Skip to content
October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

Final report available to download

Over the last two days we’ve published a series of blogs reporting on the DataBridge project as we come to the end of this phase.

Introduction
Chapter 1 – characteristics of the groups
Chapter 2 – reflections from groups
Chapter 3 – recommendations to the Partnership
Chapter 4 – recommendations on open data
Summary

If you prefer you can read the whole thing at once in a more traditional downloadable report format here.

The feedback event is tomorrow, where we will be presenting the findings and recommendations plus the learning from the demonstration project that OCSI have done with Amaze using their data.

The event will be webcast from http://www.events.public-i.tv/core/ tomorrow from 2pm.

Advertisements
October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge report – Introduction

The DataBridge project came out of CityCamp Brighton in March 2011 from a conversation about how the voluntary sector could make the most of open data and capitalise on the burgeoning open data movement. After discussion with the sector and with project partners we adjusted the scope to look at how VCS use their own data, existing public datasets, as well as starting to discuss issues around data-sharing and open data.

Where we’ve discussed open data, we have used the LinkedGov definition:

Open data is non-personally identifiable data produced by a public body in the course of its ordinary business, which has been released under an unrestricted licence (like the Open Government Licence).

It is underpinned by the philosophy that data generated or collected by organisations in the public sector should belong to the taxpayers, wherever financially feasible and where releasing it won’t violate any laws or rights to privacy (either for citizens or government staff).

About Us

DataBridge has been run by Jo Ivens, independent policy advisor on the voluntary sector and local government, and analysts at OCSI, a research organisation focusing on data analysis and public service improvement. Support and advice has been provided by Emma Daniel at CVSF.

The Project

Six groups were invited to be part of the project following conversations at CityCamp, with CVSF and with SCIP. As this was a light-touch, unfunded project we did not to run a wider recruitment process.

We interviewed senior managers in the six organisations along with staff responsible for data management where appropriate, and wrote a brief report for each group with our observations and any recommendations for them in terms of data sources. We have drawn most of our findings and recommendations from these interviews, and from wider conversations with council officers and voluntary sector experts. A full list of these is at the end of this section.

In addition, OCSI undertook a brief research project with Amaze, using their Compass database of children with disabilities. This project was designed to generate transferable learning and OCSI have produced not only a report and a series of maps illustrating their findings, but some ‘How To’ guides designed to enable other organisations to replicate this work. These will be published on Friday 21 October in conjunction with our feedback event.

This Report

We have divided this report into four sections which have been published as separate blogs, but can be read together as one report:

Findings

  1. Groups’ characteristics
  2. Groups’ reflections

Recommendations

  1. On sharing data and needs assessment
  2. On open data

The Groups

We spoke with the following people as part of the project:

Vicky Watson, Brighton & Hove CAB

Paul Sweeting, Advice Partnership

Chris Lau, The Carers Centre for Brighton and Hove

Ann Hickey, East Sussex Credit Union

Colin Holden, East Sussex Credit Union

Rachel Travers, Amaze

Tina Brownbill, Amaze

Kat Marples, MindOut

Helen Jones, MindOut

Chris Brown, Grassroots

Kerry Dedman, Grassroots

Other Contributors

DataBridge project and early findings were discussed with:

Paul Colbran Head of ICT, BHCC and Chief Information Officer

Sophie Cox Business Engagement Manager, BHCC

Mark Watson Head of ICT Systems, BHCC

Claire Wardman Research Officer (Needs Assessments), BHCC

David Golding Senior Research Officer, BHCC

Richard Miles Performance Analyst, BHCC

Simon Ewing Data & Information Manager (BHLIS), BHCC

Mark Walker SCIP

Andy Winter Brighton Housing Trust

John Holmstrom Brighton Housing Trust

Dave Wolff Director, Community University Partnerships Programme, Brighton University

For more information about the project or findings please contact Jo Ivens (jo.ivens@gmail.com).

