Viewpoint: How data leadership can improve public services

Data has moved from a scarce resource to an abundant and ubiquitous asset. It’s easier than ever to collect and benefit from data. Edafe Onerhime from 360Giving explains how data leadership can help local government meet the needs of the people and communities they serve.

Across the country, councils are experimenting with new ways of analysing the vast amount of information they hold in order to improve the quality and efficiency of their services.

In Newcastle, the council is working to transform children’s social services by turning to data to challenge their assumptions and to make evidence-backed improvements to their family support services. They have formed specialist social work units around common needs and each has an embedded data analyst to support social workers in making the most of data and implementing tools to manage caseloads and monitor performance. The social workers and their managers are able to access to expertise from the data analysts in their units and also gain confidence in using data to support their work.

Elsewhere,  Bristol City Council has rolled out damp-sensing plastic frogs to help residents report and manage damp in properties. Leeds City Council are leading on transparency with their Data Mill North initiative which brings together open data from a range of sources to help the public gain greater insight into the workings of the city, simultaneously freeing up time spent responding to Freedom of Information requests and facilitating a more open dialogue with northern councils, businesses and organisations. More generally, the Open Data Institute paper on ‘Using open data to deliver public services’, explores how local government can use data to increase access to services, plan public service delivery, make service delivery chains more efficient and inform policymaking.

The benefits of smart use of data are well documented — you don’t need to be a Silicon Valley tech company to realise them. To take advantage of these benefits, data leadership is needed. By data leadership, we mean creating an environment where everyone has the skills and confidence to use data to support their work and their organisation’s goals to meet the needs of the people and communities they serve.

It’s common to hear people talk about improving data literacy within councils, which of course is essential to make sure staff know how to review the information put in front of them with a critical eye to make sure it is useful and trustworthy, and to have the confidence to seek out information to make better decisions. But while it is desirable to become more data literate, it implies a starting point of data illiteracy and we believe public service professionals already have many of the skills they need to incorporate data into their everyday tasks. It is a skill that is within everyone’s reach.

Instead, in focusing on data leadership we are putting the emphasis on supplementing existing skills and building confidence. Councils can show leadership by encouraging their teams to incorporate data use into their work and acknowledging its importance for professional development.

At 360Giving, our mission is to work with organisations including local government to address the gaps in UK grantmaking data. To do this, we are encouraging grantmakers to ask the right questions in order to make the best decisions about where to invest their money.

With this in mind, we are running a free Data Leadership programme to help participants build confidence using data while tackling useful and interesting questions about how public funding is being used. We are bringing together public sector staff and grantmaking organisations to scope out where the biggest challenges are arising in public services and where grant funding might be best spent.

“We don’t yet know the basics – what’s being funded where in the UK – and we should! The more ambitious, and often most important, questions are hard to answer given the current open data landscape”, says Emma Prest, the Executive Director of DataKind UK, who was one of the panelists choosing the questions about the grantmaking sector that 360Giving aims to address.

Join us on this data journey. It runs from 31 May to 31 July 2018, starting with a workshop in London and then continuing online. To apply or find out more, contact Edafe Onerhime: labs@threesixtygiving.org

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