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How can we scale up local data-enabled projects?

Fri Nov 30, 2018
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As part of the ODI’s Scaling data innovation project, we’re exploring how to help local data-enabled projects scale up, and understand opportunities and barriers. If you have a potentially scalable project, please submit it to us.

Around the UK there are many ways that data – especially open data – and open approaches to design can be used to deliver more efficient and effective public services.

However, examples of data innovation in public services are not being effectively reused across local government or in the wider public, private or third sectors. Therefore, solutions remain local and successful innovations don’t reach as many areas or people as perhaps they could.

This is a recognised issue in the UK. In a 2009 NHS review, Lord Darzi stated: ‘In this country, we have a proud record of invention, but we lag behind in systematic uptake even of our own inventions.’

What do we mean by ‘scaling’?

We see two ways a project or initiative can ‘scale’:

  1. It can scale up. A project/initiative that has worked effectively at a small scale can be scaled up to improve systems, ensure sustainability, or cover a wider geographic area or a larger population base. This could be managed solely by the original project team, or in collaboration with partners, or franchised to an external supplier.
  2. A project/initiative can also scale out by being repeated, repurposed or re-deployed across other sectors, organisations or areas. The project team can share learnings and allow others to build on and reuse their work.

What are we looking for?

The ODI is researching existing projects with the aim of exploring any issues or problems around scalability. Gathering this knowledge and investigating how the initiatives have been developed will help shape project guidance and outputs.

We are looking for examples of small-scale successful data-enabled initiatives, whether they were created by local authorities, local interest groups or individuals. Gathering this knowledge, and investigating how the initiatives have been developed will then help shape the project guidance and outputs.

How does this fit with MHCLG?

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is working collaboratively with local government and others to develop components of a digital infrastructure. Its aim is to improve the delivery of digital services in local government. It is providing funding and encouraging local government to collaborate and reuse systems, software and approaches. Organisations are encouraged to sign up to the Local Digital Declaration and submit proposals for projects to be funded by the Local Digital Fund.

We’re also looking at building opportunities for collaboration and reuse across a broader range of organisations. Along with the public sector, we would like to work with local interest groups, SMEs and third-sector organisations, as these often work collaboratively to create change.

Our aim is for the project to sit alongside the MHCLG initiative, to provide a practical framework for project teams to use, to help ensure initiatives include the necessary aspects to allow them to be scaled and reused. We are engaging with MHCLG to ensure both workstreams are complementary.

A public sector focus

This builds on our previous work around public services and data. In 2017/18 we researched and presented findings on data use in public services, which investigated how open data can: improve access to public services; help to develop more efficient service delivery chains; and lead to more informed policy development.

As part of that project, we awarded funding to four forward-thinking local government organisations to develop open data projects that explore how data could be used to improve public services – making them more efficient, innovative and citizen-focused.

We are also running a similar stimulus fund for our geospatial data project to help grow the public sector’s understanding of how to collect, publish and use open geospatial data. Based on our survey of how local government in the UK collects and manages geospatial data, we know that there is a range of organisations that need local government to provide accessible geospatial data.

Barriers that may harm scalability

Although local government data projects may not have been run with scalability or reusability in mind, they could be built upon and replicated in other areas. There are many external examples of local data projects – such as Leeds Bins, Smartline, Mapping Greater Manchester, Gateshead food map and the Bindicator – that, while they have been successful, haven’t been replicated outside of their original geographic areas. However, other external projects – such as the Great British Toilet Map – provide an example of successfully scaling up to a wider area.

Through this project, we want to test our assumptions (set out below) around the main barriers that prevent local data projects from scaling. We hypothesise that if barriers can be anticipated and overcome during the design of an original project it can be scaled more easily.

We anticipate that possible barriers or challenges in data projects include:

  • Data standards – if data is stored in different ways and using different formats then a project may struggle to be replicate
  • Data availability – a project may collect and use a dataset that other councils or organisations simply do no
  • Funding – local data projects are often funded by a stimulus or innovation fund and therefore other projects may need to find similar funding
  • Engagement and collaboration – other councils may simply not know about other projects and their successes/failures and therefore be less likely to engage
  • Skills or resources – councils and other groups may not have the skills, time or resources to redeploy a successful initiative
  • Closed source – the relevant source code or materials may not be open and accessible to all


We are researching existing innovative data projects with the aim to understand barriers to development and scaling. We will engage with projects that are good candidates for fast and effective scaling. We will produce case studies from our research, focusing on the issues and decisions that impact a project’s scalability.

Submit your local data-enabled project

We want to find out about great ideas and projects. If you have worked on, or know of any, local data projects, please tell us about them.

We aim to gather an understanding of existing relevant projects so we can share insights, knowledge and awareness. Our aim is to help people to scale their projects and provide tools and guidance to help organisations build projects that are high-quality, reusable and scalable.

If you have comments or questions, you can email [email protected] or tweet @bsnaith.

Image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Pietro Suco.