Go to:

Chapter 1 – characteristics of the groups
Chapter 2 – reflections from the groups
Chapter 3 – recommendations for Partnership
Chapter 4 – recommendations on open data
Summary
October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge findings part 1

This 1 of 4 blogs on key issues arising from the DataBridge project to be published this week.

Aim: To summarise what we found with the organisations, their characteristics and capacity regarding data.

DataBridge set out to learn what we could about data use in six selected local groups, to assist them in their thinking and learning about data analysis, and to explore the potential of Open Data.

Brighton & Hove CAB is the local branch of the national Citizens Advice federation of CABx. They have 11-20 paid staff, and up to 50 volunteers. They are one of the larger VCS organisations in the area, and one of the largest advice providers, open to anyone who requests in on a range of issues.

The Carers Centre for Brighton & Hove is a local charity supporting people with a caring responsibility. They have 20 full and part time staff, the majority of whom provide direct support to carers, and a similar number of volunteers.

East Sussex Credit Union have 5-10 staff and 21-50 volunteers, making them a medium sized local organisation. They provide savings and loans, and light touch money advice to members who are from Brighton & Hove and East Sussex.

Amaze has 11-20 staff and 15-20 volunteers, making them a medium sized local VCS organisation. They provide support to families with disabled children, including a helpline, Disability Living Allowance support, independent parental support and transitions to adulthood.

MindOut have 1-4 staff and 11-20 volunteers, making them a small local VCS organisation. They provide support services to LGBT people with experience of mental health issues including advocacy, casework, group work, anti-stigma activities, mental health promotion activities and peer support.

Grassroots has 5-10 paid staff and 1-4 volunteers, making it a small social enterprise. They provide training and consultancy to social care and health workers, and to community members on suicide prevention, intervention and mental health both locally and further afield.

What do groups mean by data?

DataBridge started with the assumption that in this context, organisations’ data could mean very broadly any set of information about the organisations’ users and services. We explored this through our interviews with the groups, their interpretations can be summarised as:

  • Information on users: numbers of users, their geography, details of demographics & services used

  • Information for funders: monitoring information collected for Partnership funders, commissioners or trust & foundation funders

  • Qualitative information: softer information on user experience, need, anecdotal evidence gathered from conversations, focus groups, observations of staff

  • User experience: feedback, complaints from users, discussion with other organisations

Awareness of external sources of data was varied, with some organisations using a variety of government data sets, such as Job Seekers Allowance and other benefits data, the Indices of Multiple Deprivation and Census 2001 data. Some (due to capacity or skill issues) tending to rely on local or national infrastructure or issue organisations to analyse trends for them, and then relate these findings to their organisation second hand. Only half of the organisations were aware of or used local sources such as the Brighton and Hove Local Information System (BHLIS).

Awareness of open data was generally low (a later blog covers open data in more detail), with groups aware of the term, but limited understanding of what data this might refer to or the opportunities that it could present to their organisation.

Management

The size and resource level of the group did not necessarily correlate directly with the value placed on data and the amount of time given to data management & analysis in the staffing structure. Organisational culture, business approach and practical awareness of data in a strategic context were more significant. For example,

  • Brighton & Hove CAB (large organisation) maintain a very detailed database as part of Citizens Advice information protocols, but do not employ a specific staff member for management and analysis of data. Data analysis and its relation to policy undertaken by senior staff as part of their wider role.

  • Amaze (medium) employ a dedicated database manager thanks to being contracted to provide a statutorily required database, and an organisation-wide commitment to data collection and use. Effective use of this staff member across management all of their services.

  • Grassroots (small) invest significant time and energy in getting their evaluation and data collection systems right with the involvement of most staff, plus work of a part time intern, with a focus on quality of their product and business development.

Skills and capacity

Most organisations felt that they had at least some skills on data analysis, but none were 100% confident that they had the right skills or sufficient staff time to make the most of their data, to do major analysis projects or to make the most of potential opportunities presented by open data. Pressure on resources and need to prioritise funding frontline work was inevitably highlighted as a key factor behind this.

