Sunday, 17 July 2016

An unusual photographic register

Between 2003 and 2008, I spent many weeks each year working under contract either for the Audit Commission or for local authorities in East Anglia on the implementation of the rules for awarding Council Tax and Housing Benefit. (Neither the Audit Commission nor the rules associated with these benefits exist now in the same form.)

I managed the record keeping processes within an Excel workbook using a structured and indexed workbook under the control of a VBA package called ACBA Electronic Working Papers (ACBA-EWP). The purpose of this rather eccentric package was to bring together disparate but related elements of a project together in a format that was rather less rigid than the kind of structure that would be imposed by a database like Microsoft Access. In contrast to many commercial project control systems, all the analytical records associate with this system would be held within a single workbook, where the relationships between the analyses could be exposed clearly.

At this period, many local authorities used software packages for controlling these benefits that employed printed rather than electronic reports. I was faced with the problem of taking copies of these very bland but detailed printed reports within a (supposedly) electronic record (the Excel Workbook). I played James Bond and used a digital camera, which were just coming into vogue. Taking the pictures was easy. I even developed as simple manuscript record of every picture I took, its source and any other detail that appeared pertinent.

Manuscript evidence list
My challenge was to automate the processing of the camera’s electronic images into an appropriate / meaningful location within the workbook. Downloading images from a camera to a PC is governed by the interface, but generally the user has some control over both where the images are downloaded to and the name they are given. ACBA developed a standardized input sheet where these standard variables could be posted.

In ACBA-EWP, the user employs this sheet to tell the system the relevant point within the project to post a reference. I’m occasionally asked “why only a reference as opposed to the photographic evidence itself?” The rational is simply that photographs are very heavy on memory. Posting the photographs in would bloat the files very quickly. So the process looks something like this.

Posting photographs into ACBA-EWP
The next query concerns the “Documentary Evidence Index” and runs along the lines of “Why bother?” Here I have to look back to the original reason for creating ACBA-EWP. This was to support the work I was undertaking for local authorities. Much of this involved examining a wide variety or apparently unrelated material in order to come to view as to whether the central government subsidies had been spent in accordance with the regulations. The facility for reviewing the evidence examined at a single source provided a valuable oversight of the totality of the project. Even though it added a step in the pathway of getting to the evidence itself, it seemed worth it.

I confess that when applied to personal activities, such as the listing above, it can seem a little quirky, but perhaps that is a valid reflection on me. But, please remember, I’m recovering from a mild stroke.

Anyone interested in playing with the ACBA-EWP software itself should go to ACBA Functions.

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