Population247NRT: Near real-time spatiotemporal population estimates for health, emergency response and national security

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Geography & Environmental Sci

Abstract

Decision-making and policy formulation in sectors such as health, emergency/crisis response and national security, ideally require accurate dynamic information on the number of people in specific places at specific times of the day, week, season or year. Traditional census data do not provide this level of detail but are often used for such policy and planning purposes. The ESRC-funded Population247 programme of research (Martin et al, 2015) developed a framework, methodology and software tool (SurfaceBuilder247) for integrating diverse contemporary data sources to produce enhanced time-specific population estimates for small geographical areas. Its usefulness has since been demonstrated for flooding and radiation emergency response/planning, through collaborations with HR Wallingford and Public Health England. These models have primarily involved the integration of open administrative data for activities such as place of residence, work, education and health. Now, new and emerging forms of data, such as sensor data, live and static data feeds provided via the internet, and various commercial datasets which were not previously available, provide exciting opportunities to enhance these population estimates. Such new and emerging datasets are useful because they provide near real-time information on population activity in sectors which are particularly dynamic and have previously been difficult to model, such as retail, leisure and transport. However, extracting useful intelligence from these sources, and integrating and calibrating them with existing data sources, poses significant challenges for researchers and practitioners seeking to employ them in the creation of time-specific population estimates.

This project will combine new, emerging and existing datasets in order to produce enhanced time-specific population estimates for more informed decision-making and policy formulation in the health, emergency/crisis response and national security sectors. It is a collaborative project between University of Southampton, Public Health England (PHE), Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The project will enhance existing methods and tools for harvesting, processing, integrating and calibrating new, emerging and existing data sources in order to produce time-specific population estimates. It will deliver two substantive policy demonstrator case studies with the project partners. The first case study will demonstrate the potential for using time-specific population estimates for near real-time response in emergencies; the second will explore their usefulness for modelling variation in 'normal' population distributions through space and time in order to inform longer-term planning and policy formulation.

Importantly, the project will also encourage the sharing of knowledge and expertise between academia and the public sector through joint design and implementation of the case studies, internal seminars and a jointly organised stakeholder workshop. Invitees to the workshop will be key stakeholders in policy and practice from within and beyond the partners' sectors. The workshop will showcase the data, methods and tools developed by the project, discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in implementing these for decision-making and policy formulation, and identify how such methods might realistically be scaled up within these sectors. Ultimately, the aim of the project is to help partners such as PHE, HSE and Dstl carry out their remits more effectively and efficiently through the provision of better time-specific population estimates.

Planned Impact

There will be an immediate impact on the non-academic project partners through the challenging of established methods of using static residential-based population estimates (e.g. from the census) for policy and practice. While our Co-investigators and their immediate research teams are aware of the problems associated with such an approach, and indeed some have developed alternative data and methods to try to deal with these, raising awareness of these issues in the broader organisation will encourage more critical thinking related to accuracy and assumptions. Other departments within the partners' organisations also stand to benefit from the project. Some (e.g. Air Pollution and Climate Change and Extreme Events and Health Protection Groups at PHE), are already interested in the existing Population247 methods and may therefore be invited to the stakeholder workshop.

During the currency of the grant, key impacts for partners will be the shared development of methods and tools and new knowledge/skills gained from activities such as internal seminars. All partners will gain new insights into the variation in population distribution under normal conditions, and how this might be updated in near real-time during emergencies. The policy demonstrator case studies will explore how these estimates can be used in practical and policy contexts. PHE, for example will evaluate the relative merits of evacuation versus sheltering during an emergency, while HSE are keen to explore how Population247 and their own National Population Database (NPD) can be integrated in order to enhance both approaches. Via its stakeholder workshop and other engagement activities, the project will also provide a realistic appraisal of the opportunities for, and barriers to, using the outputs from the project in policy, planning and response more broadly.

The partners are key stakeholders in various consortia, contributing and sharing data, methods, tools and evidence for the development of policy and practice. Examples include the Natural Hazards Partnership (http://www.naturalhazardspartnership.org.uk/) and Resilience Direct (https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/case-studies/resilience-direct.html), both of which are concerned with providing effective and efficient response to crises and disruptive events. The project's concerns with establishing patterns of 'normal' population distribution and providing near real-time updates are particularly well-aligned with these consortia's aims. Similarly, the findings from the project will be of interest to users in other sectors, where the mapping and modelling of population is important, such as environmental management (e.g. Environment Agency), resource allocation (Clinical Commissioning Groups), planning (local authorities), as well as non-public sector users such as retail (Demographic Users Group).

In the mid- to longer-term, this project will contribute to better decision-making and policy formulation in a range of sectors by providing enhanced data, methods, tools and evidence for modelling population distribution in space and time. Ultimately, the key users who stand to benefit from this project are members of the public. The non-academic partners all have national remits within the health, emergency response and national security sectors. Fundamentally, we aim to save lives and money by enabling the partners to carry out their remits more effectively and efficiently. The project can be scaled up by applying the methods and tools to more new and emerging datasets, to other geographical areas (in order to achieve the full spatial coverage required in a policy context) and to other years (to extend the evidence-base). It can also be applied to other sectors which share the same need to model the population distribution more accurately. Finally, it can also be applied in other countries with suitable data infrastructures.