5 of 6 organisations used their own ‘hard’ (i.e. quantitative) data to analyse trends in service use, for example, East Sussex Credit Union’s monthly monitoring of Key Performance Indicators such as number of members, shares (savings), share value, % members on a payroll scheme, how many paying in benefits, amount of loans, number of loans, average loans.

In at least one case within the cohort, significant work would be needed if they were to establish electronic data collection about services and users. This need may be much more widespread in the broader community and voluntary sector in Brighton. Data collection and data management support needs could usefully be explored further by infrastructure organisations or Dialogue 50:50 in the future.

Need v demand

There was a tendency for groups to use identification of users (demand) as a way of showing need. Most organisations expressed a desire to do more on analysis of need.

4 of 6 organisations, to varying degrees, used external data in conjunction with their own data to examine service uptake (demand) compared to the potential population of service users. For example, the Carers Centre compare their data on local users to Census 2001 data to examine the % of carers in the population.

3 of 6 organisations used data to examine need and potential need for example, Amaze are aware of the limitations to their knowledge about the population of children with disabilities in the city, where they are and what their needs are. Based on national estimates that 5-7% of children have a disability, Amaze estimate they have details on perhaps half of all eligible children in Brighton.

Summary

The six groups were chosen to represent a rough cross section of the local voluntary sector in terms of type and size of organisation, but may be more focused on data analysis than the broader population of VCS groups.

The sophistication of data management and analysis reflects organisational culture and resourcing as much as size or client group.

All the groups undertake, to varying degrees, analysis of internal and external data to look at service uptake, trends in service delivery, needs of their client groups and demand for their services.

With the increasing importance to each organisation of demonstrating the need for their services and the quality and impact of those services, having the skills, capacity and culture to make effective use of the available data and evidence is becoming critical to VCS organisations.

There is much more that could be done to identify:

October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge findings part 2

This is part 2 of 4 blogs on key issues arising from the DataBridge project.

Aim of this report: to summarise the most commonly mentioned issues raised by groups in the fieldwork, and to reflect on common themes. Discussion of key findings and specific recommendations are in parts 3 and 4.

  1. Partnership use of VCS monitoring information

3 of 4 groups said they were not clear what happens to information that they provide to local government. 2 groups did not have a direct funding or reporting relationship.

We’re not sure what they do with the information. There’s no feedback loop.”

Manager of service providing organisation

There seems to be a commonly held belief that monitoring information is not routinely examined in the wider context, shared or fed into a wider system of needs assessment. In addition, grants or contracts can appear to be managed in isolation from other grants or contracts, and focus is on performance management of specific organisations, rather than contribution to a bigger picture of service delivery or improvement of outcomes.

Groups reported that feedback is rarely received on the quality of information provided, there is limited discussion of what this information might mean in terms of service planning or innovation, although some additional information requests were received from officers, and responded to by groups.

This raised two important questions from groups:

  1. Are we collecting information that is not needed or used, and therefore wasting our effort and resources?
  1. How is monitoring information and other voluntary sector reporting used in wider needs analysis or service planning?
  1. Outcomes measures

BHCC has signalled its intention to move to outcomes-based commissioning as part of the Intelligent Commissioning programme of process and culture change. The groups in the DataBridge pilot are aware of this, and are already thinking about how this will affect them, their service delivery and their data collection. Even the smallest groups are keen to engage in discussions around this.

Groups are interested in leading the discussion about what can usefully (and efficiently and proportionately) be measured as an outcome, and what data requirements this might produce.

  1. Capacity, skills and resources on data

Most organisations felt that they had at least some skills on data analysis, but none were 100% confident that they had the right skills or sufficient staff time to make the most of their data, to do major analysis projects or to make the most of potential opportunities presented by open data. Pressure on resources and the need to prioritise funds to frontline work was reported as a key factor behind this.

