Public service delivery: case studies

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Open data can help public service design. Read our case studies to get insights into the different methodologies and outcomes that can be used

Case studies: how open data can revitalise public services

There are many examples of successful use of open data in public service design. Read our case studies to get insights into the different methodologies and outcomes used.

These are categorised into: case studies of projects funded by the ODI stimulus fund; and case studies taken from our report: Using open data to deliver public services, which outline open data examples in relation to increasing access to public services, improving delivery chains and planning, and policy development.

Scaling data innovation: case studies

Case studies of shared and open data being used to create or improve public services – demonstrating the value of data in public service delivery, and benchmarking what is required to make them.

Overview

Drug addiction is a prevalent issue across Scotland. In 2017, there were 934 drug-related deaths in Scotland, which was the largest number of drug-related deaths in Europe in that year.

The Addiction Recovery Companion (ARC) app supports those in addiction recovery by helping them to track progress, boost motivation and access the recovery network in Edinburgh.

The ARC app

The free app offers a number of tools to support addiction recovery:

  • a map of recovery meetings and services in an area
  • calendar to track meetings and appointments
  • a private journal to record feelings
  • an optional ‘counter’ to track how many days they have been in recovery.
  • An emergency button to call or text an emergency contact

The app is connected to a web application which contains information about addiction recovery meetings in Edinburgh. The Drug and Alcohol services data was initially sourced from the Edinburgh Open Data Portal but needed to be scraped and cleaned. This data is now held in a repository maintained by ARC and updated when the team is made aware of any changes.

It is important to note that the ARC app only collects data about its users for data analytics to track progress and inform future developments. This is key to its philosophy and one of the reasons the team was able to build trust with users who were initially sceptical.

The team secured a small amount of investment after winning the 2014 EdinburghApps award. This funding was used to convene focus groups and hire a software developer.

The ARC team has been successful in engaging with the community that they aim to support. Since 2016, the app has been launched 26.5K times, with between 150 and 200 regular monthly users (at its peak).

User research and engagement has played an integral role in shaping the design of the app. This is key, especially when working in such a sensitive area like addiction recovery. The ARC team visited the support groups on numerous occasions to build trust in the app and listen to their concerns. Once this faith was built, the end-users were happy to share information about the app more widely.

The ARC team’s engagement with the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership allowed them to develop links with Serenity Cafe in Edinburgh – a support cafe for those in recovery – and to ensure the right people were involved in the beginning. Edinburgh Council then provided marketing support to help spread awareness of the ARC app.

Working alongside these organisations gave the project more credibility as they were already engaging with the community, which meant that trust could be built from the start. The app works well in tandem with this community, allowing partners to support the provision of this service, in turn supporting the recovery of those using the app.

The code for the app is open source and is available on GitHub. Publishing source code under an open licence is valuable as it gives other people the option to use that code to help them create their own services. It also allows service users the opportunity to contribute to and suggest improvements to the service.

More recently, ongoing costs have become a significant problem for the ARC team, with the cost of hosting, domain, and business account expenses prohibiting long-term sustainability. A licensing issue has meant that the Android version of the app has been removed from the Google Play Store and lack of funds has halted implementation of required updates for the iOS version.

To date, the project has only been able to continue so far due to the commitment of the small team, who have dedicated their time to the project on a voluntary basis, fitting it in alongside their other work and family commitments.

Next steps

ARC is exploring the possibility of expanding into Dundee, where there is interest from local support groups. Funding constraints across the UK are a barrier, but an app such as ARC could scale out to other areas of the UK. This is an explicit aim for the ARC team if they manage to get additional funding.

ARC performs an important and potentially life-saving service which could work more effectively in Edinburgh and beyond. The core code and idea is one that could work in other geographical areas and can even be applied to other service areas such as support for new mothers.

Scaling barriers identified

  • Sustainable funding – A lack of funding can significantly affect the sustainability of a project and cause subsequent barriers. Finding funding for projects such as this is hard.
  • Documentation– Smaller budgets affect the ability to create good project documentation and to keep the community informed about the project. This makes it difficult to communicate value and impact, or help others to create similar projects.
  • Data Availability – Other areas may not collect data on the location of support services. Manually collecting this data is time-consuming and affects the ability of it to scale.

Overview

Continued cuts to local budgets, amid other challenges, have “stoked the fire” for innovation within Glasgow City Council, according to a senior member of the council’s Data Centre of Excellence team. With less funding provided by central government, but important public services still to deliver, the council has had to innovate using data to inform evidence-based decision making within a reducing budget  – a challenging balance to strike.

With this challenge providing impetus, the council is using data, design and technology to deliver more effective and innovative public services to meet the needs of its citizens in the digital age.

Glasgow City Council’s story

Glasgow City Council is working on a variety of innovative projects through its Data Centre of Excellence. One strand is focusing on unlocking the value of collected – but currently underutilised – data which can improve the efficiency of services. The council is attempting to do this through multiple data-matching projects, such as ‘Benefits Auto-Entitlement’ and ‘Landlord Registration’.

Innovation is as much about the culture as it is about the projects. Culture change is notoriously difficult, but the council has been able to build a multi-disciplinary team with the necessary skills and determination to deliver effective services – by realigning existing resources supported by training in new growth skills. The council has found that this culture is generating momentum and enthusiasm within senior teams – improving the likelihood of further success.

Glasgow City Council has secured additional funding for several of its data-driven projects. The project funding was obtained through garnering internal support and buy-in from senior leadership, and from external sources such as EU structural funds. This support and funding has been transformational.

The Data Centre of Excellence team within Glasgow City Council values innovative citizen engagement and collaboration as key principles to its innovation work. A people-focused approach can ensure resources are used efficiently for in-demand services. This engagement also helps to build trust and encourages a shared approach to problem solving. It is creating an innovation hub and ‘living lab’ which will also invite citizen groups and other city stakeholders to develop new ideas and encourage co-design of services. Data and digital solutions will be a focus for the hub. External partners are already lined up to participate in this exciting initiative.

The council is also using a ‘design thinking’ approach to problem solving. This approach challenges assumptions and introduces new ways of thinking to tackle a range of issues – including service redesign – and ensures that the data is used to solve the ‘right’ problem. These approaches and methodologies have been adapted to create a more tailored ‘Glasgow version’. External industry experts are continuing to work with the team to validate the work and share learnings.

Storytelling

Storytelling is an effective way to share success stories. Successful projects may not be replicated in other regions or sectors simply because others may not be aware of them. Documenting and signposting projects is useful but the team quickly realised the importance of storytelling, which can add a rich layer beyond merely sharing details about a project. The council invested in a dedicated resource with storytelling skills to raise awareness of the outcomes in an engaging and visual manner.

Storytelling shares the narrative of a project, explains why it is important and reveals what others can learn from it. This is valuable for engaging potential funders, obtaining internal support and building trust with the public. Recognising the importance of this function, the council’s Data Centre of Excellence has now extended storytelling training across the wider team.

Sharing skill-sets

Councils also need staff with the right skills. A key benefit for Glasgow City Council is that it has assembled a dedicated Data Centre of Excellence (a virtual team whose role is to help solve complex city challenges through data, design and innovation). This means that people can specialise in specific technical skills and provide expert knowledge.

While this is good for running individual innovation projects, the team notes that – as data becomes integral to more services –  the same skills need to be developed across the organisation. As one team member aptly concluded: councils should “integrate the datasets and integrate the skillsets”.

The Data Centre of Excellence team at Glasgow City Council recognises that, without senior-level buy in, projects are unlikely to succeed or be used on a wider basis. The team notes that the relationship between the project team and senior council officers should be two-way:

  • the project team must be able to make a good business case for its project which is aligned with the organisation’s strategic goals
  • senior officers need to encourage innovation and give them the flexibility to explore interesting ideas, champion their successes and defend their failures.

