data collection

I think of October to January as the data collection phase of the Atlas’ yearly calendar. We start just before this in September, by meeting and taking stock of how we think the data is being used, feedback we have received, improvements we could make and so on.

We plan the best way to get a full data refresh done, so that every service represented has had its data checked by a commissioner and / or service provider and that a good range of secondary data sources are included.

The main approaches we have taken this year are:

  • Contacting all local authorities to ask them to check and make any corrections or adjustments to the information that’s already in the Atlas; we provide this information in a spreadsheet for people to review.
  • Compiling information for each service provider and asking them to check information as well, also using a specifically compiled spreadsheet for their organisation.
  • Triangulating information from local authorities and service providers to identify any discrepancies and work out the most accurate way to present information.
  • Undertaking a survey of health projects to check that those included in this area of the Atlas – which was only introduced last year – are happy with the data included and reaching out to health networks to see if there are other services we can include.
  • Compiling secondary data such as CHAIN and street counts data. This year we have also included secondary data on the accommodation provided as part of the Everybody In response to Covid-19.
  • Liaising with Housing Justice for information on Winter Shelters.
  • Requesting information from the Clearing House team at St Mungo’s about the number of people in Clearing House accommodation by borough.

Reaching our final dataset takes a lot of checking, chasing and compilation, after which the information is mapped onto the website. This will be all the more gratifying this year, as the speed of the site has improved dramatically due to a great innovation from Tom – find out more in this blog from November.

So far, we have information from just over two thirds of London boroughs and a good steady stream of information coming from service delivery organisations. Overall, we get a better response each year as people become more aware of the Atlas, its unique contribution and the importance of having their services really well represented.

We are hugely grateful to everyone who gets involved in data checking, ideas and providing new data for the Atlas. Together we have created a unique model in terms of collecting and presenting evidence in efforts to end homelessness.

As always, we welcome any feedback or ideas, and you can get in touch at any time by contacting Gareth – or Becky Rice – / 07811 607 679.

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