The size and resource level of the group did not necessarily correlate directly with the value placed on data and the amount of time given to data management & analysis in the staffing structure. Organisational culture, business approach and practical awareness of data in a strategic context were more significant. However, data management and analysis is a lower priority in many organisations, and in 5 of 6 organisations the role is a small part of many roles, with some central management. In only 1 case was there a dedicated data manager.

Wider and more detailed investigation would be needed to say exactly what skills gaps exist in the sector and what limitations this will present on truly city-wide data sharing and needs assessment.

If the City wants to achieve a greater focus on quality of data, genuine cross sector contribution to a City-wide data store and development of the open data agenda locally it would be useful to consider how to resource this at a time where there is extreme financial pressure and high demand for services in the sector. It would also be useful for the Partnership, with the sector, to better articulate why this is important, and what the benefits are to VCS and to service users.

  1. Building shared information

If data sharing between voluntary sector organisations themselves and between voluntary sector and the Partnership is on the cards, there are a great number of intertwined practical and technical issues that will take significant work to resolve. This does not reflect on the potentially complex cultural issues which will need to be tackled at the same time, or the resources needed.

Officers in the Council have indicated that they are aware of this and that they’re approaching the questions positively. As open data and data sharing is an issue wider than the authority, it will be necessary for a cross-sectoral agreement on aims, ambition and boundaries.

Significant work has been undertaken in the past to consider issues around data sharing in the VCS, findings from this work should be the basis for any further work. Consideration of these issues could potentially be part of work within the Advice Review pilots.

  1. Collaboration or competition?

While the general principle of contributing to a better overall understanding of needs in the City makes sense to organisations, the reality of sharing information in this way raises a number of issues both sector-wide and within individual organisations around the impact of greater openness of data.

  • organisations may be reluctant to share with competitors, especially from the private sector;

  • practical issues, such as the capacity required to provide this data to acceptable standards or formats, and resourcing of this within existing work or new contracts/funding agreements;

  • sharing data may be seen as an early stage in a push to collaborate or merge

It should be noted that there are complex cultural and practical issues to resolve between organisations before the decision to collaborate in a consortia or to formally merge could be contemplated. This should always be a decision for the organisation alone.

  1. Quality of published data

The quality of existing published data on certain issues was flagged as a particular issue for two groups. MindOut find it hard to demonstrate need and demand due to the lack of LGBT specific data and the quality of what there is. They use estimates of population, but feel that these numbers are unreliable for a number of reasons, for example, there are no robust data sources providing information on LGBT groups, and this group is typically under-reported by surveys, e.g. the 2001 Census identified only 2,600 same sex households in Brighton and Hove.

Equally, Grassroots report that there are problems with the existing suicide completion data, as there is likely to be a much higher instance of suicide than is recorded for reasons of stigma and lack of certainty of intentions; poor recording of self-injury and lack of information about LGBT self injury and suicide.

Summary

  • There is a lack of clarity about what is done by the Partnership with monitoring data from VCS groups and a feeling that there is a disconnect between this and needs assessment.
  • We observed a certain passivity in the sector around dealing with statutory agencies on data issues, and a tendency to allow the information agenda to be set for them, rather than approaching knowledge management and data analysis from the perspective of the organisation’s business planning or service improvement needs.

  • However, groups are interested in leading the discussion about what can usefully (and efficiently and proportionately) be defined as outcome measures

  • Wider and more detailed investigation to define skills gaps in the sector on data management and analysis would be useful

  • It would be useful to set out the ultimate goal around data-sharing and city-wide intelligence, to consider practical challenges and how these are to be tackled, and resourced

  • Some groups are hampered by the quality of external data, and limitations on reporting for their area of work

Go to:
Introduction
Chapter 1 – characteristics of the groups
Chapter 3 – recommendations for Partnership
Chapter 4 – recommendations on open data
Summary
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.

Terminology

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.

Recommendation:

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.

Recommendation:

  • 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.

Recommendation:

  • 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.