Projects

Glasgow City Council has an extensive programme of innovative projects delivered through its Data Centre of Excellence and these are starting to deliver tangible benefits across the organisation and beyond. A number of these are detailed below. Those funded as part of the Data Centre for Excellence are detailed below. The council is also part of a number of externally-funded data-driven projects, including:

The Data Centre for Excellence projects:

  • Data Dashboards: An application that visualises large volumes of corporate data – making real-time data more discoverable by more employees for use in operational and strategic decision making.
  • Benefits Auto Entitlement: Data-matching process to identify low income families who are eligible for specific benefits (school clothing grants) and automatically make payments to them rather than rely on an existing application process.
  • Assisted House Garden Maintenance: Data-matching process cross-checking those eligible for and those in receipt of garden services – potentially making savings by validating entitlement
  • Landlord Registration: Using data-matching across different datasets, this project identifies potential landlords who are not yet registered, and those who are no longer landlords who should be removed from the dataset. This process has the potential to protect vulnerable tenants and raise additional revenues through a more efficient targeted sustainable approach to the registration process.
  • Housing Stock Estimate: A data cleansing, modelling and matching project that generated new insight around housing stock and tenure estimates in Glasgow, to more accurately estimate the available housing stock in Glasgow.
  • Backcourts Bin Replacement: Supporting the replacement of backcourt bins with a data model to generate a more sustainable record of refuse locations and materials – providing insight with a new database of backcourt information relating to space, capacity and collection processes gathered through an innovative collector app.
  • Cordia Homecare Workforce Optimisation: Partnership project between the Data Centre of Excellence, Cordia Homecare Services and the University of Strathclyde to develop a new approach to staff scheduling. The service uses  algorithms to allocate staff providing a daily care service to thousands of elderly, infirm or vulnerable residents. Calculating an optimal approach to overtime and staff allocation schedules while maintaining and improving services for residents.
  • Workforce Planning: A data modelling approach to analyse HR records and information to create a better understanding of staff attrition, job progression and the long-term support for staffing development and planning. The aim is for the data to better support strategic decision-making, including predicted future workforce planning, and a reward metric to determine the likelihood of staff retention.
  • Remedy (Customer Contact Database) Pipeline: Project to develop a better infrastructure to store and use a key corporate dataset (Remedy) which captures and records thousands of customer contacts and requests per day. A range of data analytics tools – including machine learning, visualisation, integration and data matching – can be used to interrogate the data.
  • Insurance Analytics: Analysis of insurance data to highlight trends and identify areas of interest to reduce the overall insurance premiums paid by the council. Use of R and Visualisation software to generate insight around the circumstances and patterns of insurance claims and liability. Better prediction of insurance claims and circumstances may lead to an opportunity to alter the likelihoods of claims through behaviour change and fleet and infrastructure management.

Scaling barriers identified

  • Skills and resources – Glasgow City Council has a dedicated multi-disciplinary Data Centre for Excellence team who have been upskilled. This will have taken time and resource. This might be harder for smaller teams.
  • Funding – the team has multiple sources of funding for a variety of projects. Different projects will have to find similar funding.
  • Technical – at present, the software used is not open source. This means that a new team would have to develop the software themselves.

Overview

Finding information about education options can be time consuming and frustrating, making it difficult for parents, students and carers to make informed decisions. The UK has over 24,000 schools catering for around 8.5 million pupils across 418 local authorities.

While the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) provides  information about results and inspections, finding information about admissions criteria and open days can be more challenging. This information can often only be found on institutions’ websites or buried in local authority PDFs, leading to long-winded searching which may or may not lead to the required information.

MyEd, a commercial technology company, uses a combination of public- and user-generated data to provide advice and information about educational institutions, courses and other related services. Its mission is ‘to empower every parent and student to make informed educational decisions to meet their particular needs and aspirations – from cradle to career.’

The MyEd Story

MyEd collates data about more than 30,000 institutions and thousands of individual courses. This includes key profile and performance information, statistics, tuition fees, official information, photo and video galleries, reviews and discussions. The company provides all of this on a single platform, so that people who need information about education opportunities can access it without having to search in lots of locations.

The data used by MyEd comes from a variety of sources, much of which is publicly available.

There is more information about the data sources on the MyEd website.

MyEd offers institutions the opportunity to ‘claim’ their listing at no cost so that they can update information, respond to reviews, manage enquiries and engage with parents and students.

MyEd has been supported by the Open Data Institute, Birmingham City Council, Big Data Corridor, and its partners for development include Silver Touch Technologies and EnableID. This support entails access to technical advice, guidance on securing funding and access to a network of potential partners.

The MyEd team’s combined experience in the education sector is supplemented by technical experience from its development partners Silver Touch Technologies and EnableID.

What’s next

While MyEd, at present, is primarily a site to search for information on nurseries, schools, universities, colleges and courses, the team is working on prototypes with Birmingham City Council to use APIs to personalise the search for educational institutions. This would allow users to tailor their search based on individual requirements and preferences such as special educational needs or religious preferences, and entry criteria such as home-to-school proximity, whether their siblings attend and if they are a child in care.

MyEd is also working on dashboards for the schools and councils to manage the public data in an improved and standardised way. MyEd will be launching MyEd SchoolPlaces and MyEd UniPlaces in 2019.

Scaling barriers and opportunities

  • Engagement and collaboration. The support of Birmingham City Council and Big Data Corridor has been key for the development of MyEd. Similar ‘championing networks’ can really benefit other projects which highlights the importance of making the time to foster these networks.
  • Evidence of success. Sharing the evidence of the impact can help other projects make a business case to do similar things.

Overview

Improving health and wellbeing has been considered a priority in Cornwall in recent years. In 2013, Cornwall Council established a Health and Wellbeing Board. Since then, a number of organisations in Cornwall have been working on initiatives that aim to improve the health and wellbeing of the local community.

Smartline is a three-year research and innovation project looking at how technology can be used to help residents in Cornwall live healthier and happier lives. The project is collecting and publishing anonymised data that can be used by researchers, local enterprises and community groups to create value for residents in Cornwall.

The project is led by the University of Exeter in partnership with Coastline Housing, Cornwall Council and Volunteer Cornwall, and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the South West Academic Health Science Network.

The Smartline story

As part of the Smartline project, 300 participants’ homes in the Camborne, Pool, Illogan and Redruth areas have been fitted with ‘environmental sensors’. The residents all live in social housing that is managed and maintained by Coastline Housing, one of the project partners. All of the participants consented to the installation of sensors on an opt-in basis and they have been provided updates, advice, benefits and compensation throughout the process.

The sensors capture quantitative data about:

  • air temperature
  • air humidity
  • air quality
  • water consumption
  • gas consumption
  • electricity consumption

Following an initial face-to-face study, participants are asked to complete monthly surveys using tablets provided to each participating household. These surveys are used to collect both quantitative data and qualitative information across a broad range of topics; such as personal characteristics, education and employment, general and respiratory health, wellbeing, connections with the community, involvement in physical activity and the current state of the house.

Smartline collects, cleans and anonymises the sensor and survey data, before publishing it on a data sharing platform called USMART. Anyone can request access to that data by submitting a form through the Smartline website. The data on the platform is published openly under an Open Government Licence, allowing users to access, use and share for any purpose.

Next steps

Smartline has been designed to support local innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The project runs various schemes that support local small and medium-sized enterprises to engage with the data and the academic research, with the objective to help them create better products and services for the community, such as the DadPad app, which provides practical guidance for fathers to newborn children.

Idea-generation grants are offered to local businesses to explore and develop new products and services that could use the project data.

Businesses can then join the ‘in-residence scheme’, where they have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Smartline researchers to improve product and service ideas. Those that take part in the schemes are required to publish their research to help provide insights for other businesses and researchers. The initiative then offers follow-on research or larger cash grants on a case-by-case basis to support further innovation. Smartline is aiming to engage more local enterprises in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that could potentially use the data to create new products and services.

The collected data is also used by academic researchers. The majority of research to date has been conducted by the University of Exeter and has focused on indoor air quality and the impact on health, with targeted research questions exploring issues like the relationship between mould and asthma in older adults. Smartline will continue to support health and wellbeing research through the life of the project.

