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October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge findings part 3

This is 3 of 4 blogs on key issues arising from the DataBridge project.

Aim of this report: to summarise the most important messages from the project on data in the context of Intelligent Commissioning and sharing data. These are addressed to the Partnership, particularly Brighton & Hove City Council and the community & voluntary sector leadership.

While DataBridge primarily focused on the use of existing published data within the voluntary and community sector (VCS), we started from a discussion about the potential of open data within the sector and key messages on open data are reported separately in part 4.


Information: data collected, e.g. on users, demand and need rather than financial reporting.

Local Government: Brighton & Hove City Council, the PCT and health structures. This could also include Police, but they were not specifically mentioned by groups.

Partnership: Brighton & Hove Strategic Partnership, primarily the council, health and police services.

Monitoring information

Some groups reported lack of clarity about how monitoring information required by local government was used. They did not have a clear idea of what it was used for beyond management of their own grant or contract, and more importantly for organisational efficiency, whether the quality and type of information provided was necessary and useful.

It was also felt that monitoring and contract or grant management appears to sit in isolation from management of other contracts or grants; and does not seem to be systematically linked to either Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) processes, scoping of commissions, or wider outcomes-based evaluation of work against the Sustainable Community Strategy.

Thinking about the national context, where pooled budgets, bulk purchasing and joint commissioning are the direction of travel, siloed data gathering and data management, and limited data sharing may undermine Partnership ability to improve effectiveness and value.

There is a general tendency in the voluntary sector to collect information on what funders are interested in, rather than focusing on what the organisation might internally require for service planning and organisational development. For organisations trying to streamline their operations and develop their business, collecting the right data for both themselves and for funders is important.


Streamline monitoring or contract management data required of the voluntary and community sector from different parts of the Partnership through establishing a common monitoring framework. (see separate CVSF work on the Needs Assessment Survey)

  • Ensure that only what is required is collected

  • That it feeds systematically into needs assessment and the commissioning cycle

  • The voluntary sector should respond in terms of more standardised data formats to facilitate wider use

  • VCS should think more about own data requirements as well as funders’

Needs assessments

The recent Brighton JSNA conducted as pilots in the Intelligent Commissioning programme are reasonably strong. But it is not clear that VCS data, information and evidence is to be systematically included in all needs assessments and scoping of commissions as a matter of course, rather than just to ‘plug the gaps’ of what is known of service provision delivered by statutory partners and what is demonstrated by routinely used sources of information.

Overall, groups felt that they had much to offer to the JSNA and other needs assessment processes, and that data from external sources could be considered more fully, earlier and on a more equal footing with Partnership internal data. However, there is a tendency for the VCS to be reactive rather than proactive in this area, and a shift in approach will be needed to move to a culture of providing information at an earlier stage to inform the whole picture rather than focusing solely on funding or bidding for commissions.


  • Intelligent Commissioning roll out & training includes ensuring VCS data is fed systematically into needs assessment and the commissioning cycle
  • More time needs to be allowed in future needs assessment and commissioning processes to enable appropriate and meaningful input from voluntary and community sector organisations
  • VCS leadership to encourage proactive sector engagement in information sharing for needs assessment by leading by example and sharing data actively and early.

Outcome measures

The Intelligent Commissioning work to date seems very process-focussed and while it talks about being outcome-focused, there is limited understanding within the City as a whole of what outcomes measures will actually look like. Several DataBridge groups expressed the desire to explore this further within the sector and with local government, and to lead work on defining outcome measures.

Work on developing national standards for outcome measures is under way, with key national organisations leading on developing work under a range of themes, including Financial Inclusion. It would be sensible to use the learning and momentum of this work to stimulate local progress on defining outcome measures, and to embed this into roll out of Intelligent Commissioning. Innovative work by the Advice Partnership on addressing issues of collaboration, defining need, outcomes and new models of advice delivery tie in well to this.


  • Support Advice Partnership bid to be a pilot area for developing National Standards for Outcome Measures and use as a basis for wider local work on outcome measures.
  • Establish cross-Partnership work on defining outcome measures to feed into both any common monitoring framework and work on outcomes based commissioning. This could be done on a commissioning round by round basis, starting with Financial Inclusion, to tie in with national work.

