In our second article focused on the thematic areas of Innovate to Save, Eddie Copeland puts forward some thoughts on how smarter use of data can generate savings for public and third sector organisations.
For anyone working in the UK public sector over the past several years, one story has come to dominate: austerity. Virtually all public services have been on a continuous drive to deliver more with less money and fewer resources. That can lead to a slippery slope if the default answer is just to salami slice back on provision.
Smarter use of data could help. Happily for the public sector, it collects and holds vast quantities of the stuff. But its potential is rarely tapped. A key obstacle is that public sector data often resembles a jigsaw: every team and organisation has their piece of the puzzle, but no one can see the whole picture.
At Nesta, we believe there’s a huge opportunity in putting in place the people, technology, and resources to enable neighbouring local authorities and public sector bodies to bring together, analyse and act upon data at a city or regional scale. Doing so could enable a number of innovative ways to deliver cashable savings, such as:
- Designing smarter services. If public sector leaders could see how the problems, opportunities and demand they seek to address transcend their geographic boundaries, they could more effectively design and implement shared services – a proven route to saving money.
- Targeting resources at cases of greatest need, risk or importance. By overlaying datasets from many different sources on a map, or creating an algorithm to prioritise cases, data can help focus efforts when and where they are needed most.
- Predicting future instances of a problem to enable prevention or early intervention. By analysing past cases and learning about the factors that correlate with higher risk, data can help spot problems at an earlier stage when they are cheaper / simpler to resolve, and prevent harm to vulnerable people.
Data and data analytics can sound complicated and a little intimidating to the uninitiated. But in all these cases, the essential principle is simply to give public sector staff - from CEOs to frontline workers - the information they need to do their job most effectively. To complement, rather than replace, their deep expertise.
It won’t be the whole answer to responding to austerity.
But it’s not a bad place to start.