Volunteer Cornwall, a local community group, is also working with the Smartline residents to help them articulate their specific needs and capabilities, using a discussion technique known as a ‘Guided Conversation’. Information gathered through the Guided Conversations will be used to build support networks to address these needs within the public, private and voluntary sectors for this community.

Visit the Smartline website for more information

Scaling barriers identified

  • Data availability – Smartline is able to support the scaling of products and services because the data that has been collected is representative of a specific community in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It would be difficult to replicate this support in other areas without a similar availability of data.
  • Funding – Sensors can be an expensive way to collect data, so a lack of initial and sustained funding can affect the ability to use sensors for data collection.
  • Skills and resources – As the existing project partners did not have all of the necessary skills, Smartline commissioned a range of services to support the project, particularly around the collection, maintenance and hosting of the data.
  • Different users  – The Smartline team was able to access its specific user group – people in social housing – due to the user group’s existing relationship with Coastline Housing, who provide and maintain the accommodation. It would be more difficult to engage with different end users, such as people in private, rented accommodation, who rent from a range of landlords.

Legal and ethical issues – Installing sensors in people’s homes could be invasive. Some of the data that is being collected through the project is personal and sensitive. It is vital – but can be difficult – to ensure that participants continue to give informed consent throughout the project.

Overview

Every day, decision-makers in organisations are making choices that impact the people in their communities.

Organisations are stewarding large amounts of data that could influence these decisions, but they might not have the right skills to effectively analyse the data – meaning its value remains untapped.

The Trafford Data Lab, a Trafford Council-funded initiative, creates simple visualisations that reveal patterns in data to help local people and organisations make better decisions. The initiative has been developed to help organisations make sound, evidence-based decisions.

The Trafford Data Lab story

The Trafford Data Lab team works on a number of open data and data visualisation projects, which aim to help local people and organisations inspect and tackle specific challenges.

Often, these challenges are common issues that most local areas face, such as the visibility of crime statistics. To help other organisations tackle the same problems, the team publishes open data and creates open source tools that anyone can access, use in their own projects and share with others. Trafford Data Lab publishes guidance documents and videos alongside the tools that it creates. By making its work as open as possible, Trafford Data Lab is sharing workable and reliable solutions to help others overcome barriers in a cost-effective way.

One of Trafford Data Lab’s more recent pilots focused on the topic of worklessness, which is defined by Public Health England as ‘a state where an individual or no one in a household aged 16 and over are in employment, either through unemployment or economic inactivity’. The pilot was funded by the OpenGovIntelligence project, an EU Horizon 2020 initiative which supports governments across Europe to explore how linked open statistical data can be applied to public services in innovative ways. Alongside technical partner Swirrl, Trafford Data Lab has worked with JobCentre Plus and the Trafford Council worklessness team to co-create tools which can help to identify areas of need and inform service delivery around worklessness in Trafford and across Greater Manchester.

The team created three visualisation tools for the project. Each tool addresses a different need around worklessness and all of the tools are supported by detailed documentation which describes:

  • what the application is useful for
  • what datasets are used to enable the application
  • where the datasets are sourced
  • which tools were used to develop the app
  • where you can find the source code, which is openly available for each tool

Summarise is dashboard which presents a summary of the available information on unemployment claimant rates. This tool allows decision makers, such as service commissioners and policymakers, to compare unemployment rates in Greater Manchester across electoral wards or local authority remits to allow for benchmarking exercises.

Scan is a tool which allows analysts to examine the spatial distribution of worklessness in Greater Manchester, by identifying and comparing specific areas of worklessness.

Signpost is a tool that aims to help community link workers find nearby services, such as JobCentres, GPs and food banks. The link workers can use this to help vulnerable clients access services, which in turn contributes to helping them to find work.

The pilot used open data sources that are stored in the GM Data Store, an open data platform that services Greater Manchester. The team used open source tools (table2qb and cubiql) to convert the data into a usable format. The source code for these tools is openly available on GitHub.

A significant proportion of the datasets used in Trafford Lab’s projects are from government sources, such as the Department for Work and Pensions or the Office for National Statistics – therefore comparable datasets will exist for most local areas.

What’s next

As part of the funding agreement for the worklessness pilot, the project team was required to dedicate time to communicate its workings and findings, so that other council teams and care workers across Greater Manchester could start using the tools created. Many of the tools that Trafford Data Lab produces are designed to be replicated and used with relative ease, but to create an impact on a larger scale, it is important that a wider UK audience is aware of these tools.

Although the OpenGovIntelligence project ended in January 2019, Trafford Data Lab will continue to expand the number of datasets that enables the Signpost application.

Scaling barriers identified

  • Skills and resources – Many of the tools that Trafford Data Lab produces are simple to use, but those who are looking to replicate the tools might require a background in programming languages and software development to implement in another area.

Awareness and communication – Much of the data and code are open source, therefore usable by others – but awareness remains an issue.

Video: Local governments using open geospatial data to make a difference

View our videos showing how four UK councils supported local open-geospatial-data projects

Initiatives funded by the ODI stimulus fund

As part of our R&D project, New service delivery models, we awarded funds to teams from different parts of the UK, to support them in redesigning specific public services with open data.

What was the challenge?

In Doncaster, careers advice and guidance is fragmented for students who are exploring options after completing their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) qualifications. Young people largely rely on in-school support from a careers advisor. By talking to young people, Doncaster Council found that in-school careers advice often comes too late for many students, and that employers are not always effectively involved. This means advice on employment and training opportunities for young people aged 16 to 18 is often inadequate.

Although Doncaster Council isn’t responsible for providing careers advice to young people – as with other local authorities in the UK – it is accountable for the outcomes, specifically, for the borough-wide figures of young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET).

This project aimed to democratise careers information, advice and guidance in Doncaster for young people – making information about post-16 career options more freely available and accessible. Grounded in what young people said they would find most useful, the team at Doncaster Council and UsCreates had the chance to create something that could meet students’ needs and potentially reduce the number of young people (aged 16–18) in the NEET category.

How is the team addressing the problem?

The Doncaster team is tackling the problem using a service design approach (an approach for designing customer-centred services) – adapting it to include an ‘open data scan’ – a landscape view of relevant available datasets. Team members began by carrying out user research to identify the careers advice needs of students aged 11 through to 18. They also assessed the availability of careers data from a range of sources, including the Department for Education, local schools and colleges, and from the statutory information provided by the local authority, available via ConnectU2.

The insights from the research led to the creation of six ‘challenge briefs’, which linked together the user research, open data sets and the organisational needs, to gain a clearer sense of the problem. An example of one of these challenges is: ‘How can we use open data to make more learners aware of and engaged in work-based provision and work experience?’.

At a co-design workshop, learners themselves, alongside partners from schools, training providers, The Careers and Enterprise Company, explored ideas to address the challenges. Two solutions were taken forward and developed into prototypes. The first prototype focused on addressing information gaps that may affect decisions for students. The second focused on the experiences of parents and careers advisors when giving advice.

Prototype 1: In this prototype, the dataset of careers information, advice and guidance was combined with data on education and training institutions and available apprenticeships to show students the range of options available. Using this prototype, students could also see the distance and time involved in travelling to a place of work or learning. An additional feature would be to allow students to filter local courses and apprenticeships based on their interests and strengths. In the future, it is hoped this service would support young people to make more informed choices about their education, employment or training pathway.

Prototype 2: The team used data showing school and college scores for young people in the NEET category, tracking it over time to identify changes showing where education, employment or training destinations had not been maintained and therefore had possibly not been the right choice for the learner. The team also developed a new open dataset detailing the careers information, advice and guidance offered in each school or college. In the future it is hoped that publishing this data and making the analysis available will help parents decide on a school for their child, encouraging competition between institutions and incentivising them to improve their careers information, advice and guidance service.

