Guest blog: Data will separate the best from the rest

Despite the claims to the contrary, austerity for local government is far from over. In our annual ‘Local State We’re In’ survey of council Leaders, Chief Executive and Finance Directors, only 33% of respondents are confident that they will make their required savings over the next 3 years – and only 19% are confident over the next 5 years. In fact, 84% think councils (potentially including their own) will fail to provide essential services in the next five years and 93% will get into serious crisis in that period. The ‘Council of the Future’, then, will need to do things radically differently, and not just because it will need to make savings.

There are two assets that councils continue to have that are not eroded by continuing lack of funds; their democratic mandate to lead and their knowledge of their communities. Our view is that these two latent strengths hold the keys to success in the future - and maximising the opportunities of that knowledge will be the difference between the best councils and the rest.

In our Local State We're In report we also learned that whilst councils are relatively confident in their business intelligence and information governance capabilities (64% and 71% respectively), only 46% feel their council is utilising data analysis to actually inform decision-making and strategy. In other words, less than half of our respondents felt that their council was using its local knowledge to help deliver outcomes for their communities.

This needn’t be the case, though. Councils and their partners already realise that there is value in the data they hold and these insights allow them to achieve so much more in areas as diverse as homelessness, fostering, frailty and business support. So why aren’t more councils doing this? Although all councils are focusing on data, most haven’t yet translated that into meaningful action. What will separate the ‘best’ councils of the future from the ‘rest’ is how that data gets used. Here are some examples…


The ‘Rest’ will… 

  • ...gather more data, using business intelligence tools to create more compelling cases for change.
  • ...create more datasets to better understand service performance
  • more data-rich stories to the top team, so that they are better informed than
  • ever
  • ...ask better questions, based on more experience of working with data

The ‘Best’ will…

  • ...upskill staff and supervisors to interrogate and interpret data as part of the day job, and empower them to drive high levels of data-led decision making across all services. Corporate insight teams will cease to exist as that skill set will be present in all service areas. And new technology solutions will be seen as powerful enablers – but enablers only – of repeatable and scalable experiments and successes with data.
  • ...use connected devices to create real time data flows that enables ‘right here, right now’ changes to service activity which, when combined with the above re data-savvy managers, create more efficient and tailored services. For example, in social care, devices in homes will enable carers and social workers to tailor care provision by the hour. And, otherwise dispersed social workers will be able to collaborate to drive productivity (like this:
  • collaboration across partners via the creation of data sharing environments that enable co-design and human-centred service creation across organisational boundaries. This will give councils, charities, community groups and suppliers new ways to tackle complex problems like homelessness, child early intervention and fly-tipping
  • ...give individuals control over their own data and work with them and their data to make them connected and resilient. This will enable better advocacy, more informed care decisions and more user engagement, amongst many more.
  • ...understand individual and group behaviours so well, through insight and experimentation, that pre-emptive interventions can be successfully deployed well in advance of crisis or escalation. This is as applicable to identifying and supporting more foster carers as it is to improving recycling rates or preventing household financial crises.

Councils with the confidence to drive value from the use of data will keep up and thrive. Using insight to drive service design and collaborating more confidently and effectively will allow these councils to achieve results for their communities. The challenge that the Council of the Future will master is developing and embedding this savvy in the core of their - and their partners’ - behaviours.

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