Making Data Storytelling Easier for Cities

With Tombolo, we’re on a mission to advance data capability in our cities. We’re introducing tools for data folk that will make it easier for them to work collaboratively. We’ve spent the past year building and releasing an open tool that makes it easier to format, connect and share data indexes. Now we’re focused on releasing a second tool, which will help users visualise data about their cities in order to tell great data stories.


User experience and interface designs for the new Data Visualisation tool by Future Cities Catapult: The Tombolo Data Visualisation tool will come loaded with city indexes we’ve created over the past 12-months and allow you or your organisation to import and edit your own.


We’re doing this because we believe that if we remove silos and connect data sets from across our cities, we can tell a more holistic story of how they interact and behave. This will allow people to develop far more effective and innovative solutions for addressing multiple city challenges and, therefore, accelerate the rate at which we improve our cities and make them more livable spaces for people.


How did we arrive at building a data visualisation platform?

We’ve been building our Digital Connector for a year now. It’s an open source tool that helps data specialists format, connect and share geospatial data. If you’re non-technical like me, that’s basically a category of data essential for making maps or getting to know more about your place.

The tool makes the hard work carried out by data specialists to get data and indexes in the right shape shareable, so that their work can be reviewed, re-used or extended by others. Because it’s open and free, it’s an enabler for collaboration, replication, and improved productivity within data science teams and across organisations.

We’ve loaded the Digital Connector with some commonly connected datasets (Open Street Map, ONS Census, Transport datasets) and indexes (Social Isolation, Active Travel) so users can connect any new data-sets with the ones that we’ve already looked at. And the tool is great for technical data folk, those skilled in Python and Java, but it’s not really accessible for general users who want to see what the data means for their place and decision making.

By talking to local authorities in the UK, we had a thought:

“Why don’t we build something to go alongside the Digital Connector? Something that makes it easier for data folk to take their connected geospatial data-sets and tell data compelling stories about their place to non-data folk.”


Introducing a Data Visualisation Platform by Tombolo

We’ve now completed our Data Visualisation Platform prototype, UX Designs and specification in-house with the support of our talented creative design team at Future Cities Catapult.

What’s more, we’re ready to share the details openly with you before the tool becomes available for our March Hackathon.


User experience and interface designs for the new Data Visualisation tool produced by Future Cities Catapult: Users will be able to sign-up to an account with the tool, which will give them access to a ‘Playground’ where they can import, view and edit visualisations about their place


We want to create a platform that will enable data folk to quickly and easily share great data stories with influencers and decision-makers inside and outside of their organisation.

We have four key requirements for the build of the platform. Users should be able to:

  1. View the indexes relevant to their place that we’ve created and are available openly through the Digital Connector
  2. Set-up an account in order to load and view their own geospatial datasets in the platform
  3. Customise some basic features around how their data is visualised
  4. Export and share the maps with others through images, PDFs or directly through a URL


Appointing the right software delivery partner

In January, we took the decision to appoint Emu Analytics to help us turn our vision into a reality.



We chose Emu because we knew that with their experience in providing data visualisation products and services, we could rely on them to stitch together and stand-up a tool that utilises open source software within a short timeframe. It meant providing us with the opportunity to collaborate with a talented SME that builds and deploys location products for cities.


How’s the development going so far?

We’re in Week 3 of the collaboration and it’s going great. Here’s a view of how the development is progressing.


1. Indexes in the Digital Connector are now loaded and are being iterated

Week 2: First screenshots of the build of our data visualisation platform


  1. Users can easily export and share a view of their map at any given time
Week 2: Users can already have a go at exporting their own map


  1. The print outs of some of our analyses are starting to look great with even more features still to be added
Week 2: Exported maps look great when they’re printed out


The Emu Analytics team will continue to work with our visual designers and data scientists over the coming weeks, reviewing the outputs with the LB of Barking and Dagenham’s Corporate Insight Hub to develop a product that’s fit for public sector data folk.


City Data Hackathon: want to try out our data tools?

On the horizon, we have our City Data Hack (16–18 March, London), where participants will have the chance to hack our tools and combine data insights with service design in order to respond to local authority challenges.


Get involved by signing up to an event and keep informed by following Tombolo and Future Cities Catapult on Twitter or signing up to our newsletters.

Jon Robertson is currently the Delivery Lead for Tombolo and leading Data and Digital projects at Future Cities Catapult. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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