About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Wise Council: Insights from the cutting edge of data-driven local government

This report profiles some of the most pioneering uses of data in UK local government.

This report profiles some of the most pioneering uses of data in UK local government.

Key findings

  • Councils are increasingly sophisticated in the way they use data.
  • The research suggests that there are few areas of council activity in which data can’t be used to help councils save money, improve services or inform decision making.
  • Getting value from data requires taking a ‘problem-oriented’ mindset, which looks for opportunities for data analysis to produce actionable and impactful insights.

Whether it’s supporting vulnerable children, stripping out inefficient back office processes, knowing where to send the gritting vans or which bins need emptying, councils are exploring a range of ways in which data can help them do what they do better.

This report features eight in-depth case studies of councils who have put better use of data at the heart of how they continue to deliver quality services in a harsh financial climate. This includes data-informed social workers, open data portals, sensors which tell gritting vans where there is snow and ice, and plastic frogs which record data about damp levels in people’s homes.

But this is really just the beginning. Most councils are only just starting to get to grips with all the data they have, and all the ways they could use it to make improvements. The data held by the local government sector is a potential goldmine of insights into how to improve people’s lives and make our communities better. The case studies featured in this report are some of the first attempts at doing this. We will be doing more work over the next year to help the sector explore further opportunities to use their data. Alongside the report, we publish a summary paper which sets out in more detail Nesta's ideas for how the sector can get more value from the data it holds.

Policy recommendations

  • Government Digital Service and DCLG to launch a £4m a year programme which co-locates data scientists and analysts in front-line local government teams such as social care.
  • A knowledge-transfer scheme which enables the sector to share and scale best practice.
  • Devolution deals to include a commitment to establishing Offices of Data Analytics.
  • Government to work with councils to pilot at least one data exchange in England.


Tom Symons


Tom Symons

Tom Symons

Tom Symons

Deputy Director, fairer start mission

Tom is the deputy mission director for the fairer start mission at Nesta.

View profile