The goal for North Tyneside’s council was to improve how local government works in their region. Historically, like many local services across the UK, North Tyneside Council worked in silos providing the various services that local residents rely on, ranging from children’s services, leisure facilities, rubbish and recycling, education, housing, and benefits.
But the council realised that the public didn’t live their lives in these neat siloes. When residents came to the council they wanted to experience a unified service without having to offer the same data, repeatedly, and needed to deal with fewer hurdles to getting to a result.
Under Chief Executive Patrick Melia and Head of Policy & Performance, Craig Anderson, the council wanted to make it easier for residents to interact with the council. The aim became to enable people to go about their lives more easily. A resident once told Patrick that to register the birth of child, a resident had to go to 17 separate parts of the council website – which was clearly ridiculous for all concerned.
Patrick set principles about how North Tyneside would work as a council. One is about managing demand: the council wants as many people as possible to use the leisure services – to have fulfilling leisure time, but on the flip side, to ensure residents are fit and healthy, and not turning to social services for support.
To get to a place where the council manages and shapes demand, it needed to understand how it could better target resources as services cannot be ‘one size fits all’ for all the resident families.
To make this happen North Tyneside Council needed to become intelligence-led. Yet with so many spreadsheets across the council’s various siloed services it was a Herculean task to mine that data-trove to uncover which residents needed assistance.
Unlocking intelligence from data
To better target families and individuals most in need, the council needed the right data at the right time accessible by the right council workers – and opted for Alteryx to enable this.
The solution unlocks intelligence from data. For North Tyneside Council it allowed the council teams to understand what teams need to work where in the borough, and whom in what house needs help.
The analytics platform is used to unlock intelligence that helps the council better target resources, with the additional aim of reducing demand on services down the line – helping all families live their best lives.
With all relevant live data sets connected on the platform, there’s one place for council service providers to access a unified view of their service users. Whereas before the effort to look at a family and how they use council services would have been unthinkable, now they can discover what families are using multiple services and better work out how to support those families with intervention if warranted.
There are 200,000 residents in the North Tyneside metropolitan borough, but two million records of people coming into council buildings or using its services. The area has a high variation in deprivation, and high numbers of residents regularly using some of the council services.
When the council was better able to assess the trends in service use they could reallocate accordingly. For example, residents at the coast were disproportionately using fewer services, and so once known, resource was moved to more needy community areas.
The team is being freed up from the cyclical reporting tasks that are now automated; tasks that used to take days or weeks now take minutes and can be easily updated to reflect latest statutory reports.
Making data make sense
North Tyneside takes part in a national programme called Troubled Families. This programme uses data from the police, DWP, housing services, and schooling data. Previously this involved the collation of lots of spreadsheets, which someone had to pull together to provide to the ‘family partners’ who assist the public. Naturally, because it was a manual process the data was always old and took a long time to produce.
Over the past 18 months the council has automated the process, using the multiple data sources. With the data all one usable platform North Tyneside was able to produce an app for the family partners access, allowing them to know everything they are allowed from across the organisation to better support families in need. The app is called ‘The Supporting Families App in North Tyneside’.
In fact, the forward-thinking council has been working for a year transitioning their social system data to a data warehouse. It’s allowed them to produce a range of apps for a wide range of over 100 local people with specific questions or needs to be able to self-serve in their own time.
One way that family partners better assist residents is by using the trends suggested by the aggregated big data to identify characteristics of needy individuals. This is used to support youngsters at risk of becoming NEETS. This is the beginning, as the next step is to predict the future needs of more residents.
All the work so far has freed up council service capacity. Using the Alteryx platform to perform regression analysis on a wide range of issues has helped the council make immediate gains. One such area is childhood obesity. There is a national programme to measure children in reception and Year Six. The council is now tracking what happened at risk children and the drivers of obesity. Likewise, a mental health programme uses data to build models to predict the future and identify those most in need of support.