City-wide data

Early ideas on the concept of City-wide data platform or data store are exciting and offer real opportunities to both public and voluntary sector to share information at a a systems level with an emphasis on service improvement. Sharing data in this way could enable organisations to improve referral routes, reduce duplication or better target groups of users. When developing collaborative working within the sector, data sharing could enable organisations to jointly provide services under single contract management arrangements, offering better value for money to commissioners through scale.

Greater understanding of the issues and challenges of sharing data in the VCS will be explored as the South East Wellbeing Consortium develops and, separately, through the evaluation phase of the Advice Review. In the longer term it makes sense for this work to be more closely linked.

All partners will need to be fully involved from the earliest stages to make any data store a success. The City Needs Board does have a cross-sectoral membership and is starting to consider some of these issues. It would be helpful to communicate how this group feeds into the longer term plans on a city-wide data platform; to the roll out of Intelligent Commissioning guidelines on conducting and using needs assessments, and how both are linked with the current Brighton & Hove Local Information Service (BHLIS) Review.


  • Improved communication on city-wide intelligence ambitions and how existing strands of work are aligned to each other.
  • Involvement of all relevant partners in development of city-wide data sharing building on VCS-led work on data-sharing between partners.
  • VCS work on data-sharing within the sector should be brought together.

Social Value

However, good data sharing does not automatically equate to excellent services. Larger organisations from all sectors are likely to have greater capacity and resources to invest in developing data-sharing. While many provide excellent value, local, volunteer-involving organisations may provide better quality when considering the added value to communities and social capital generated.

It is useful here to consider the national policy context of a) greater openness of data, b) more pressure to collaborate and c) increasing competition within public services as set out in the Open Public Services White Paper and the Making Open Data Real consultation. In addition, the local authority still has a responsibility to achieve the best value for local people, this means not only the best price, but also the best outcome possible. Revised Best Value guidelines set out detail of the Duty to consider social value, as a new factor in local government commissioning and procurement.

It would be sensible for an authority committed to Intelligent Commissioning, open data and transparency, as well as devolving powers further towards neighbourhood level, to consider the wider implications of all decisions about service planning, spend and service delivery. A commitment to social value would be a important part of work on building resilient communities, supporting the social economy and supporting local small employers from all sectors. Work on how to define and measure social value locally, and on embedding in commissioning processes would therefore be really valuable.


  • BHCC makes a commitment to Social Value and to small independent providers (voluntary and community, social enterprise and SME businesses) and sets out a clear way of implementing this commitment into commissioning processes and decisions.
  • VCS work on defining and measuring social impact to be developed through Dialogue 50:50, building on previous work and existing skills within infrastructure organisations. 

Summary of general findings and messages

Brighton & Hove Council and statutory partners:

  • A diversity of information gathering and management systems can duplicate demands on the sector. There is no clear mechanism to feed this information into needs assessment or Intelligent Commissioning.

  • JSNA work in Intelligent Commissioning pilots has been good but could be improved by considering VCS data earlier and more fully.

  • Transparency of process and decision-making is just as important as transparency of data used.

  • There is an opportunity to build on national work and local VCS momentum in defining outcome measures.

  • Lack of clarity on overall ambitions on city-wide data sharing and how existing strands of work fit together.

  • The Duty to consider social value will be a key part of building strong social economy, improved public services and better value for money.

Voluntary & Community Sector:

  • Be more proactive, take control and drive the agenda through evidence. Use what is there already and use your own data resources better.

  • Engage early with data provision for needs assessment, and city-wide data sharing. This builds organisational credibility as a provider and helps shape the market for your services (thus serving your beneficiaries)

  • However, be cautious about giving away the family jewels, there is real value in your data.

  • There is an opportunity for the VCS to share data, scale services and provide better value for money, but also a need to reduce duplication of effort on exploring data-sharing.

  • Focus on what data and analysis is needed for internal management and business development as well as what is required by funders or commissioners

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