At Nesta we have noticed an emerging trend nationally to tackle community problems at a sub-regional level. Increasingly councils at a sub-regional level are joining up across public sector silos to gain wider insights, unlock additional value from data and tackle community problems that don’t respect administrative boundaries, such as alcohol harm in the North East. We’ve seen this from Humberside to Essex, the West Midlands Combined Authority to the North East and Greater Manchester to London.
If you are involved in a project to do something similar, what steps do you need to take to prepare?
From my many years of working on public sector data projects, and more recently at Nesta, I’ve learnt that there are some surprisingly simple steps you can take now to ensure you get results. And it’s not about project management methodologies but taking a balanced approach. The biggest pitfall is to think that these projects are exclusively about technology, and not address the human elements.
This needs to be a problem which you have the ability to influence, with significant and specific impact in communities - which can be measured. Collectively, across your city combined authority or sub-region, do you have the influence, resources and policy levers to make this change happen? For example, if you discover that some communities are not well served by existing services, do you have the ability to commission alternative services, or stimulate the market?
Do you have the enthusiasm and leadership backing to stick with a project that will last several months and potentially get difficult and boring at times?
Do you have an existing partnership with shared common objectives to steer this at a senior level? Perhaps a LEP board.
Make sure all partners are motivated and will benefit. This can be done by getting everyone to commit resources to the project. Each partner needs to put something in - be it financial, time or staff - in order to get something out of it.
Show brave dynamic leadership with a proportional appetite to risk and willingness to put their weight behind the project when things get tough.
Take a relentless outcomes focus for both the project and the service transformation. For instance, in Nesta's office of data analytics pilot in London, we will only know if it works once inspectors on the ground have checked the properties we identified through data. Don’t forget to use the insights you have gained.
Do you know what each partner’s starting point is in terms of how they currently use data? Ask each partner to candidly carry out a data maturity readiness assessment, Wise Council Report Appendix 2, so that work planning and ambition can be accurately calibrated
Cross reference and link geographic and people data linking your people records within your organisation. As well as bringing data together, bring your data analysts together across business areas.
Most councils will want to develop internal capacity - some will want external support, depending on their level of data maturity. Here’s some practical advice from our experience of running a number of workshops around the country, on what to focus on.
Begin with research and business analysis - including innovative international case studies. Supply new ideas to challenge existing thinking and encourage open mindedness. For example, for a modern slavery project, there is some ground breaking work from the US: https://www.wearethorn.org/spotlight/.
Take a development mind set - working to ensure all parties at all levels transfer knowledge.
Have the right people in the room, such as technical experts and people with domain knowledge, front line experience and insight.
Nesta has built a range of resources to help organisations get more from their data, including the Wise Council Report, and blogs on linking your people records within your organisation and taking a risk based approach to information sharing.
There are a huge range of companies and products that can help - from SMEs to multinationals, to universities and not-for-profits.
Our advice is:
If you buy tools make sure they are simple to use, sustainable with low ongoing revenue impact, and deliver cashable savings. You don’t want to pay a consultancy to add every additional data set, for example.
Data science partners need to be able to communicate and demystify concepts for other partners, and bring modern cutting edge technologies such as machine learning.
Data visualisation partners need to be dynamic/creative/engaging and ensure that their work is useful rather than merely interesting or visually appealing.
What do you think? I’d like to hear your views, or about how you’re getting on with your data projects. Please comment or respond to me on Twitter for further information.