Lessons learned

  • Exercise your role as an ecosystem convener 
    The project enabled Doncaster Council to convene partners and to create impact in an area beyond its core service provision. It has mobilised partners around the challenge and given focus and momentum to future work. User research and co-design activities enabled agencies to work together on service delivery.
  • Learn from your peers 
    The multidisciplinary team of service designers, local government innovators, policy experts and data scientists brought different perspectives and ways of working. The team learned new skills from each other, building capacity for further open data projects across the council.
  • Build data literacy skills across the wider team
    The biggest challenge was supporting the council and partners to understand the benefits of publishing and using data. Useful data shared within the team was not open, but could have been. This created time pressures on the team who had to manually convert information from a PDF that could be fed into the prototypes. The team challenged these perceptions throughout the project, by championing open data publishing, but recognise there is more to do in promoting the benefits of open data.

Future plans

The longer term ambition is to share the findings with the Doncaster Opportunity Area partnership board. If approved, the team will build the business case for future development. The provision of careers information, advice and guidance was highlighted as a particular challenge for Doncaster.

Exploring how open data can support service redesign provides an opportunity to demonstrate why data should be published and how it can impact on young people’s choices and aspirations.

What was the challenge?

Across Kent and Medway there are 64,596 households where residents are living in fuel poverty – meaning their income is below the poverty line (taking into account energy costs); and their energy costs are higher than is typical for their household type. Living in a cold home can have both short and long term detrimental effects on wellbeing and physical and mental health.

Working with Kent County Council, the Kent Energy Efficiency Partnership (KEEP) aimed to reduce the number of people at risk. Alongside other activities, it explored better data and information sharing to support this. With an estimated 24,300 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2015-16, the team was keen to look at how data could better inform its interventions by predicting which areas in Kent were at risk of fuel poverty.

How is the team addressing the problem?

The discovery work focused on three areas:

  • effective targeting of vulnerable households​
  • learning from past interventions,​ and
  • developing ways to estimate the impact of further investment tackling the issue

The team conducted discovery calls with Kent County Council to map available datasets: closed, shared and open. Team members evaluated each dataset to establish if the data could help address the problem. The potential to improve the service would only be achieved by combining datasets from across the spectrum of closed, shared and open data.

In the chosen prototype, the team used the Kent Integrated Dataset (KID), a closed pseudonymised dataset curated by Kent County Council which combines data from 250 health and care organisations across Kent and Medway; and the Wellbeing Acorn dataset, a geodemographic segmentation of the UK’s population – detailing characterics of people and places. Analysis of the Wellbeing Acorn and KID datasets was conducted by the Kent Public Health Observatory team who have permission to access these datasets.

The team looked at segments of the population, along with health and care needs by postcode. A systems modelling approach allowed the team to predict areas where there is increased likelihood of fuel poverty.

Combining closed, shared and open data allowed the team to identify areas at risk at postcode level with an average of 20 residential properties per postcode. This is a significant improvement to the previous analysis which showed geographical areas with approximately 1,600 residents. It has the potential to create a significant improvement to the intervention planning.

Lessons learned

  • Keep your redesign or intervention focused
    The fuel poverty intervention is provided by a network of partners with different skills, availability, geographic locations and goals. Developing a refined brief for the project helped to create a shared understanding and to define roles and focus.
  • Understand the motivations of those who design and deliver the service 
    Regular meetings to understand goals and challenges provided the project team with a clearer set of objectives from funders, strategists, policy officers and frontline workers.
  • Run data discovery sessions
    A landscape review of data (closed, shared and open) through interviews with councils and local authorities helped to form a picture of the available data. The people responsible for data processing and data analysis were particularly helpful as well as stewards of datasets that are linked to fuel poverty identifiers, for example data on types of housing.
  • Keep the user in mind
    Much of the project focused on strategy and systems which can feel conceptual and disconnected from the end service user. To keep their needs in mind, personas were used throughout the project.
  • Understand data access and governance
    Datasets that contain information about people, such as the Kent Integrated Dataset cannot be released openly but are important in helping to better understand fuel poverty. To use this data effectively, systems and governance should be established to allow access to named individuals, enabling effective analysis alongside other datasets.

Plan for the future

The ‘at-risk’ postcodes (from the ACORN tool) will be used by the KEEP group to improve and target fuel poverty intervention work. In the future, Kent County Council hopes to combine further datasets, such as data about gas supplies to develop ‘fuel poverty flags’. These can help service planners to identify residents who are likely to fall into fuel poverty and to commission services that can support better delivery of interventions.

What was the challenge?

North Lanarkshire Council receives high volumes of ​Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, and calls and emails to its customer service team about non-domestic business rates.  These are taxes charged on buildings being used for non-residential purposes, such as shops, offices, warehouses and factories. The council manually answers these queries, getting the required information from large internal datasets. The council publishes a cut-down version of the dataset monthly to illustrate new ratepayers and outstanding balances. It is a time-consuming and costly process and often the same information is requested multiple times.

With the belief that ‘every FOI request is a service failure’, North Lanarkshire Council’s goal was to publish non-personal, non-domestic business rate data so that customers could access the information quickly and easily, with the ultimate goals of reducing the number of requests to the customer service centre, increasing transparency and providing residents with information about their local area.

How is the team addressing the problem?

North Lanarkshire Council is on a digital and cultural transformation journey with a specific aim ‘to improve economic opportunities and outcomes – for all’. Realising the value of data and establishing routine processes and procedures to reuse data is central to enabling this aim.

The team (North Lanarkshire Council working with Snook and Urban Tide) aimed to publish the full non-domestic rates dataset, with personal data removed, for example sole trader data. The existing service does not publish this dataset due to the time and complexity in removing personal data. This will lead to the publication of over 6,500 data entries, allowing for a comprehensive picture of rates being made available as open data. Further de-identification techniques have been tested that could lead to the publication of the full dataset.

The team used the USMART platform to process and create the large open dataset. Using data in a sandbox environment meant that data could be manipulated quickly and de-identification of data could be tested. Putting in place the appropriate data sharing and licence conditions to enable data analysis between organisations was essential, but was a challenging process. The council proactively engaged with the legal departments to create agreements.

The redesigned service will improve the accuracy of the whole non-domestic rates dataset by automatically processing existing open data sources including datasets from: Companies House; the Food Standards Agency Hygiene rating scheme; the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR); the Charities Regulator for England and Wales; and Google Business API. Early findings indicate that these datasets can be used to understand businesses not currently paying non-domestic rates.

Lessons learned

  • Understanding data access 
    Requesting access to data and creating data sharing agreements takes time and should be built into your project at the start.
  • Find creative ways to get user feedback
    There was a limited response from service users who were asked to take part in research which was designed to understand the challenges faced. The team used detailed FOI requests to build a picture of needs.
  • Use existing service design toolkits
    Team members used service design templates and techniques that they were familiar with and existing open data resources such as the Scottish Government Open Data Resource Pack. The toolkit developed by the team is designed to be read alongside this resource. They found lots of service design resources and techniques were transferable to open data projects and that reusing materials reduced the number of new tools required.
  • Build data literacy across the team
    UrbanTide had trained North Lanarkshire Council on open data practices before the project, which meant the team was more comfortable with the topic and championed data-enabled services across the council.

Plan for the future

The service aimed to reduce the burden of publishing datasets and also provide significant additional information to businesses about the rates landscape across North Lanarkshire.

Significant expansion is also proposed to improve the accuracy of detection of missing non-domestic rates payers and to use machine-learning algorithms to detect payments that are higher or lower than they should be. More accurate collection of rates will help inform policy redevelopment and more efficient service delivery chains that can increase the level of non-domestic rates collected, enabling reinvestment into public service delivery.

What was the challenge?

Waltham Forest Council has a strong tradition of creativity – it believes that fostering culture is central to improving quality of life in the borough. Inspired by the creative and cultural heritage of the area, the council recognises the social and economic benefits that culture can bring to its 275,800 residents. It believes that it has a key role in increasing cultural opportunities and participation.

In February 2018, Waltham Forest Council was named as London’s first Borough of Culture. The council used this project as an opportunity to explore how data and technology can help to widen and increase participation and improve its service to the community.

How is the team addressing the problem?

Waltham Forest Council explored culture as a service – looking beyond traditional service delivery models to understand the role the council plays through community assets (land and buildings which benefit the community) and its approach to delivering cultural opportunities across the borough.

