Data overload – the challenge of personalising services

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Using citizen data effectively is playing an increased role in transforming public services – but how do local authorities optimise this opportunity asks Civica’s Paul Bradbury?

We are living in the middle of a data revolution. Virtually every interaction we have means sharing our data, whether it’s what we’re buying online, watching via streaming apps or recording health activities on our smart watches. According to Earthweb, 3.5 quintillion bytes of data is created every day; and the average person using the internet produces 1.7 MB of data per second.

At the same time, local government is also collecting vast amounts of information about everything from bin collections to procurement and local health and social care services. By using this data more effectively, there’s huge potential to personalise services and provide the efficient and targeted help which people need.

As part of our series of Future Of Local Government roundtables with Solace and current and future council leaders, we looked at the challenges and opportunities which sit at the heart of the data debate in local government.

Data, data everywhere…

There is no doubt that data analysis is vital for councils to better allocate resources, save officers time both on the frontline and in the back office and provide real insight and trends in public behaviour and needs.

There is a real understanding and desire to work with data to improve services but those around the table agreed that the first challenge is to unlock the data already held and join the dots better to see the patterns. Data security is another vital issue, as well as local authorities having the skills needed to analyse and interpret data effectively.

It’s also a matter of trust. As Dave Growcott, Community Manager at Test Valley Borough Council said: “Public perception is key: people are more comfortable with Sky or Netflix knowing lots about them than their local, public elected bodies. This is a tricky one – we need to change these perceptions. One way is to articulate clearly what we will use the data for and show positive use cases.”

Increased personalisation through predictive analytics will be key to making lives of citizens better. For example, as Dave Perry, Chief Executive at South Gloucestershire Council said: “We need to look at joining up data better between health and care partners and local government to create more resilient and sustainable communities. But while some of our residents would like to have personalised services based around technology, equally we should make sure we always have those face-to-face personalised services readily available for those who seek our support in person.”

Turn the Council ‘inside out’

To really make customer conversations better, we need to understand things from their point of view. Kathy O'Leary, Chief Executive at Stroud Council calls this ‘turning the council inside out.’ She talked about the dangers of stereotyping customers and how we should instead use data insight to help shape services better around the customer journey and experience, “Looking at delivering services in a way that our tenants, residents and businesses want to receive them rather than delivering them in a way that is most convenient to us as councils.”

A key end goal from this is to help build resilient, connected communities: resilient to both climate change and a shifting work and economic background. In the next decade, it will become more crucial than ever to use data to build smarter places and cities, to help slow down climate change and tackle the huge challenges we face in population health and social care.

Only by cutting through the mass of data with better analytics and clear outputs will we really have a clear vision of what’s going to matter the most to people, both now and into the future.

Paul Bradbury is Executive Director at Civica. In partnership with Solace, this workshop forms part of a series of #FutureOfLocalGov sessions where we discuss challenges facing local government and getting future ready.

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