9 June 2009

Geographic Information... Postcards?



The Met Police's latest resident engagement exercise: "tell us your concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour in this area", and mark where it's happening on the map.

Quite touching, really. It's the police reaching out rather than being merely reactive, and in allowing written and spatial feedback it's open to different styles of communication and thinking. The tagline is "Listening to you" - god, you think they're going to give you a hug rather than (a) catch criminals and (b) beat up/imprison/murder lawful protestors.

But it's not going to work very well, is it? First, the map's half-unreadable because the boundaries of the local ward cutting off several key street names. Second, do respondents have the sophistication to put their X in the place they want to be describing? Sounds patronising, but the first rule of survey design is always Keep It Simple, Stupid: if it can be misunderstood it will. Third is the problem of processing all these smudged Freeposted postcards: that's a lot of data entry, and half of it won't be legible.

You can see what they're intending, and it's good: mapping crime, Geographic Information Systems, very closely related to work at UCL's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. (Linked, even, c.f. former policeman Paul Richards' PhD on Realtime geodemographics for reassurance policing and crime prevention [ppt]. But if you want a GIS, don't hand out bloody postcards... E-democracy or e-governance has never quite taken off in this country, has it - why not? This should be web-based, it should connect to stuff, not least the Met's overall Crime Mapping site - yet there is nothing, no parallel site, no mention of it on www.met.police.uk/islington at all. Is this so hard? It wouldn't require groundbreaking innovation: internet use is widespread enough for e-governance; Google Maps is robust enough; and people can type more legibly than they handwrite on half-a-dozen narrow lines. And we've got an ex-copper doing a doctorate on this exact topic.

So why'd I get a damn postcard?

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