The project had three main aims:

  1. Gain a richer understanding of engagement with the arts, culture and heritage in Waltham Forest
  2. Develop ideas and approaches to increasing and widening engagement with the arts, culture and heritage
  3. Gain a better understanding of the practical implications and challenges and of designing data-enabled interventions

To achieve these aims, the project had two strands which explored the questions: ‘Who is engaging with the arts, culture and heritage in Waltham Forest?’; and ‘How can engagement be increased in the borough?’.

Strand one (borough wide)

The first strand looked at how Waltham Forest Council could increase and widen engagement in culture by looking at some of the barriers preventing access to culture across Waltham Forest.

To understand current engagement, Waltham Forest Council worked with the Audience Agencyto analyse existing open, shared and closed data sources. This included data under an Open Government license (OGL), such as demographic information from the UK census, and shared data, such as modelled consumer behaviours data from Experian, alongside previous Audience Agency studies.

The team developed cultural profiles and plotted the data onto maps of the borough so that engagement could be seen by location. This allowed the team to spot new engagement insights and patterns. Interviews with residents explored some of the barriers to engagement with culture in depth. It also showed that Vestry House Museum – a prized historic building situated in the heart of Walthamstow Village which holds collections and displays of local history and domestic life – is located between areas of both low and relatively high levels of engagement, and this was seen as a potential venue to be used to help expand the culture programme in the borough.

Strand two (community assets)

This strand explored the collection of data through wifi access point technology within Vestry House Museum. The museum celebrates Waltham Forest’s heritage through a range of exhibitions and events. The building has an events space and large garden; it also enjoys a central location in Walthamstow Village, a few streets away from the main high street. However, compared to the William Morris Gallery – a very successful cultural venue in the borough – Vestry House Museum is currently not realising its full potential.

To explore how Vestry House Museum could be expanded and better used, wifi access points were installed in the museum to capture data on visitor journeys, alongside a new wifi landing page. Users of the wifi service were informed how the data would be used and asked to respond to a number of questions; this included questions on their age and the reason for their visit. This information enabled the project team to identify common cultural motivations for this specific venue. It also allowed them to gauge visitor numbers and patterns, and to map out dwell times and visitor journeys, to inform how Waltham Forest Council could create better customer journeys for people who use the space.

With an abundance of data and new information, Waltham Forest Council used ‘ideation’ techniques, specifically one they called ‘smashing light bulbs’. Ideation is a creative process to rapidly generate and develop ideas allowing the team to look at how to improve the service. The council applied this technique to around 30 ideas to widen participation in the borough, and at Vestry House Museum specifically.

What was the impact?

The initial insights drawn from the data collected at Vestry House Museum show that there is a relatively high footfall of passers-by, as it is located in a busy residential location, close to a popular London tube station. The developed prototype ideas used this information to focus on how the borough could increase the conversion rate of people walking past and unique venue visitor numbers. This includes developing new signage on-site and at every stage within common visitor journeys to encourage people to visit.

The discovery work will continue to inform the new Borough of Culture Programme outputs and objectives, which include the redevelopment of Vestry House Museum as a physical space and as an alternative events space. It will also help develop new initiatives across the borough over the next few months, including a scheme enabling young people to volunteer at cultural events, as well as a new cultural cycle and walking map of the borough.

Waltham Forest Council found that the workshop on the Open Data Institute’s (ODI’s) Data Ethics Canvas had significant benefits for the project and plans to use it within the discovery stage of future projects. Crucially, the council believes the project has helped to develop a council-wide approach to implementing ethical and data-enabled service design and delivery.

Lessons learned

  • Using existing frameworks
    Using existing design or transformation frameworks supports the agile and open approach needed to innovate with data for service delivery. The team learned how to expand its use of data within the existing Waltham Forest design practice, building up knowledge for future projects. Working in a consortium brought different skills, expertise and perspectives to the project.
  • Draw it out
    The project inspired others in the council, and raised the stakes for service innovation and what is technically possible. To articulate the use of data to other stakeholders inside and outside of the council, Waltham Forest Council developed a data journey map.
  • Consider the ethics of your data use
    There were significant ethical and legal considerations around the use of data collected from individuals. Waltham Forest worked with their legal teams on the wifi terms and conditions and with the ODI on the ethical use of data. The team used the ODI’s Data Ethics Canvas to guide discussions and make decisions around its approach to collecting, analysing and publishing data.
  • Build data literacy across the organisation
    For many staff, open data is unfamiliar. Explaining open data was key to engaging people to talk about the ethics involved in data collection and publishing. Throughout the project, the team worked with colleagues from across very different departments: legal, insight and intelligence, business intelligence, culture, digital and ICT. The breadth of interest stems from the realisation that data really can improve Waltham Forest Council’s services.

Plan for the future

Shortly after the project closed, Waltham Forest was chosen to be London’s first Borough of Culture. As part of this programme, Waltham Forest Council aimed to implement the use of open data within the discovery stage of cultural projects and to use these projects as an example of how open data can inform successful service design or delivery of other service areas in the future.

Alongside this, the project team aimed to work with other services and teams across the council to implement the ODI Data Ethics Canvas into their practice.

In this podcast, Izy Champion speaks to the four local council teams about the successes and challenges they faced when redesigning their services.

Case studies: open data for increasing access to public services

In our report, Using open data to deliver public services, we outlined three patterns of open data use in public service delivery. Here we showcase case studies from pattern 1: open data for increasing access to public services.

Transport for London – in a nutshell

Transport for London (TfL) is a local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London. TfL has the responsibility for London’s network of principal road routes, for various rail networks including the London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway and TfL Rail, for London’s trams, buses and taxis, for cycling provision, and for river services.

How open data supports the delivery of Transport for London’s services: benefits to the public sector

TfL is one of the UK’s leading open data publishers. With over 31 million journeys made in London every day, it has long recognised the need to make travel information readily available to passengers. Publishing open data is a central part of TfL’s customer information strategy of providing real-time information that helps people to use their services – it enables them to provide information about service locations, routes and delays to passengers far beyond their own online and offline channels.

Transport for London’s story

Towards the end of the 2000s, TfL found that developers were scraping information about its services from its website. In an attempt to enable others to more easily display this information on their own websites and desktops, TfL launched embeddable widgets – including maps of its network and live travel news – in 2007. While TfL still makes a set of widgets available, the launch represented the beginning of a process in which the organisation would publish increasing amounts of data for others to access, use and share.

Between 2007 and 2011, TfL introduced an area for developers on its website and openly published real-time transit data via a range of feeds and downloads. This helped to satisfy a growing demand for its data among developers, who used it to develop user-facing journey planners and other applications. The anticipated influx of visitors to London during the 2012 Olympic Games was a stimulus for the introduction of live bus arrivals data, which led to a number of successful bus-only transport applications. Shortly after this came the launch of a new unified Application Programming Interface (API) for TfL’s website.

The development of TfL’s unified API in 2014 and the decision to open it up to external users was an important step in the organisation’s open data journey. Historically, the data it had published on different transport modes was made available in a variety of formats and structures, which made it difficult for developers to stitch together and develop multimodal applications (such as those that enable users to plan a journey using both buses and the London Underground). The unified API presented the data in common formats (XML and JSON) and, for the first time, consistent structures.

TfL’s open data now covers timetables, routes and lines, embarkation points and facilities, transit status, disruptions and works, and fares. According to recent research by Deloitte, in total there are over 80 TfL data feeds (75% of which are available via the unified API) and over 13,000 registered developers. Data users range from multinational technology companies to individual developers. The research has shown that TfL’s approach to open data is improving journeys, saving people time, supporting innovation and creating jobs.

According to the Deloitte research, TfL open data is now used in over 600 apps (including journey planners, mapping tools, booking and scheduling tools, and analytics engines). 42% of Londoners use an app powered by TfL data and passengers benefit from between £70m and £90m per year in time saved from using open data-powered applications to plan journeys more accurately. Up to £20m additional revenue is generated from increased journeys per year, driven by access to travel information, and £1m is saved per year by enabling external development of new customer-facing apps, rather than producing campaigns, systems and apps in-house. TfL save £2m annually by moving away from SMS passenger alerts and TfL open data currently supports 730 jobs, including those in new companies made viable through its availability.

