Digging deeper for the vital data

17th July 2023

How can the public sector focus on the best data to reduce the burden of reporting and make a difference in our communities asks Civica’s Paul Bradbury

Data should exist to help public sector finance leaders to lend trust and credibility to decision making. But sometimes data is collected and presented purely for the sake of it or to justify the existence of teams or departments. This was the sentiment echoed in a CIPFA roundtable we convened in Cardiff, looking at the issues around access to transparent and timely data; and how to reduce the burden of reporting.

Public sector bodies are presented with a myriad of data sources daily but when it comes to measuring how this is impacting outcomes, the picture is more blurred. With stretched resources and the small number of data specialists in house, how well does the data collected and consequential reporting reflect the challenges the organisation is facing?

Find the best practice

One excellent case study which emerged at the roundtable was the Welsh Government initiative to support reducing the data admin burden on local authorities to rather allow them to focus on their vitally important work delivering for the people of Wales.

At the heart of this work is the desire to ensure that Councils are not hampered by unnecessary bureaucracy.

Chris Stevens,

Head of Local Government, Performance and Governance

Welsh Government

The Welsh Government’s Programme for Government includes a commitment to reduce the administrative burden on local authorities. Officers in local government have told us there are issues around requests for data and information, which they felt were often inconsistent and seemingly unnecessary or overly bureaucratic. It's also about making sure information is accessible and people can understand it clearly.

The Welsh Government is also placing a very clear focus on citizen outcomes: the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act is supporting the use of data to show how public bodies in Wales are meeting national wellbeing goals.

A further catalyst for action is the government’s introduction of the Office for Local Government (Oflog) which will bring together data on local government performance in a holistic way and draw insight from it. By providing a single source of information about local government performance, it will support local leaders with decision-making and improvement, as well as help communities to better understand what is happening in their area. With such a focus on investment, debt and capital expenditure in local government, does this suggest that the data currently collected isn’t fit for purpose?

Mastering the data

A single view of data across any organisation in any sector will result in improved decision making, based on clear insight. By combining data sets such as revenue and benefits with financials, for example, a local council can see the bigger picture, improve data quality, highlight fraud and streamline services all in one go. Combined with a strategy on outputs needed for reporting, these integrated systems can pull all data together into one, easy-to-view platform.

As an example of this, we partnered with Police Scotland on a major data programme to integrate data from multiple sources, remove duplication of records, provide enhanced data analysis and present a single view of a person or location, while complying with all legal and ethical considerations and requirements. This high-quality data is better supporting decision-making by police officers and staff as they continue to improve safety and wellbeing across Scotland.

Citizen focus

Improved data will have a positive effect on outcomes for citizens; from exploring the implications for population health to a clearer picture of how public services are used. Only by cutting through the mass of data with better analytics and transparent outputs will we really have a clear vision of what’s going to matter the most to people, both now and into the future.

Ultimately, good data underpins good decision making. It helps organisations to put a business case together – both evidencing where we are today and using comparable data to show improvements and stronger performance in the future. By bringing together experts on both the technology side and public sector, we can combine context and data skills to forge the perfect data partnership.

Read more from the CIPFA roundtable here: Understanding data performance – what’s the story?

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