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It’s about TAME! Our exciting programme to build the evidence base for transformational change

Thursday 29th March 2018

Our exciting programme to build the evidence base for transformational change

TAME stands for Transport Analysis, Modelling and Economics. This area of Transport for the North provides the evidence base for our long-term transport plans. We sat down with TAME’s two lead people to find out more…

Tim Foster (left) is Head of Economic Advice at Transport for the North: “My background is in the civil service – I’m seconded to TfN from the Government Economic Service. My role at TfN is to explain and measure the wider economic and social impacts of transforming connectivity. I’m responsible for the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, and the business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

Richard Bradley (right) is Head of Data, Modelling and Appraisal: “I have a private sector background where I’ve been involved in data, and transport modelling and appraisal for almost 30 years. At TfN I’m leading the development of our Analytical Framework and navigating how we apply the Framework across our various projects and programmes, and at a portfolio level.”
We started off by asking why data and analysis is important to Transport for the North.

“Transport for the North has a really strong vision of why improving transport is important to the wider economy and I think that’s a message that’s really widely embraced and understood,” Tim explained.

“Our job really is to make sure that TfN has the evidence to underpin the arguments that it’s making. That’s both strategic arguments about why these are the right things to do for the North and it’s making the case for investment for specific projects and programmes.

“We want to make sure that we have the evidence to demonstrate why there are clear benefits, both transport benefits but really wider economic benefits, to investing in transport in the North of England.”

“It’s really interesting that the first thing that Transport for the North did wasn’t really about transport directly – it was commissioning the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review. That set out what the North’s clear economic strengths were and then defined what economic transformation could mean for the North’s economy – the size of the prize, if you like.”

Richard: “One of the issues we have is that the current appraisal guidance is more trend based and designed around incremental change, and isn’t really geared up for major step-changes we’re trying to achieve to improve the North’s position within the UK.

“To be able to model and appraise major step-changes we’re having to be a bit disruptive with the maths and look at the future through a different lens. Building up the evidence to predict what could happen in the future and to prove that what we’re saying is credible is a really important task.”

“The Independent Economic Review evidence has been really important to TfN in telling our story,” Tim says, “All the work that we’re now doing is taking that long-term vision and saying, actually, what does this practically mean for transport infrastructure, for connectivity, but just as importantly what does it mean for people and for businesses?”

Predicting the future

We pointed out that predicting the future is notoriously unreliable. After all, fifty years ago it was envisioned that we’d all be flying around with space packs now!

Tim: “Of course having a long-term plan means TfN needs to recognise that and deal with that uncertainty. To tackle that we’ve been using fore sighting techniques, enabling us to think about different ways in which that future might unfold between now and 2050.

“In the work that we’re doing we’ve been considering several different future scenarios [more details of these can be found on page 26 of the draft Strategic Transport Plan] which we’ve taken into the modelling of schemes and programmes. It’s not about trying to predict one particular future but a range of possibilities. And then making sure that TfN plans for the likely range of outcomes, not just one fixed vision of the future.”

What’s ahead for the TAME team

“This year is a building year,” Richard explained, “We’re building the tools and the evidence base. What we’re aiming for is ‘one voice’ for data, ‘one voice’ for appraisal and ‘one voice’ monitoring for pan-northern travel. We’re creating the Analytical Framework for the North so we’ve got a consistent set of data and a consistent framework for predicting the future.”

“In the draft Strategic Transport Plan we’ve set out how TfN will build its evidence base and develop its analytical framework,” Tim adds. “There’s lots of debate around whether existing appraisal methods are biased against the North, and much of our work is helping to push the boundaries of appraisal methodology. But what we identified as the key thing was to have the right tools and data that represent the North better, so that when we’re making the case for investment we’re actually reflecting a detailed northern view of how changes in connectivity can lead to changes in the economy. That’s something we haven’t had before. We’ve always relied on central government tools, which don’t always reflect what’s happening at a regional level.”

Richard: “We’ve already gathered a lot of data and intelligence. And this year is about analysing that and filling in the gaps.

“Next year is expected to be more about sharing that evidence, and we can look at other organisations, like Transport for London and Transport Scotland, where data and evidence is shared across a wide spectrum of authorities, not-for-profit organisations, businesses and investors. We’d like to think that by 2019 this sharing will drive great benefits in terms of consistent investment decisions and efficiencies for the whole of the North.

“Working within the Analytical Framework we’ll also be taking some of our programmes to another level of detail. As well as looking at the broad long-term investment programme for the North and TfN’s overall portfolio, we’re starting to look at individual schemes and putting evidence together for individual business cases.

Tim: “What I’d add to that is that, as TfN establishes itself with the work on the Strategic Transport Plan and on Northern Powerhouse Rail, we’re understanding more and more how transport influences a really wide range of things. Obviously, we are looking at the impact of transport on growth and jobs but we also want to track and measure the wider societal impacts on things like social mobility, public health, the environment.”

Richard: “An area we are moving into as well is monitoring. This isn’t just about predicting change that may happen in the future but also changes to transport that are happening now, and measuring the wider transport impacts. For example, with Rail North we have large investments in the Northern and TransPennine rail franchises being delivered over the next couple of years and we want to track the impact those have.

“We also have TfN’s Integrated and Smart Ticketing programme, which is rolling out over the next couple of years. Understanding the customer’s experience in the North is a top priority for us.

“And the monitoring is dynamically linked to continuous improvement of our analytical tools and overall evidence base. Our data and monitoring will enable us to manage the benefits TfN deliver and in the near future we’ll be able to say for example “TfN’s portfolio investment planning is predicted to generate X jobs, and influenced our customer experience ‘index’ by Y”, and so really be able to see how TfN can change people’s lives in the North for the better. Monitoring those ‘killer stats’ and measuring the mood of the North is really important.”

“Overall, I’d like to think that we can provide great efficiencies for the North. Specifically, the ‘one voice’ on data is something that’s been missing and we will strive to achieve higher levels of data interoperability. Also, previously transport modelling has been labour-intensive and inconsistent, which has squeezed time from the deeper thinking and planning behind investments. We’re looking at how we can use and develop off-the-shelf tools which can be adapted to different purposes but which provide a consistent, ‘one voice’ approach across the North.”

Tim: “The work that we’re doing is new and it is innovative and we’re already seeing partners outside of the North, organisations like Midlands Connect, Transport for London and the National Infrastructure Commission, being interested in what we’re.”

Richard: “Because we’re a small organisation and also a new organisation we’ve been able to be really agile. It is harder for larger, more established organisations to move quickly with new data and technology. We have a relatively small analytical team, given the scale of what we’re looking at, but have already achieved a number of key successes. We’ve taken our time to recruit the right people to the team and we have a really talented group of ten people from different backgrounds who are really passionate about what they’re doing.”

Protecting data

With so much in the media at the moment about how personal data has been mined and used without permission, we asked what is being done to ensure that TfN obtains and uses data in an ethical way.

Tim: “I think the first thing we need to remember is that TfN isn’t handling the kind of personal data that people are most concerned about. But it is of course imperative that we have the right systems and procedures in place to protect the data we do hold.

“It’s also really important to TfN’s credibility as a body that we use evidence appropriately. We are making sure that we have the evidence behind the arguments we’re making and that when people look at that evidence they can see it makes sense and really stacks up.”