The council uses many data types from across the social care system, including:
- details of people using child and adult services
- service financial data
- data from service users
- social media (what people are tweeting about the council), connecting into websites like ONS for local economic data, and healthcare.
Alteryx connects with APIs automatically so staff don’t have to hunt this data down, taking time away from caring for residents.
The council is using Alteryx Designer, Server, and Gallery. Teams are constantly working with Alteryx Designer, shifting manipulating, and understanding vast quantities of data like never before. They are starting to ramp up their use of Gallery so that staff can self-serve for their own information more easily.
North Tyneside Council are able to collaborate better with partners like the Police and NHS, education, probation, social, and other key services via self-service apps in the Troubled Families Initiative. In particular, around speed to access, security, and joining complex data from multiple formats – which requires a great deal of cleansing before it offers any value.
Respectful use of data
The council ensures high levels of data security and privacy through the oversight of its information governance team and its privacy impact assessment work via Alteryx. Because of the solution’s automated nature, teams can record and share what they do, creating an audit trail. Unlike the use of Excel, nothing is hidden. All teams can show on demand what they do with data.
This is a step up on the activities of other UK councils: North Tyneside has a greater scale and breadth of services. Other councils have small examples of using data in joined-up ways, whether in children or adult service. The North Tyneside approach is to wrap around the family. It looks at data and intelligence across whole of council to do this, holistically.
The principles of intelligence-led activity were articulated within the council four years ago and were thoroughly embedded into the culture. Craig’s team were challenged to build on that foundation and have been taking a strategic approach to data use over the past two years. Under Anderson, the council has been moving away from a traditional performance management function to a business intelligence function under the slogan ‘better never stops’.
As a direct result, the teams are becoming highly data literate and a handful of key colleagues have started studying Nano Degrees via Alteryx/Udacity to learn how to exploit predictive analytics. The next steps in their journey will involve next generation data governance and data science/machine learning. The council has also partnered with Newcastle University to better support its data ambitions.
Commenting on the new data solution, Melia said: “We have been able to use data to identify families to better intervene with them earlier in a way we couldn’t do in the past. This means we get them the support they need sooner and prevent them getting into difficulties by identifying key characteristics of those in need. In this way North Tyneside helps struggling be more independent, and lead better, healthier lives.”
Anderson added: “It’s been fantastic seeing this team of really dedicated public servants grow. We now realise that we have at last unlocked our colleagues’ full potential and joy in their work. We have our people really excelling and making a day-to-day impact, every day, using data-driven insights. What would have been impossible a year ago is being done daily using Alteryx.
“We now see the pride and ‘buzz’ in their work, and how they are challenging themselves every day to be even better.”
Confidence in the data is increasing as the number of data assets and people working with data increases, and Alteryx cleanses and joins poor quality data very quickly.
The public sector still works in silos. Within the council connection is now much better but the risks of sharing data with partners is a common challenge to the public sector. For example., if councils had access to GP health information then they could identify families in need much sooner. For example, supporting children back into schools if the council knew there was an alcoholic parent holding them back.
And as with any public service, the level of capacity and demand from residents remains a challenge.
The more data that goes into the council the bigger the housekeeping challenge becomes. To make sense of it, the council also uses visualisation tools for the senior leadership team and uses data to create email alerts to share more widely. The overall idea is to enable service users and deliverers alike to self-serve. Alteryx prepares data for outputs for visualisation tools like Tableau and Qlik which rely on good quality data to deliver their value.
This approach, using Alteryx, can be easily picked up and replicated in other organisations, by sharing workflows. You can share processes and don’t have to start the same jobs from scratch – without sharing any private data. It’s a process that can assist other councils to leapfrog their analytics journeys.
North Tyneside wants to move into predictive analytics, and to focus more on linking this to costs. For example, incorporating spatial awareness to better cite services and route staff on journeys – reducing costs and the time to serve. Services for the most vulnerable are improving as a direct result.
The more work the council shows, the more questions they get asked – so they are always working on new and better questions.
The region is planning for growth, maximising employment and skilling-up in technology to be a borough for the future.