Could you make a better map than this?

Last week, the Local Government Association released a new version of its Shared Services map, they say:

“We have changed the appearance and layout of the map to make it more user-friendly”

Hmm, have to wonder how unfriendly it was prior to the changes!

There are 52 shared services in London
A “user friendly’ map showing 52 shared services in London


Pause for a minute, try it out, see what you can discover about the 383 shared service agreements between 337 councils in England (95% of the total) that are predicted to save £357m. Apart from eventually finding your local council and working out what agreements they had entered into and with whom, what else did you discover? Are there any geographic patterns to savings, thematic focusses, anything else?

I am struggling to find the words to express how poor this map is – that doesn’t happen often. I would have said it was a pointless exercise but it is full of points (or map pins). Actually a pointless map would have been an improvement, local authorities are probably best represented by a polygon. Polygons could show the number of partnerships a local authority was engaged in, the savings achieved or the range of thematic topics, any of which might have been more useful but there again they might not and that for me is the heart of the problem. Is there a hypothesis that would suggest some skewed geographic distribution of partnerships or benefits? I doubt it, but there is no way to view the national data (clearly the author did not know about clustering pins to avoid pin overload) to get some overview of distribution and no ability to map variables which have to accessed via the info callouts on each pin).

Maybe someone from LGA would like to explain the purpose of this map. Is the use of a map intended to help the user navigate to information about local shared services partnerships or is it endeavouring to offer some analytical insight?

To be fair, this is not easy data to display on a map. Have a look at the tabular data, play around with the filters (try setting to ‘organisations involved’) and note the variation in data submitted, particularly on financial benefits realised and projected. There is a mass of data here and LGA needs to work out what information they want to portray before deciding whether charts, tables, grids, info graphics or maps would best convey the message.

By now you may be thinking “why doesn’t he stop knocking the LGA’s map and make a better one himself?”. Well I am a pretty clumsy user of QGIS and I am certainly not a cartographer so my effort would be be pretty poor. So here’s a challenge, download the data, use some OpenData and make a better map to illustrate these shared service agreements – it can be a static map(s) or something interactive. Post a link to an image or a web map in the comments of this post. I will co-opt a co-judge to help me choose the best effort and I will present a prize (small but worth having if you are a geogeek) at the next Geomob in July.