Insights

Clearly describing the benefits of open data in relation to TfL’s wider organisational objectives has established a strong, ongoing case for its publication. Providing accurate and timely information to passengers is central to TfL’s ability to deliver its physical services – open data enables developers and other organisations to develop customer-facing tools that do this on a scale that TfL could not do alone. Efforts to establish the value of the benefits of TfL’s open data approach include the Shakespeare Review, which documented the approach in a case study in 2013, and the Deloitte research commissioned by TfL that has estimated the total value of open data to the organisation, customers and others to be in the order of £130m per year.

Leeds Bins app – in nutshell

The Leeds Bins app is a mobile application that tells people who live in Leeds when their green, brown and black bins are due to be collected, and adds reminders to their calendars. The diagram above is an example of a work-in-progress version of an ecosystem map, displaying the actors involved in the service delivery.

How open data can support the delivery of waste management services: benefits to the public sector

Open data on bin collection routes and times is used to inform people living in Leeds when their bins are collected. The application adds bin collection dates to people’s calendars, reminds them the night before to put out their bin, and includes links to what to put in which bin and where to take items that cannot be put into bins. The reminders make rubbish collection more convenient for citizens, and publishing open data – instead of sending out letters – saves the council approximately £100,000 per year based on estimations by imactivate.

Leeds Bins app’s story

Leeds has long seen open data as a means of supporting local economic growth while dealing with substantial reductions in local government spending power. In 2014, Leeds Council decided to invest significantly in making open data work for the city. Leeds has a lot of digital talent and city leadership saw potential to showcase the city’s strengths to potential investors.

In setting out the open data initiative, the council asked city departments what challenges they faced to consider how open data could help. The council assigned funding to encourage the release and use of open data to solve city challenges. The Urban Sustainable Development Lab was one the programmes funded. An innovation lab was set up to generate ideas and pilot them. Some of the funding for this came from the UK’s national “Release of data” fund with extra local funding boosting this.

Leeds’ open data platform Data Mill North hosted an event at ODI Leeds, an ODI Node, with developers working with council departments – including office staff, frontline workers, and sometimes elected members – to consider how open data could be used for better service delivery.

People working in waste management shared the problems they faced in their work, one being that people did not know when their bins were collected and were unhappy with the service as a result, and that the council had to mail out bin collection timetables either annually or twice-yearly, an expense that they increasingly could not afford.

Data was made available for the event and developers built prototypes to address the identified problems. imactivate, a small software company in Leeds and partner organisations of ODI Leeds, developed a Leeds Bins prototype, initially as a website. This idea and three others from the other teams of developers were presented to the waste management department. A winner was selected and the Leeds Bins team got the funding to develop what later became a mobile application, due to the difficulty and cost of updating Leeds City Council’s website.

Bartec Auto ID managse the bin routes in Leeds and have software that manages their bin routes and sends and receives live updates. Data Mill North worked with Bartec Auto ID to release household bin collection data openly, and the council included the open release of the bin collection schedule in its contract with Bartec Auto ID. DCLG (now MHCLG) had previously developed a standard for publishing bin collection routing data with Bartec Auto ID, and other stakeholders, in their Local Waste Service Standards Project That standard was used for this project. Imactivate developed the Leeds Bins mobile application using the open bin route data. Uptake of the application has been fast and widespread, data on which is published openly.

The council uses open data on app usage to identify areas of low uptake, and has launched targeted initiatives to increase awareness of the application and/or promote other ways of informing people when their bins are collected, to reduce the risk of people without smartphones not receiving information about collection times. These targeted initiatives are more cost-effective than regular mail-outs. The open data on uptake allowed Leeds City Council to choose which channels to prioritise. This decision is difficult because it involves weighing up needs and costs. Data can inform these decisions but the council ultimately needs to make them democratically.

Insights

Starting with the problem, in this case people not knowing when to put out which bin, and working closely with the local authority on solving it with open data, has proven helpful in delivering a better public service. The ongoing cost to Leeds City Council for this solution is about £1,500 per year, significantly lower than mail-out costs. imactivate and Bartech Auto ID are now selling the app to other councils, powered by open data where possible and by direct data-sharing between imactivate and Bartech Auto ID where open data is not preferred by the local government, or where opening the data adds unacceptable costs (eg PAF licensing).

Famiio – in a nutshell

Famiio is currently in development, and its aim is to provide an accessible online resource for parents/carers to find reliable information for their childcare and family service needs. Information on the platform will be available to the public, professionals and local and central government. Parents will be able to search and discover more than 500,000 services and activities across local authority borders in England; service providers will be able to promote their service offer effectively in one place; local authorities and commissioners will have access to better data more easily and cost-effectively, which in turn will help them to manage the childcare market and deliver “smart commissioning” of services.

How open data can support childcare and family services: benefits to the public sector

The UK Department for Education found that information about available services plays an important role in uptake of childcare by parents. The variety of services available and the number of different service providers can make it difficult for parents to understand what services they can use. Once launched, Famiio will improve access to the right services for families that need them. Local authorities will be better able to direct citizens to the right service by providing help better and earlier through Family Information Services and by targeting services.

In addition to providing information on available services to parents, the platform will also publish this information openly, to be reused by commissioners for gap analyses, to assist grant awards, and to be used by third parties. Famiio has the potential to help local authorities save costs in their internal information systems as information will be more readily available and it may become easier to match families’ needs with the existing services.

For parents not able to or interested in using the Famiio interface, Family Information Services will be able to use the application and continue to provide more traditional support to parents. (This highlights the need for infomediaries that produce non-digital information.)

Famiio’s story

Most local authorities have a Family Information Service that provides information to parents about childcare and family services, the provision of which is a statutory responsibility of local authorities under the Childcare Bill 2016. In 2008, the government initiated a project to aggregate information on all services available to families, including services not commissioned by local authorities.

This information was shared publicly, but not as open data. In 2012, this system was closed down under austerity measures.

Famiio was conceived to help parents access services across borders between local authorities and to protect family information from the uncertainty of government funding.

Statutory guidance for local authorities from the Department of Education specifies how local authorities should share information on childcare and family services, and suggests that as far as is reasonably practicable, data should be published in a reusable and machine-readable format based on open standards.

Local authorities will be able to use the Famiio platform to meet this guidance and, once the data is aggregated into the platform, parents will be able to access it free of charge, while local authorities and service providers will pay a subscription fee.

Insights

Funding is an essential part of an open data project. The potential of Famiio for better childcare and family services can only be realised once the organisation receives funding. Access to funding may be particularly difficult for organisations outside of government.

Open data for more efficient delivery chains and planning

In our report, Using open data to deliver public services, we outlined three patterns of open data use in public service delivery. Here we showcase case studies from pattern 2: open data for more efficient delivery chains and planning

Spend Network – in a nutshell

Spend Network pulls together spending, contract and tender data published by local authorities and other organisations in the UK. The organisation then provides insight and consultancy services to potential service providers to public sector organisations, and provides similar services back to government.

How open data supports the delivery of local public services: benefits to the public sector

Open data published by government organisations is analysed and repurposed by Spend Network to provide analysis, which will help make delivery chains and relationships between suppliers and buyers more efficient. The same (closed) data is used to save public money and improve the quality of services delivered to citizens.

Spend Network’s story

Inspired by Windsor and Maidenhead Council – which had started to release details of their spending in 2008 – the UK government, as part of the transparency drive in the previous coalition government, set out expectations of the spend and transparency data it needed UK local authorities to publish. For instance, this set out that all UK Local Authorities had to publish all spending transactions over £500 and all Government Procurement Card spending and contracts valued over £5,000. The policy motivation for these commitments was to ensure that taxpayers could have insight into how public authorities were spending money.

