Weeknote — 2021-06-29

Digital land sprint notes

The team have begun working with 10 pathfinder local authorities to explore options and test guidance and other tools which may be used to develop new style local plans. We also added more national datasets, and made improvements to how we collect and present data on our national map.

Local plan pathfinders

Katie ran workshops and several user research interviews with our 10 pathfinder local authorities. The first workshop began by establishing a working definition of a “site”:

By “site” we mean a parcel of land, submitted by a land owner or identified by the local authority. It is under consideration for development and is demarcated by a red line boundary. A site can have many uses such as residential, leisure, town centre, employment, retail, regeneration, and gypsy and traveller sites.

We also asked our pathfinders to provide local plan and site data in the form it is currently held. The difficulty of extracting data from information held in documents remains the biggest obstacle to processing planning information as data, however, not all of the barriers to publishing and using local plans as data are technical. For example license and other data sharing agreements made when the information was created are often seen as a reason they can’t be republished. The pathfinders work is an opportunity for us to better understand these barriers to publication and devise and test ways we can help overcome them.

Datasets

We added a number of national environmental and heritage collections to our dataset pages. The size and number of these datasets helped us prioritise work to process the files more efficiently, moving from storing the collected resources and processed data from GitHub LFS to Amazon S3.

Map

Our national map became less usable as we added more datasets, especially ones with a large number of features.

Kishan and Colm ran a technical spike to see if we could move from LeafletJS to mapbox vector tiles using MapLibre GL. This shows great promise, panning and zooming without needing to reload individual features, and is easily able to display every listed-building even at the lowest zoom level. The tiles are cached by the browser, meaning less data needs to be transferred, and meaning our servers can easily support larger numbers of users.

Paul S continued to research accessibility and other needs for our maps, meeting others working on the design of maps from other government organisations. Paul and Colm spoke to Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility at DWP Digital. Craig recently published the DWP Accessibility Manual and kindly offered to talk to us about how we planned to make our interactive maps accessible and inclusive. We will write more about this in the coming weeks.

We also plan to attend a planned workshop from the GOVUK Design System team about interactive maps. People from across the public sector are working on similar problems to ours and have been sharing their work on the Design System's Backlog 'issue' for Maps or writing blog posts, such as the team at Defra Digital who blogged about Designing a more accessible flood map

Team

This sprint we started work on our Team Charter that sets out how we want to work together when we return to the office. Some of us are in London, others are national, and some of us will continue to work from home, so it's important that we work out the tools and schedules that will work best for everyone. We’ll revisit our Team Charter every quarter to make sure we are still living by the shared values we agreed.

We welcomed Milan as our new Deputy Director in Planning Digital who will be supporting our delivery and helping align all of the digital programmes.