Publications

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Description The Pop247NRT project has demonstrated that new and emerging forms of data can provide important insights into the distribution and movement of population at different times of the day, week and year, particularly for activities such as retail or leisure which are not routinely observed by traditional datasets. The project has confirmed that such data can be assembled into usable models of the kind required by agencies concerned with public health, national security and emergency planning. Careful cleaning, processing, calibration and integration of such data with more traditional forms of data such as censuses, surveys and administrative data is essential for reliable estimates.
While the investigators' existing SurfaceBuilder247 code remained deliberately unchanged in this project, there has been substantive methodological and coding development. Methods and tools for harvesting data and extracting information from the diverse new and emerging data sources have been developed. For example, the methods for producing time profiles from different types of data have been significantly enhanced, incorporating concepts of length of stay, churn and time spent in transit. Time Use Survey data from the UK Data Service (UKDS) have proved to be valuable for population activity profiling. Time-specific population estimates can now be produced by type of day e.g. weekdays/weekend, school/Bank Holidays.
As anticipated, the developed methods and tools are transferable between data sources of the same type. For example, methods developed for analysing SmartStreetSensor footfall data can be used to analyse Traffic England traffic sensor data; extraction of sample data from Google Popular Times can produce time profiles for rail stations and supermarkets; Geographical Information Systems (GIS) methods used to derive approximated catchments and site extents for educational establishments can be used for healthcare facilities; and processing of Time Use Survey data can generate time profiles for workplaces by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) group and for visitor attractions.
The project has provided evidence of the usefulness of archived aggregated real time data, such as that provided by the SmartStreetSensor project (obtained as safeguarded data from ESRC's Consumer Data Research Centre) and Traffic England (free subscription web service), demonstrating the feasibility of extracting spatial and temporal patterns without compromising the privacy or anonymity of individuals or organisations nor endangering the dataset's commercial value. By contrast, the project has highlighted complex data access issues associated with highly informative but commercially-controlled datasets such as Google Opening Times (freely available via the Google API) and Popular Times (not freely available).
The project has produced two re-usable data libraries and sets of sample outputs. The first (200m gridded population estimates for 2am and 2pm for England 2011, by population sub-groups, for term-time and out of term-time, plus the associated input data library), is based entirely on open data and has been deposited with the UKDS ReShare facility under a CC-BY licence. The second (for a smaller study area focused on Bristol/Bath), forms the basis for two ongoing partner case studies. Appropriate case study data will be deposited with ReShare once analysis is complete and licensing restrictions have been confirmed.
Exploitation Route The datasets deposited with ReShare should address the initial needs of several external academic and non-academic researchers who have contacted us during the project expressing interest in collaborative working. Knowledge exchange and sharing of expertise was a key objective of this Policy Demonstrator project. As well as working with the project's immediate partners on case studies, a jointly organised stakeholder workshop was hosted by PHE in July 2018. Attendees included staff from other teams in the partner organizations (PHE, HSE and Dstl), as well as the Office for National Statistics, Ordnance Survey, Met Office, HR Wallingford and local government. The workshop provided an ideal forum for discussing the opportunities, limitations and challenges involved in using the Pop247 methods and outputs in operational settings. Significant scope for joint working was identified across a number of partners and sectors and key research and operational priorities ascertained. Core requirements for producing time-specific population estimates using the Pop247 methods were also defined as part of the project, including scoping for different data landscapes in a few illustrative countries. Findings from the project are already being taken forward via two ESRC Impact Acceleration Account-funded outward secondments with two of our non-academic partners (PHE and HSE).
Sectors Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Retail,Transport

 
Description The project's public sector partners (Public Health England, Health and Safety Executive and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) have been exploring how they can incorporate the more dynamic population estimates provided by the Pop247NRT project into their practices. Awareness of the limitations of some of their existing datasets and approaches have been identified and joint activities undertaken to experiment with integration of the Pop247NRT data, methods, software and outputs within their own systems and practices. Knowledge exchange, training and dissemination activities have served to increase awareness of, and skills in, the Population247 approach and SurfaceBuilder247 software, both within and beyond the project partners, including: a Stakeholder Workshop for approximately 30 participants from the partner and other organisations; a bespoke training course for PHE; two ESRC Impact Acceleration Account secondments - one with PHE, the other with HSE. The ongoing impacts from the secondments involve developing methods for integrating PHE's PACE software with SurfaceBuilder247 outputs in order to produce enhanced estimates of the probable consequences of nuclear incidents, and development of a framework for integrating and validating HSE's National Population Database (NPD) with the Population247 approach. An openly available set of input data and sample outputs for England in 2011 at 200m grid square level has been shared with PHE in order that analysts across a range of departments can experiment with how the data might be useful for their operational and research purposes. The same open dataset has been offered for deposit with the UK Data Service so that users in any sector can explore the data.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Title Data from Pop247NRT Project (ES/P010768/1): Data library, sample outputs and batch files for England, 2011 
Description Data from the "Population247NRT: Near real-time spatiotemporal population estimates for health, emergency response and national security" project have been offered as a data collection to the ESRC's UK Data Service's ReShare facility. The dataset is currently under routine evaluation/checking by ReShare staff. Once approved, it will be openly available to all users. The data collection comprises a data library, sample outputs, batch files and accompanying documentation. The data include a structured set of input data for use with the authors' SurfaceBuilder247 software and sample outputs which estimate the population distribution of England at specific times on specific dates, referenced to 2011 census population totals. The sample output grids may be used directly in Geographical Information Ssystems (GIS) software or, alternatively, the input data library may be reprocessed using SurfaceBuilder247 to generate estimates for specific dates and times of interest to the user. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Not yet available. 
 