Supported by guidance produced by the Local Government Association, some local governments began to publish this data in open formats. In addition to spending data, data on let contracts was also made available.

The councils were required to publish the data on their websites. Spend Network began to pick up the data and aggregate it across many different UK local authorities. Spend Network was launched in November 2013 using open data to create the first comprehensive and publicly available repository for government transaction data, a market worth in excess of £130b per annum. Spend Network has published over 100m transactions, worth in excess of £3t. The company has grown out of Ticon, a small consultancy focused on government procurement and payments, founded by Ian Makgill.

Spend Network provides services such as procurement intelligence to both small and large businesses who are providers of services to local government. It is also involved in a data reseller market to large consulting firms who then offer services back to the public sector.

Spend Network data is standardised and linked and can be used to compare between bodies, regions or sectors. The ability to compare can help with spotting patterns and anomalies, which can then be addressed to improve the delivery process. The data can also be used to compare between suppliers; for example, comparing prices can inform spending decisions and lead to more effective allocation of resources.

Spend Network also provides a service to government by re-publishing the open data made available according to the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). OCDS was created by the Open Contracting Partnership and is used in many countries around the world. This makes it easier to scale. The team behind Spend Network are now using the standard and their experience gained in the UK to expand their tender-finding services worldwide using the brand name OpenOpps. FTSE 100 companies and the government use the site.

Insights

Despite the guidance from central government on the publication of data by local authorities, Spend Network spends a lot of time and effort identifying, cleaning and analysing data. In this ecosystem, as an aggregator, they curate data, push for its publication when it isn’t available, query quality issues and suggest improvements. They also lobby for data with copyrights to be published openly.

However, despite the large amount of activity on both the part of Spend Network and public sector organisations, and despite the opportunities mentioned, we are yet to identify specific examples of where the data has been used to improve procurement in a public sector organisation.

NHS open data – in a nutshell

The NHS spends over £110bn per year delivering health services in England and has a complex arrangement for providing these services at a local level. There are many organisations who variously support and oversee the design and provision of services. Many of these organisations collect and analyse data, which is used to analyse performance and improve quality and access to health services for citizens. The ODI undertook a workshop with members of NHS England and NHS Digital to begin to map out some of the key open data uses in the NHS. The NHS is a vast network of organisations and understanding the full position of use of open data would take considerable further research and expert knowledge.

How open data can support the delivery of health services: benefits to the public sector

The majority of data use within the NHS is individual-level data. This data is used for the delivery of direct care or, in pseudonymised or anonymised form, for research and planning. The data is made available to NHS organisations through the NHS Digital Secondary Uses Service and to outside organisations through other means with appropriate controls in place. Some healthcare trusts have data-sharing arrangements with private, voluntary or academic sector organisations who also provide analytical insight and services to organisations at various levels within the NHS. Performance improvement organisations in the NHS such as clinical audits and the Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) also use data and analysis in their work with health care trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups.

NHS open data story

In our very cursory consideration of this area we identified some examples of open data use. The ODI has highlighted in this blog post a number of key open data sets which have been – and are being – published. A relatively well-known example of the potential of open data in the NHS is the use of open prescribing data. Practice-level prescribing data is published by NHS Digital every month. This is a list of all medicines, dressings and appliances prescribed by all practices in England, including GP practices. In 2012, Mastodon C and the Open Data Institute used this data to demonstrate the type of analysis that open data could provide. They issued a report highlighting the savings the NHS could make if they shifted from branded drugs to generic ones using the open prescribing dataset. Latterly, an organisation called Open Prescribing has been using the data to provide ongoing analysis to the health service.

There are also examples of open publication of data within the NHS that have been associated with clinical impacts. For instance, when MRSA instances were published as open data there was an 85% reduction in the number of cases, though it is difficult to disaggregate the impact that publication has from things like media activity and quality and safety improvement work.

Insights

Although data is used routinely throughout the NHS, it seems from our initial research that the potential of open data is not fully realised. The few examples of open data publication are yet to show impacts in terms of changes to services, despite the promise that they show (eg prescribing data). The NHS open data agenda could perhaps learn from the tactics and approaches used in ecosystems that we have explored elsewhere, where connections have been made between the potential uses of open data and its publication, and feedback loops established. We recognise that this is a more complicated undertaking given that the NHS is a complex system and its data is also complicated. There may be an opportunity to use a “problem-focused” approach at trust level and on data which is more able to be published due to its non-personal nature (eg around service provision).

Urban Intelligence – in a nutshell

Urban Intelligence is a PlanTech startup developing a central repository of open information on UK planning policies. A tool called Howard provides a map that links planning policy information to its relevant locations, making it easier and quicker to navigate the complex planning policy landscape. Howard offers a mapping interface that allows property professionals to click on a site and get all relevant planning policy information for that site. It is the first centralised repository of planning policy information in the UK and allows planners to assess planning risks and opportunities associated with a specific location.

How open data can support the delivery of urban planning services: benefits to the public sector

Spatial planning and planning approvals are public services. The process is simpler if the relevant policies for each location and project are easier to find. Local authorities can use the platform free of charge to inform planning decisions, and with planning information available online, it is quicker and easier to provide this information to developers.

Urban Intelligence’s story

Urban Intelligence aggregates and organises information and data on planning policy from local councils, including policy documents and geospatial data. A number of local authorities have published their geographic data openly on data.gov.uk via Ordnance Survey’s “Presumption to Publish” process.

Not all local authorities currently publish geographic data openly, which means the platform can’t currently cover these areas. Urban Intelligence works closely with local authorities to encourage them towards an open data approach. As a member of Ordnance Survey’s Geovation Hub and as Ordnance Survey’s partner organisation, Urban Intelligence has been developing their map feature using Ordnance Survey MasterMap. OS MasterMap is a source of highly detailed geographic data about Great Britain, offering topographic, imagery and networks layers. OS MasterMap data is not open, but the Autumn Budget included a commitment that could lead to OS MasterMap data being made available as open data. Open OS MasterMap data would encourage more services like Howard to emerge.

The product is used by private sector organisations (planning consultancies, architecture practices, property developers, etc), who are often interested in understanding policy frameworks within and across different councils. Equally, local authority planning officers are provided with access to the platform for free to aid their work and service provision.

Insights

Local authorities differ in the types and amount of data they publish openly. Actively working with them to support the release of open data to achieve benefits for the public sector appears to work well. There may be potential for peer-to-peer networks of local authorities at different stages of their open data progress. The development of new tools and approaches is made easier when geospatial data is made as open as possible. This should form part of any strategy to build stronger data infrastructure at local or national level.

Open data for more efficient delivery chains and planning

In our report, Using open data to deliver public services, we outlined three patterns of open data use in public service delivery. Here we showcase case studies from pattern 3: open data for policy development.

Churchill – in a nutshell

Churchill is an application created by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Digital, which runs entirely on open data, to help develop and deliver data-driven and evidence-based policy. The service is a combination of a data visualisation tool built on D3 javascript libraries and a Mongo DB backend. This video provides a brief overview of Churchill.

How open data can support the delivery of DWP services: benefits to the public sector

Churchill helps policy and delivery officials in DWP to develop more evidence-driven policy and services with data visualisations pulled from open data across government.

DWP Churchill’s story

The DWP has a history of making its statistical data available to the public through statistical publications and more recently through the online portal Stats-Xplore. There was a renewed expectation that the department would become more digitally driven, which has included data. This resulted in some organisational restructuring to bring data teams and digital teams together. The new Director General, Mayank Prakash, also made a commitment to “driving hard for visualised analytics to be the norm not the exception”.

One of the data science teams based in Newcastle began exploring the user needs of policy colleagues in the DWP who use data to inform policy and service design. They undertook extensive user research with policy colleagues, and then developed a persona and elaborated the user needs for a new data-driven product. This work captured the level of data literacy as well as the current workflows and packages being used.

They also considered other products and services that could be used by policy professionals and analysts in the DWP, such as LGInform developed by the Local Government Association, which pulls together data from DWP as well as data published by local authorities. The eventual approach to the product was inspired by the world of data journalism, including that used by ONS on their ONS.visual site, which creates a number of statistical visualisations based on user research.