Recommendation:

  • 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.

Recommendation:

  • 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

October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge findings part 4

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

Aim: to summarise the issues raised through the project about the voluntary sector and open data and make some recommendations on ways forward.

The DataBridge project came out of thinking about how the voluntary sector could make use of open data and capitalise on the burgeoning open data movement. After discussion with the sector and with project partners we adjusted the scope to look at how VCS use:

  • their own data

  • existing public datasets

  • open data

Defining open data

In this project we’ve been using the LinkedGov definition of ‘open data’:

Open data is non-personally identifiable data produced by a public body in the course of its ordinary business, which has been released under an unrestricted licence (like the Open Government Licence).

It is underpinned by the philosophy that data generated or collected by organisations in the public sector should belong to the taxpayers, wherever financially feasible and where releasing it won’t violate any laws or rights to privacy (either for citizens or government staff).

We’ve also been taking ‘open data’ to mean data that is made available by public bodies, whether or not it is published in a machine-readable ‘open’ format.

National context

Government has recently released Making Open Data Real, a consultation on their open data policy, which will lead to an Open Data White Paper in the new year. Among other things, the consultation indicates intent to open up much more of central government’s data, and a broad commitment that any organisation providing a public service should expect to publish open data about it. However, there is little in the consultation document about non-commercial uses of data, or on how this will play out at a local level.

Challenges to VCS in engaging with and contributing to open data

Open data presents potential opportunities for the sector but also some significant challenges. Challenges mainly relate to publishing of data, either through participation in any Brighton & Hove data-sharing work or through national policy expectation that public service open data will be published whoever the provider. The concerns fall into two main categories:

Resourcing, capacity and skills – groups acknowledged that there would be extra work needed both to share or open their own data and to make good use of other published data. For groups that do not already have significant data collection, management and analysis in their operational model this is likely to be the biggest challenge. And at a time of increased demand and reducing income, the benefits to the frontline delivery of any additional work need to be much clearer.

Loss of advantage or independence – questions were raised about sharing data in a more competitive environment, especially in terms of competing with other organisations or private providers. This is made more complex by a commissioning environment which is in some cases moving towards preferring collaborative or consortia bids. In this situation, sharing data is seen by some as giving away one of their key assets and potentially risking the independence of the organisation.

Ambition for Open Data in Brighton

BHCC and the Partnership as a whole have made general public commitments to open data, and this is welcome. There is an active developer and tech community in the city and the Open Data Brighton & Hove group is lobbying for Brighton to become one of the first Open Data Cities defined as:

An open-data city is a community where democratically-accountable and/or publicly-funded organisations take the lead in the widespread release of data in machine-readable, non-proprietary formats, with unrestrictive licences that enable and encourage the re-use of data for the public good.

However, more is needed on clarifying what we mean locally by open data, setting out a collective ambition and starting conversations on how to get there. In particular, for the VCS this centres on turning general commitments in to a strategy that complements work on data-sharing and broadening sources of data for needs assessment; uses local government leadership and purchasing power to stimulate social uses of open data, and links the VCS and communities to the tech and developer community.

The Government Open Data consultation raises the likelihood that all organisations receiving public funds should make data relating to this work open. It is unlikely that there will be too much detail from central government about the format of this, so it will be down to local negotiation as to how this is implemented.

Recommendation:

  • Clarity from BHCC on its open data ambitions, including limitations, how to create links between sectors to use open data for service improvement and integration into other initiatives on City-wide intelligence.
  • When seeking to open data from public service providing organisations it is important that all suppliers are treated the same and that requirements are proportionate.

Understanding of open data

Most of our six groups were aware of the concept of open data in terms of opening-up access to additional data held by public bodies. However, there was a disconnect between this general perception, and understanding how the open data agenda might help their work specifically. When prompted for datasets that local or national government might hold that their organisation would find useful, groups tended to list all the information they believed that local government holds that would be useful to them, plus a longer list of information they wished local government held (see Annex A). All groups would have found it helpful if there was a catalogue of local data assets that they could look at to identify useful information.