Title SurfaceBuilder247 
Description SurfaceBuilder247 was initially developed during the ESRC-funded project "Population 24/7: space-time specific population surface modelling" (RES-062-23-1811). It is a .NET compiled software package for spatiotemporal population modelling, which interrogates a pre-prepared data library in order to produce gridded population estimates for a specified target time and date. Minor bug fixes have been undertaken under this ESRC-funded project ("Population247NRT: Near real-time spatiotemporal population estimates for health, emergency response and national security" (ES/P010768/1)) and the new compiled version of the software is provided here for users to download. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact SurfaceBuilder247 has been used by two (University of Southampton Geography) PhD students, academics in Italy, and is currently being explored for applied use by partners in the Pop247NRT project: Public Health England, Health and Safety Executive and Defence and Science Technology Laboratory. 
 
Description Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory & National Geospatial Intelligence Agency workshop on Place Intelligence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited attendance and contribution to discussions at Place Intelligence Workshop organised by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (UK) and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (US), London, 24 August 2017. The aims of the workshop were to identify the benefits that an enhanced understanding of place may bring within intelligence and national/international security settings, the issues associated with achieving those benefits, and the practical research that can be conducted to achieve this goal. Awareness of the Pop247NRT project, its aims and methods was raised amongst delegates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited presentation at Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) Data Partner Forum 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited presentation at Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) Data Partner Forum. Sharing experience and findings of using CDRC data provided by industrial partners, and encouraging further sharing of data and collaborative working between academia and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.cdrc.ac.uk/case-study/datapartnerforum/
 
Description Invited presentation at SmartPop Seminar, Free University of Brussels - Time Specific Population Modelling using New Forms of Data, 11 October 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact One of three Invited presentations at Seminar hosted by ISSeP SmartPop project. Around 30 attendees, including public sector funders, international advisory board members and academic researchers, held at Free University of Brussels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Partner workshop: DSTL, 04/04/17 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Partner start-up workshop to agree scope of case studies for the project. Attendees: professionals from Public Health England, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Health and Safety Executive and the research team from University of Southampton. Common interests mapped out, case studies scoped, aims and objectives agreed, stakeholder workshop planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Population247 and SurfaceBuilder247 Training Course for Public Health England 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited training course on the Population247 approach and methods, and the SurfaceBuilder247 software, for participants from various departments/sections in Public Health England (PHE). Part of ESRC Impact Acceleration Account secondment with PHE. The aim was to raise awareness of, and develop skills in, Population247/SurfaceBuilder247 both within and beyond the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) team at PHE, and to discuss operational requirements for the use of such methods and software within PHE. 12 participants from across PHE attended (invited by the lead PHE partner), including from Epidemiology, Environmental Public Health, Radiation Assessments, Air Quality. Excellent discussions ensued. Demonstrator and national data will soon be uploaded onto the PHE servers for users to experiment with, and discussions around future work are taking place with the Epidemiology/Public Health teams.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at 10th Annual European Forum for Geography and Statistics Conference, Dublin, 2-3 Nov 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the 10th Annual European Forum for Geography and Statistics 2017. Audience included National Statistical Institutions representatives, data providers, academics and professionals with specific applied interests. Raised awareness of the Pop247NRT methods and research and identified new potential collaborators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.efgs2017.ie/
 
Description Presentation at ESRC New and Emerging Forms of Data reporting event, 8 Dec 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation at ESRC New and Emerging Forms of Data reporting event, in lieu of six month report. Presentation to ESRC, lead academics and (mainly public sector) partners from other projects funded under the same scheme. Excellent discussions and feedback, plus possible opportunities for future collaborations between projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stakeholder Workshop: Population247NRT - Near real-time spatiotemporal population estimates for health, emergency response and national security 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A Stakeholder Workshop was jointly organised by the project partners (University of Southampton, Public Health England, Health and Safety Executive and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, and hosted by PHE in July 2018. Attendees were from the partner organizations, as well as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Ordnance Survey, Met Office, HR Wallingford and local government. The workshop served to showcase the data, methods and tools developed by the project, discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in implementing these for decision-making and policy formulation, and identify how such methods might realistically be scaled up within stakeholder organizations. A 'Key findings' document was prepared and circulated. Various activities are ongoing as a result of contacts made and discussions at the workshop, including: two ESRC Impact Acceleration Account secondments with Public Health England and Health and Safety Executive; discussions with ONS regarding future joint working.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018