The DWP team developed a software prototype drawing on data available from open data APIs across government. A key part of the development was to make sure that the platform satisfied DWP security protocols – the system was set up from scratch. The frontend visualisation is run on the D3 javascript library. Some of the development of the product has been documented as part of DWP’s working in the open commitment.

There were a number of reasons for using open data to power the service. First, in some instances, it is easier to access open data than it is to access shared data. Second, some of the interviewees saw open data as trusted data as it has gone through a process of quality assurance prior to publication. The product was launched internally to demonstrate the possibilities to colleagues. Subsequently, Churchill has attracted interest from other government departments and has been profiled externally as well as having had interest from the Canadian and Australian governments.

The main potential impact of this use of open data and the development of Churchill is likely to be the reduced amount of time that policy colleagues and analysts in the DWP will need to spend accessing, cleaning and analysing data. This may also support more iterative and agile policy development as issues can be investigated more quickly. Potentially, the tool could help release the resource of an analyst.

Quicker data access and analysis can free up resources to better focus on policy and strategy decision-making. In addition, better data quality and better data visualisation can support more informed policy and strategy decisions. Availability of data visualisations of related services means it is easier to spot dependencies and relationships that need to be considered in service design and the direction of policy decisions. An example of this could be more effective job-seeker allowance policy. This is in line with government aspirations set out in the recent Government Transformation Strategy to make better use of data by making it available for internal uses through APIs.

If the tool was shared across government there would also be a strong value-for-money benefit in the reduction of each department procuring individual solutions, as well as the productivity impacts. In the longer run, it could support greater standardisation of geographical data across government as civil servants will be more able to spot the datasets that need standardisation by attempting to use them through the tool. Use will also likely highlight anomalies or inconsistencies, which will help to improve the quality of government open data as there is a greater link between those who collect the data and those who are using it.

Insights

The release of open data has brought innovation within government. The DWP team was only able to develop Churchill with the provision of open data.

Digital transformation tools and approaches have supported the development of a data product. One of the key drivers of Churchill’s development was that it was incorporated within a broader digital transformation agenda within the DWP, which gave energy and process to the development.

Government Grants Information System – in a nutshell

The Government Grants Information System (GGIS) provides information on grants worth £100 billion (2016–2017) from 16 government departments. Grants range from government funding for schools, to UK Sport grants, to funding for bus service operators.

How open data can support the delivery of grant-funded public services: benefits to the public sector

Access to grants data provides government and external organisations with opportunities to assess resource allocation on a national as well as on a more granular level. This contributes to transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in government.

Government Grants Information System’s story

The grants team within the Cabinet Office receive data from 16 central government departments (including HM Treasury, who make payments to departments to award grants but who also issue grants directly) on the grants they pay out to about 35 organisations – for example, schools, UK Sport organisations, or bus service operators. The total annual amount of grants in GGIS is about £100 billion.

The 16 departments use their individual legacy systems to manage data. To arrive at a common format, the departments transfer the data into a template spreadsheet, which they send to the grants team in the Cabinet Office, where all data gets aggregated in GGIS. Grants are structured in schemes, which are broken down into individual awards. The majority of grants data is broken down into awards but some of it is on a scheme level. The system generates unique identifiers on an award and scheme level to allow detailed analysis. This data is openly available to download in csv format.

The Cabinet Office use the data internally to inform policies and spot opportunities for efficiency gains across government. GGIS data also feeds into the government grants register, where it can be downloaded in csv format. The data also feeds into 360Giving, who support funders to publish their grants data openly and in a comparable way on the open data platform GRANTNAV, under the 360Giving Standard.

GGIS offers transparency in the grants system, which makes up a substantial share of the UK budget, and allows anyone to use this data to analyse grant flows in the UK. Central government benefits from having a single source of data in a common format to get a broad view across departments and to design an intelligent grants system.

Individual departments benefit from understanding their own grant flows better and identifying overlaps or synergies with other departments. As services become more integrated, departments need to break down silos and understand their role as part of a larger ecosystem; having sight of grants can help with that. Open grants data also enables an assessment of particular programmes that are run across departments.

360 Giving have launched a Challenge Fund to identify what questions need answering and how open grants data can help. Participants submitted questions about the geographical distribution of grants and the types of organisations that receive grants.  This initiative suggests that open grants data is used to answer important questions about access to funding for the delivery of public services.

Outside of government, the media, civil society and individual citizens can use data to analyse grant flows or find out how much funding a local organisation receives. Grant recipients can compare their own grants with those of similar organisations and prepare targeted applications.

If open grants data is linked with Open Contracting data from the Crown Commercial Service, it would be possible to identify the total amount of funding received by an organisation in grants and project funding.

Open grants data refers to grants awarded. Ideally, in future this could be compared with actual spending to get a full picture.

Insights

Sourcing data from different departments with their own legacy data management systems and publishing it on different databases highlights the importance of common data standards and formats that make it possible to aggregate and compare datasets.

The problem

When we’re out and about and nature calls, there is often a real struggle to find a toilet we can use. We may not be able to find a public toilet, we may try and use one in a cafe but they might require us to purchase something or we have to walk all around a shopping centre trying to find the right floor.

For some this need is much more immediate – for example those with accessibility issues, digestion illnesses (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or parents who need baby-changing facilities.

Across the UK, more than one in every three public toilets have been closed over the last two decades. Some councils are already without a single free-to-use public convenience. A 2007 study by Help the Aged (now Age UK), found that a market decline in the provision of public toilet is a central concern to older people, preventing them from leaving their homes.

Others found that UK toilet provision is sporadic. Some areas operate facilities that can be easily found and accessed – and kept to a higher hygiene levels. Whilst others have limited provision, or none at all (Knight and Bichard, 2011).

Greed (2003) found that the provision of toilets was ‘fragmented’ between different providers, including those public or those provided for by private organisations such as in train stations or shopping centres.

The solution?

A Researcher in community-led design, Gail Ramster, tried to address this issue.

There were already two national datasets that include toilet locations: Ordnance Survey, which shows public convenience (PC) on its maps, and OpenStreetMap, which show the location of over 4,000 toilets. But, because these are broader mapping projects, they only show public toilet locations or buildings, and not all the other publicly accessible toilets in supermarkets, town halls and cafes, for example.

Gail decided to make her own Great British Public Toilet Map. But to make a map, you need data, and data on toilets is hard to come by. Gail began her search at data.gov.uk, where government data on all sorts of public services is published. But she didn’t find the national public toilet database she was looking for, and alerted officials to the fact that there wasn’t one.

Gail looked for councils that might have open data on toilets, by virtue of scoring well on Openly Local’s UK Councils open data scoreboard, a project aimed at making local government data more accessible. But, as local governments get more keen to be open, most of the data they publish is about financial spending, not locations. Gail focused on the 33 boroughs within Greater London – to try and demonstrate the usefulness of open data and find flaws and barriers with the collection and publishing of the data.

The London version of the map went live in 2011. Before the project started, only one of the 33 boroughs published public toilet open data. The researchers managed to persuade four other councils to publish, whilst three more published since the launch.

When Gail approached the councils’ mapping departments, their geographic information system (GIS) managers said that they knew where the toilets were but could not say. This is because, at the time, Ordnance Survey had restrictions on the re-use of data they had already mapped.

However, things started to look up. Ordnance Survey decided to allow councils to reuse their intellectual property on toilet data. They also said that if others were to ask them for the data, they would be likely to grant them access on the same terms.

The researchers identified barriers to prevent further publication:

  • Lack of understanding of open data by the person responsible for public toilets
  • A lack of capability to provide online open data
  • Each council using different dataset formats and needing different coding
  • Restrictions on publishing OS data due to licensing
  • Lack of understanding of the benefits of collated Open Data rather than publishing simply on own website.

The project is supported by the Local Government Association, which has now included public toilets in its local open data incentive scheme.

The website now operates as a public participation portal, where members of the public can add, edit or remove toilet data.