Some groups were sceptical about the value of open data at all because of the problems they see with existing datasets. For example, the issue of LGBT disclosure, recording of LGBT status and consistency of approach between services.

There is a limited understanding of what specific datasets exist within local government. Work emerging from Department of Communities and Local Government on a Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency includes ‘an expectation’ of a local Inventory of Public Data. This is potentially a useful step, but work will be required to make it accessible and usable for all.

Recommendation:

  • BHCC create a useable, accessible local inventory of public data bearing in mind a range of users and levels of technical skill. This could build on the work by Paul Brewer on the Brighton & Hove Open Data list. As well as listing published data, it would be helpful to list the main data-sources held internally that are not published.
Using what’s already available

The groups we worked with on this project often struggled to find existing data sources. For example, several groups requested data on populations they work with. In many cases, they are aware that information is available, but is difficult to find (and some highlighted that it is was complex to use). There is a dual need here, for better awareness of existing sources with support to use them, and for the VCS to focus more on data and analysis as part of their core business planning and management.

I would find it useful to have details of what data I can get, where I can get it from, and some help on how to use it.” 

Manager, service providing organisation

While Brighton & Hove Local Information Service (BHLIS) exists as a repository of local data, it does not currently serve VCS audiences well and does not include VCS data. As part of the DataBridge project, OCSI have produced a short report with key messages for the City on how BHLIS could work better for VCS and this has been considered as part of the BHLIS Review. OCSI’s BHLIS paper is available on the DataBridge website.

On a national scale, it would be extremely useful for the VCS and communities to have a resource that both identifies (signposts) existing data sources, and provides support to users on how to make effective use of the data to underpin funding bids, demonstrate impact etc. This would support government policies on devolving power to communities, in particular the Community Right to Buy, Community Right to Challenge, Neighbourhood Planning and Participatory Budgeting.

Recommendation:

  • BHCC strengthens the publication of data on local populations through BHLIS or other central point, and promotes this to VCS partners. Also BHCC to promote awareness of the support available to VCS organisations from council experts in the research, needs assessment and BHLIS teams.
  • Infrastructure organisations locally should take into account the open data agenda when planning infrastructure support for the future.
  • VCS infrastructure groups (and/ or CLG) should consider commissioning a support resource to help VCOs make better use of the data and research currently available.

Data held by VCS.

Each group in the project highlighted data they held that could be useful for other organisations in the city, and potentially be published. While there is the option that this can be included in any data store or platform established by the City, there will be a great many questions to be worked through in the development phase. These will include understanding the benefit to organisations and beneficiaries (of the data being made available); teasing out issues around impact on organisational independence and competitiveness (does the data provide useful information to potential competitor organisations); clarifying the link between open data, city-wide data-sharing for needs assessments, and Intelligent Commissioning, as well as many practical points of data compatibility, and resourcing. The Cabinet Office Making Open Data Real consultation is also relevant, with proposals that organisations commissioned by public bodies will also need to publish open data arising from their services.

There will always be differences between quality and robustness of data, but it is important for decision makers to be open to understanding and using all the data we have, especially for service planning and commissioning. For example, information on emerging or future needs is inevitably going to be less robust than historical information on service use, however both are important in the context of commissioning.

Recommendation: 

  • The Community & Voluntary Sector Forum be a partner in the council’s work on a City data / intelligence platform, with the Forum leading on how information and data from the sector can best be fed into the commissioning process.
  • Guidelines and training for commissioner and needs assessors to include using all the data available from a variety of sources, including new or non-traditional sources.

Wider issues

Given the local experience reflected in parts 1-3, the national context of the Open Public Services White Paper and the Making Open Data Real consultation, our general recommendations are:

Open Data is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Open data could indeed enable better research, greater innovation and stimulate public service improvement but this may not happen simply through the publication of an increased amount of information alone, even if in machine-readable format.

