Understanding coastal communities

For a landmass that has so much coastline, we don't really know how to define 'coastal' all that well. Need proof? Just take a look at this Twitter conversation started by Tom Forth, our Head of Data:

Why is it important to define whether a place is coastal or not? Because it could be the key to making things better for people who live in coastal areas. Owing to the lack of a definition of 'coastal area', even within government, data about these areas is either anecdotal or based on a wider geographical scope. Without that data, it's harder to understand an area and thus harder to support it with better decision making and investments. For example, a good proportion of Coastal Communities Fund requests were given to Tourism, Creative, and Recreation projects, which makes sense when coastal areas have typically been hotspots for tourism and leisure. But what about business? There is a lot more to a coastal area than just sand, sea, and surf.

The UK's ports sector is vital for trade, as up to 95% of goods arrive or depart by sea. Ports are also a crucial part of UK and global supply chains and can vastly affect the areas around where they are built in terms of jobs, investment, and transport infrastructure, and more. By their nature they are embedded in coastal communities. But there's been too little focus on coastal prosperity & wellbeing by politicians. Could this be in part fallout from fragmented data and poor definitions about a 'coastal area?

Working with ODI Leeds, the UK Major Ports Group wants to open up the conversation about coastal areas - specifically how policy interventions can be focused and meaningful - using more detailed and specific data. They approached ODI Leeds because of our expertise in visualising complicated concepts in interactive ways, such as the Distributed Future Energy Scenarios map. We also have experience of trying to unravel the complexities of data about specific topics, such as funding (Joseph Rowntree foundation collaborative project to track local funding in the UK) and the distribution of research & development funding across the country.

This conversation about coastal areas might prompt some hard questions but it might also reveal some possible ways forward that were previously dismissed or just difficult to picture. The UK Major Ports Group want to see a future where the prosperity and wellbeing of coastal communities has more attention, where policy interventions are informed by data and where long-term benefits from those decisions are positive for both businesses and for communities. They also support the #RadicallyOpen way of sharing work, publishing data, getting feedback, making things better in the open. We are looking forward to working with them. Keep an eye on our blog or our Twitter feed for further project updates.