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“They don’t see the value of it often…[data about physical assets- buildings etc] it’s only when they see it physically [on a map] and what it looks like and what it tells you, what it says. But at that point they think ohh, that may be not right” P2

With one eye on the upcoming regional land transaction tax and another on a more holistic view of land and property data across Wales our team has been exploring the processes, goals, and challenges in relation to geographical data within a range of public sector organisations.

It was an exciting moment for us when we heard from a participant in our last round of research that data once visualised on a map can be a transformational moment. We heard how data, that might not be key to an organisation’s delivery function, is sometimes not well looked after and not entirely accurate (as the quote above). We heard how the organisation when they saw the mapped data were galvanised to correct that data and realised its real importance to them.

We also heard how the visualisation of that same data on a map harnessed the energy to put in place processes to care for and manage that data going forward where there had been none before. And of course – suddenly- it transformed what they knew because it presented the data to them in a very different, tangible way.

The structural challenges of bringing together data

What our research also found were the structural difficulties of bringing datasets together. Of course there is nothing new about data matching challenges but it is often surprising how very small things can cause such big problems. How you define the data structure of an address – can result in data that cannot be matched across an organisation – let alone across multiple organisations.

We heard about the challenge faced within a single organisation attempting to create a single version of truth – e.g. one place where the address for a citizen or property is held - rather than multiple databases all with potentially different versions.

From our perspective, thinking about a land and property data platform, once you want to look across a series of datasets from a range of organisations, suddenly each single version of truth (if it exists for that organisation) is different to the version of truth of another.

All of this does raise the question of where the responsibility for data management for something as innocuous as address should lie? Is it within a single organisation like a local authority? Is it within Local Government as a whole? Is it at national government level? Is it UK govt? Is it all governments globally?

Using prototypes to enable exploratory thinking

The research has given our team a new impetus. As a result of what we have discovered we are bringing together real datasets into the data platform. From these we intend to create prototypes to aid policy makers at local and national levels. We want to enable conversations about how a regional property tax might be organised.

By using mapping within prototypes we can explore; how the boundaries of regional areas could be drawn, what data exists already and where data is patchy or difficult to use.

At the same time we will continue exploring the potential shape, value and viability of a broader objective – a land and property data platform across the Welsh public sector.