Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceUsing data to create a citizen centric council

Using data to create a citizen centric council

Jenny Mulholland, Agile Project Manager, Softwire and a local councillor, outlines how councils can instil public confidence and put their data to better use.

Councils need to start actively looking for those who need help, not waiting for people in need to walk through the door.

Local government organisations who are hesitant of using the data they have available about their constituents aren’t doing all they can or searching hard enough for those in need. The public and councils shouldn’t be afraid of data analysis, they should embrace it and realise that it opens the door to better, more impactful services and fairly distributed funding.

Jenny Mulholland, Agile Project Manager, Softwire and a local councillor, outlines how councils can instil public confidence and put their data to better use.

1. Get the Basics Right

Master databases pull together different data sets to get a singular view of a citizen across all systems and includes details such as benefit claims, housing arrangements and personal data, to create a coherent picture of a person. Without this information it’s hugely challenging to perform data analysis as nothing will be joined up. In fact, data from different systems can even sometimes be contradictory, creating the additional problem of having to ascertain which data is the most relevant and correct.

This lack of cohesion often results in a misinformed strategy and frustration for the individual. It may seem like a basic task but it’s one that shouldn’t be underestimated, without knowing the basics you can’t successfully solve the complexities of the issue.

2. Identify the Problem

In cases where a large number of people will be affected it’s important to fully understand who before you approach the question of how you can help. The more detailed pre-analysis the more useful the interventions taken will be.

For example, it may be that your target is to get an increased number of people into employment, but rather than assume that you need to work with organisations in order to create additional jobs or enroll people on to training courses, look a little deeper. Detailed analysis may show that while those factors are issues that still need addressing, there are deeper problems which might need to be solved first within that geographical area, such as illiteracy, lack of English language skills or a lack of transport options citizens have.

While databases do give you an idea of the big picture, councils need to look at qualitative data as well as quantitative. Directly speaking to those who use the services adds the context to the high level data, understanding how any new changes are going to affect users is incredibly important yet often local government facilities omit to undertake this type of research.

3. Look to the Horizon

While it’s important to focus on the specific needs of your users, when it comes to deciding how to solve the problem always take the time to look outward, and check you’re resolving the issue in the most informed and productive way you can, by building on the work of others.

Innovation for innovation’s sake won’t benefit your constituents – you may feel that your local problem needs a very local solution, but be wary of becoming blinkered. One of the most innovative things you can do is not solve the problem in a completely new way, but tailor approaches that have been proven to work elsewhere.

There’s a vast amount of knowledge sharing happening through platforms such as Apolitical, and councils would all be wise to consider the collective findings before taking any action. Once you have done your data analysis, if you’re able to benchmark against the data collected by other councils you will see what’s common and what you need to tweak.

This doesn’t mean that councils are followers, instead each one becomes a leader in its own right by applying best practice in their own area, widening their potential to make positive impacts.

Bolder

Councils need to be bolder with their use of data in order to fully delve into the needs of their citizens and address them efficiently. Once the benefits of data sharing are made apparent, constituents will become far more open to their data being used and trust that the purpose is to direct resources more effectively to where they are most needed.

The basics of data management are easy to overlook but having clean data is vital for proposing relevant solutions. It’s not all about the numbers however, reaching out to the people the initiatives are affecting or are going to affect, is vital. Combining accurate quantitative and qualitative data is paramount to successful initiatives and securing citizen trust, and if councils find they aren’t in the position to conduct the research or set up the data management systems they need then they shouldn’t shy away from involving consultants.

All councils want to improve the lives of those living within their borough, and to do so they need to dig deeper into data analytics in order to create more citizen centric strategies.

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