The evidence from open data services at national and local level is that there is little impact as yet on mainstream public service delivery. Unless the benefits for local agencies and services to publish their data can be better demonstrated and supported, the risk is that open data becomes identified as a duty, and not seen as providing a benefit. The evidence from small-scale pilot projects such as the NESTA Make It Local work is useful in “banging the drum” for open data, but more could be done to demonstrate the benefits in practical terms.

Different stimuli will be needed to ensure that open data can help produce public service improvement, as well as the transparency and commercial opportunities which have been focused on. For example,  clearer central government policy aims, creation of new kinds of cross-sectoral partnerships, using local government commissioning practice and purchasing power to shape markets. In addition, real transparency on the processes by which services are commissioned and decisions are made will be just as important as data itself.

Data users are important. The emphasis on getting large quantities of data out into the open is welcome, with notable successes being the spending data. However, there is a relatively small audience for raw data (for example, VCS groups are unlikely to be direct users of JSON or other open-format data), and it is not a given that the energies of commercial developers will go into providing tools for public service providers and/ or commissioners.

One group that should be better engaged in the open data process is “data users”, by which we mean those public (e.g. economic development teams), commercial (e.g. research organisations), academic and third sector groups who are primary users of data and information for improving services. These groups provide a critical link in the chain from raw data through to service improvement – and would be able to provide additional useful input into what information exists, what is useful, and how it can be used.

Open data is not free. Open data is often touted as a no-cost solution. However although technical costs are low for publishing and hosting datasets, this radically underestimates total costs. For example, the US data.gov service reportedly costs $4M per year1, and when assessing the burden of collecting data, the LGA estimated LAs were in many cases spending more than £1M per year on collecting monitoring and regulatory data to report to central government2. In other words, data is not free, even if the technology to disseminate it is effectively free. Local Authorities and other public bodies are under immense financial pressure, so may struggle to prioritise releasing open data.

For these reasons we are not supportive of the approach that advocates simply publishing all and any data immediately regardless of application, audience, quality or importance.

Recommendation:

  • Engage “data users” more closely in the open data process, for example in the Local Open Data Panel. Careful thought is needed about priority, presentation, format, and support to use data.
  • A staged approach to open data and more thought collectively across the City about making open data useful, including support that may be needed to make this genuinely open beyond the tech community in Brighton.
  • Think creatively about improving transparency of process around decision-making, service planning and commissioning as well as openness of data

Summary of findings and messages:

Partnership (especially BHCC):

  • It will be important to turn general commitments on open data into a strategy that complements work on data sharing; stimulates social uses of open data as well as commercial, and links VCS with the developer or tech sector.

  • A local inventory of public data will be useful as long as it’s created with a range of users in mind. In the mean time, consolidating and publicising location of data on local populations (e.g. through BHLIS) will provide a quick win.

  • VCS and other external data helps create a richer more nuanced picture of need and impact. Decision-makers must be open to using all data sources.

  • Data held by VCS should be part of any City-wide data sharing. Consideration is needed of the complex issues for organisations and the culture of commissioners around use of data from a wide range of sources.

  • Transparency of process around decision-making, service planning and commissioning will be just as important as openness of data.

Voluntary Community Sector:

  • A greater focus on data and analysis as part of core business planning and management, and making the most of what data is already available publicly. Support is needed to locate and use existing data.

  • The challenges to VCS on open data are similar to those around more focused data-sharing – resourcing, capacity and skills, and concerns about loss of advantage or independence. It is a fine balance between engaging constructively in the strategic level and giving away your edge.

  • There is much that could be published as open data from the VCS, especially useful to local government in terms of identifying service failure and systems improvement.

Overall:

  • Behind the DataBridge project is the premise that having better, richer and more diverse sources of data and information will lead to the ability to make better, more informed decisions. However, it is rare that local decisions can be based solely on published data – a range of other factors need to be taken into account such as local priorities and politics. For this reason, transparency of process will be as important to public service improvement as transparency of data.

