Using open data for public services

Thu Mar 1, 2018

The ODI has conducted research into public services and the role open data plays in making them better and more cost effective. The findings give us new insights into the conditions needed to grow successful open data ecosystems for public service delivery.

By Ed Parkes and Mandy Costello

The ODI has conducted research into public services and the role open data plays in making them better and more cost-effective. The findings give us new insights into the conditions needed to grow successful open data ecosystems for public service delivery.

You may be familiar with how open data is released by the public sector and then used by entrepreneurs, but what about the ways in which open data released by the public sector is used to improve public service delivery? As part of the ODI’s innovation programme, which seeks to  advance knowledge and expertise in how data can shape the next generation of services, we have undertaken research into the ways in which open data is being used in the delivery of public services.

Today we’re publishing our initial findings based on examining 8 examples where open data supports the delivery of a public service. We have defined 3 high-level ‘patterns’ for how open data is used in public services. We think these could be helpful for others looking to redesign and deliver better services.

The patterns are summarised in the table below:

The first pattern is perhaps the model which everyone is most familiar with as it’s used by the likes of Citymapper, who use open transport data from Transport for London to inform passengers about routes and timings, and other citizen-focused apps. Data is released by a public sector organisation about a public service and a third organisation uses this data to provide a complementary service, online or face-face, to help citizens use the public service.

The second pattern involves the release of open data in the service delivery chain. Open data is used to plan public service delivery and make service delivery chains more efficient. Examples provided in the report include local authorities’ release of open spending, contract and tender data, which is used by Spend Network to support better value for money in public expenditure.

In the third pattern, public sector organisations commissioning services and external organisations involved in service delivery make strategic decisions based on insights and patterns revealed by open data. Visualisations of open data can inform policies on jobseeker’s allowance, as shown in the example from the Department for Work and Pensions in the report.

As well as identifying these patterns, we have created ecosystem maps of the public services we have examined to help understand the relationships and the mechanisms by which open data supports each of them. An example of an ecosystem map, for Spend Network, is shown below.

In the next phase of our work, we will be focusing on how to turn this visualisation approach into a repeatable methodology to help those working in the public sector to explore the opportunities to release open data to support their service.

Having compared the ecosystems of the examples we have considered so far, the report sets out practical recommendations for those involved in the delivery of public services and for Central Government for the better use of open data in the delivery of public services.

The recommendations are focused on organisational collaboration; technology infrastructure, digital skills and literacy; open standards for data; senior-level championing; peer networks; intermediaries; and problem focus.

We’re releasing the report for comment as part of our commitment to openness and collaboration. We welcome contributions (as comments in the report or via email) from those working in or using public services to help build our understanding on the dynamics of these patterns, as well as further examples of where and how open data is used. We are hoping this report becomes a repository of work on this topic and inspires further debate, research and activity.