4 reasons taking an open source data approach will help local authorities improve their services

As the pandemic hit last March, local authorities were on the frontlines of supporting their communities in a time of great uncertainty and fear. Supporting vulnerable people was at the top of the priority list — but identifying those people was another matter.

Central government data went some way to identifying clinically vulnerable groups, but local government did not have the right data to find those in their communities with broader needs. This was a problem. They knew that children receiving free school meals were a key criteria in assessing vulnerability — but if children attended school in a borough that was different to the one they lived in, it made them much harder to identify.

In response to this issue, over 30 local authorities worked with the London Office of Technology and Innovation and the Greater London Authority, to broker a data agreement that allowed them to share detailed information about children receiving free school meals in their respective boroughs.

This information meant that local authorities could act quickly, identifying vulnerable communities and potentially saving lives — and it’s a big reminder of how powerful local organisations can be when they have access to open, interoperable data.

Beyond the pandemic, local authorities have a unique opportunity to make changes to their data infrastructure for good. But what are the benefits of such an approach? In this post, I’ll look at 4 good reasons why open source data can help local government organisations provide better services.

1. Reduce tech spend and improve services

As we’ve seen in my first article in this series, legacy tech is one of the key blockers to local government digital evolution. These contracts are not only long-lasting and lock councils into proprietary systems, but they are also a long-term drain on vital funds.

And it’s only when local government organisations are freed from these legacy contracts through open source platforms and data that they’re able to truly innovate on service provision. By using open source code and platforms, local organisations have more freedom to reallocate a greater proportion of their funds elsewhere.

2. Make changes and measure their impact in real-time

When local authorities have access to both their internal and external data and it functions interoperably, it means they’re better able to respond to user needs and make changes to their services. They’re also better able to measure the impact of these changes across different communities and groups.

This means they can not only understand more about their users’ needs and behaviours across all levels of their organisation, but they’re also able to work more agilely over time and iterate and improve as more data comes in, leading to better services long-term.

3. Look back at data trends, and look forward to better decision-making

The benefit of having high quality data at our fingertips means that we can travel back in time and revisit the impact of decisions — or we can use it to look into the future.

Being able to understand and correlate data trends over time, across departments, and alongside central government data will help local government organisations establish key trends in their users’ experiences and needs. 

These trends can help local government inform better policy and decision-making at a local level, empowering them to make smarter funding and service choices that minimise the negative impact on citizens, while at the same time maximising outcomes.

4. Create a culture of knowledge-sharing and drive better services for all

Open data is taking root in many local authorities across the UK. But underpinning its success will be how local government organisations start to work with one another to create great services together.

At the moment, a select few local authorities freely offer their platforms and digital solutions as open source resources, allowing others to adapt them for their own use. But in order for this knowledge-sharing culture to develop and flourish, more local government organisations must work in the open and share their knowledge to improve outcomes for the millions of service users across the UK.

Seizing the opportunity for open source data to help your people

We’ve helped local government organisations across the UK harness the power of their data to improve the services they offer to their people, including Hackney, Camden and Essex County Council. Beyond that, we’ve supported public sector organisations to drive digital transformation and upskill their people to work towards a better future for public services. If you’d like to find out more about what we do, reach out to us for a chat.

About the Author

Glen Ocsko

Head of Local Government at Made Tech

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