  • Open data is a means to an end, not the end itself. Open data could lead to better public services, but will need a specific focus on how it works in a social rather than commercial context.

  • Presentation of data (e.g. publishing accompanying analysis and/ or reporting the key messages) and support to use data are both important factors to be considered when releasing open data.

 1 Quoted in http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/apr/05/data-gov-crisis-obama.

October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge – Summary

This report brings together the summary and recommendations from chapters 3 and 4.

On data in needs assessments and commissioning cycle:

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

Recommendation 1:

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’

Recommendation 2:

  • 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.

Recommendation 3:

  • 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.

Recommendation 4:

  • 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.

Recommendation 5:

  • 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.

On open data:

Partnership (especially BHCC):

  • It will be important to turn general commitments on open data into a strategy that complements work on data sharing; stimulates social uses of open data as well as commercial, and links VCS with the developer or tech sector.

  • A local inventory of public data will be useful as long as it’s created with a range of users in mind. In the mean time, consolidating and publicising location of data on local populations (e.g. through BHLIS) will provide a quick win.

  • VCS and other external data helps create a richer more nuanced picture of need and impact. Decision-makers must be open to using all data sources.

  • Data held by VCS should be part of any City-wide data sharing. Consideration is needed of the complex issues for organisations and the culture of commissioners around use of data from a wide range of sources.

  • Transparency of process around decision-making, service planning and commissioning will be just as important as openness of data.

Voluntary Community Sector:

  • A greater focus on data and analysis as part of core business planning and management, and making the most of what data is already available publicly. Support is needed to locate and use existing data.

  • The challenges to VCS on open data are similar to those around more focused data-sharing – resourcing, capacity and skills, and concerns about loss of advantage or independence. It is a fine balance between engaging constructively in the strategic level and giving away your edge.

  • There is much that could be published as open data from the VCS, especially useful to local government in terms of identifying service failure and systems improvement.

Overall:

  • Behind the DataBridge project is the premise that having better, richer and more diverse sources of data and information will lead to the ability to make better, more informed decisions. However, it is rare that local decisions can be based solely on published data – a range of other factors need to be taken into account such as local priorities and politics. For this reason, transparency of process will be as important to public service improvement as transparency of data.

  • Open data is a means to an end, not the end itself. Open data could lead to better public services, but will need a specific focus on how it works in a social rather than commercial context.

  • Presentation of data (e.g. publishing accompanying analysis and/ or reporting the key messages) and support to use data are both important factors to be considered when releasing open data.

Recommendation 6:

  • Clarity from BHCC on its open data ambitions, including limitations, how to create links between sectors to use open data for service improvement and integration into other initiatives on City-wide intelligence.
  • When seeking to open data from public service providing organisations it is important that all suppliers are treated the same and that requirements are proportionate.

Recommendation 7:

  • BHCC create a useable, accessible local inventory of public data bearing in mind a range of users and levels of technical skill. This could build on the work by Paul Brewer on the Brighton & Hove Open Data list. As well as listing published data, it would be helpful to list the main data-sources held internally that are not published.

Recommendation 8:

  • BHCC strengthens the publication of data on local populations through BHLIS or other central point, and promotes this to VCS partners. Also BHCC to promote awareness of the support available to VCS organisations from council experts in the research, needs assessment and BHLIS teams.
  • Infrastructure organisations locally should take into account the open data agenda when planning infrastructure support for the future.
  • VCS infrastructure groups (and/ or CLG) should consider commissioning a support resource to help VCOs make better use of the data and research currently available.

Recommendation 9:

  • The Community & Voluntary Sector Forum be a partner in the council’s work on a City data / intelligence platform, with the Forum leading on how information and data from the sector can best be fed into the commissioning process.
  • Guidelines and training for commissioner and needs assessors to include using all the data available from a variety of sources, including new or non-traditional sources.

Recommendation 10: