In 2010, the Swedish town of Malmo was terrorised by a serial shooter who opened fire on people waiting at bus stops and in their cars. The police arrested the perpetrator, Peter Mangs, within three hours.

Police officers ran ten years’ worth of crime documents through a data visualisation tool, shortening 43 years’ worth of work analysing and generating reports into hours. Data analytics doesn’t just save time; it draws out key insights that might have remained buried in the vast amounts of data governments collect each day. “Looking at data in an isolated fashion is all good and well, but the most value comes when you’re able to combine the different data sets,” says Charlie Farah, Director of Industry Solutions, Healthcare and Public Sector, APAC at Qlik.

Here are five ways governments around the world are using data analytics to improve citizens’ lives.

1. Improving neighbourhood healthcare services

As populations around the world age, governments must think about how to make healthcare services more accessible. Farah explains how data analytics can provide deeper insights to the healthcare needs of each neighbourhood.

Governments can start with demographic mapping to look at the population density of a neighbourhood, the number of people who have bought health insurance and the number of residents with a particular health condition, like diabetes. Officials can even do a route analysis to see which hospitals patients are accessing and calculate the drive time to reach them. “We may find that some patients are not attending appointments because it’s too far for them,” says Farah.

With this data, officials may consider ways to improve healthcare services, such as providing hospital vans to bring patients in for treatment. “It might cost more in the short-term, but if patients miss their appointments and get sicker, they spend longer in hospitals which eventually costs more for a public healthcare system,” Farah explains.

2. Keeping crime rates low

If data can nab a serial killer, what else can it do for the police? The officers at the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in the UK are using data analytics to look out for the top 20 most risky offenders every day so they can deploy early intervention measures if necessary. This has helped them to make arrests more accurately – police officers managed to make 40 accurate arrests between January and February 2018.

The police force at Avon and Somerset are also using data to better understand emergency call demands at each point of the day. Becky Tipper, Communications Centre Manager at the force, shared that officers have to respond to 90 per cent of the calls they receive within ten seconds. Having a broader view of their call demands has helped them to allocate manpower more efficiently.

The El Paso Intelligence Center, a border security team co-funded by the Mexican and United States governments along with the local government of Texas, is using data analytics to clamp down on drug trafficking. The Center is using data visualisation tools to map out the routes that drug traffickers use to cross the US-Mexican border, so they know which hotspots to tighten security for. Police officers are also analysing the networks of caught suspects to identify other potential suspects.

3. Sustainability

Big issues call for big data solutions. C40 Cities, a global city network dedicated to fighting climate change, is making the data it collects on water quality, air quality and vehicle emissions publicly available on the C40 Knowledge Hub. Policymakers, public servants and citizens alike can easily find out their city’s impact on the environment.

The public data explorer dashboards, which are already available, show a variety of interesting insights. For instance, users can find out which cities in Asia have the worst air quality and which countries around the world are managing waste relatively well. You can even drill down into specific detail to find information such as “58% of commuting within Sydney and 63% in Melbourne are done with sustainable transport modes like mass transit, walking or cycling”.

“If people aren’t aware of what the results are, they don’t know to take any action upon themselves,” says Farah. This public data platform encourages citizens to take ownership of the environment, and adjust their lifestyle to minimise damage on the environment.

4. Faster processes for asylum seekers

The Swedish Migration Board is using data visualisation to cope with the large number of refugees arriving at their borders each day. This means coordinating refugee data from all over the country and predicting where refugees will arrive so the Board can target its resources to the places that most need them.

This has led to shorter waiting times for asylum seekers and better management of manpower resources across Sweden. The importance of using data in this process lies in this – “we help people who are in a difficult, vulnerable situation, and it is absolutely vital that we do so quickly and in the best way possible,” said Andres Delgado, Head of Statistical Process Control at the Migration Board.

Similarly, in Lebanon, international humanitarian organisation Medair is leading a project to map informal settlements of Syrian refugees across the country to facilitate and coordinate the distribution of aid. Digitising the data entry and verification process has enabled the field to collect a lot more information in less time and with fewer staff. While it used to take 55 minutes to register each household, the figure has now dropped to eight minutes – including collecting, recording and analysing the data.

Armed with this data, the NGO is able to analyse and create targeted assistance for shelter, healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene. It can now cover 300 households a week, rather than the previous 36, with the same team strength.

5. Identifying domestic violence early

Big data can also help to identify cases where children are at risk of domestic violence. Bristol, a city in the UK, is combining datasets across agencies to look out for muted cries for help through its Office of Data Analytics (ODA).

Data analytics can identify alarming patterns in families. For example, if a string of events occur such as (1) a child has been absent from school for three days, (2) the parent turns up at the emergency department with several bruises, and (3) the police receives a call from residents about domestic abuse, officials will know to investigate further. “Unless you combine these three datasets, you don’t actually know there’s an issue,” says Farah.

Sharing data across agencies means governments can take action before anybody gets severely hurt. “It points to a more proactive management support around those needs. Officials can start seeing where the highest risk is and take direct action instead of waiting for someone to get harmed,” says Farah.

How Qlik can help

“Only 60 to 70 per cent of the public sector are data literate,” shares Farah – a low figure when compared to industries like finance and telecommunications. But it’s especially important for governments to get data right – the potential for helping citizens and the consequences of improper data use in government far outweigh those of any other sector.

Qlik makes things easier with an interactive interface that suggests trends that users can take a closer look at. “Because the data is so vast, people often don’t know what questions they want to ask of it, so our cognitive engine helps make some sense out of it,” says Farah. “A lot of people want to have conversations just like they would do on their mobile phone with Siri, or Alexa,” he adds.

“One of the biggest challenges with any data environment is the time it takes you to get access to it,” says Farah. Qlik process data as it is being collected, reducing the time needed to gain important insights from half a day to within a split second. Qlik’s platform is also secure – all data is stored and protected on one server, so no one can make changes to it as they would on desktop or local versions.

There is undeniable value in combining different datasets to get the big picture – governments have used it to improve accessibility to healthcare services, predict and reduce crime, and fight against climate change, amongst other things. “Data allows governments to draw smarter insights and be more proactive in management in response to things, rather than always doing things retrospectively when it’s often too late,” says Farah.