Step 4: Commissioning and accessing additional data or evidence
This section will help you through the process of commissioning and assessing additional data and or evidence. It will help you think about how you might go about scoping your requirements and how you might analyse information obtained.
- Getting buy-in
- Looking to the future
- Commissioning data
- Health warning
- A logic flow in considering the commissioning of additional data
- Value for money tips
Be absolutely clear that there is a need for any additional data you commission by ensuring that:
- there is a broad and organisation-wide agreement on the value of gaining the additional information
- there is no existing means to fill the information gaps you have identified
- the data you commission will be sufficiently robust to support national benchmarking and comparison
- the information is capable of being mapped at sufficiently small area levels to enable you to draw distinctive and meaningful interpretations that add value to your interpretation of established data sets
- you clearly specify what data is required and consider how it might most effectively be sourced without immediate recourse to buying it and, when you do, that you work with others where possible to jointly purchase the data.
While challenging it is essential to engage key officers and members in commissioning and interpreting information and data.
The local economic assessment (LEA) is every council's chance to demonstrate that it can effectively discus the key challenges it faces and develop strategies to address them.
This will only work if there is corporate 'buy-in' to the LEA and there is a consensus throughout the council and with key stakeholder organisations, most importantly the local strategic partnership (LSP).
This will demonstrate that the council has fully considered and understands the justification for seeking additional data to complete its assessment.
Looking to the future
The new power to undertake an LEA challenges local authorities to develop or demonstrate true corporate commitment to planning interventions that deliver economic wellbeing. Done well, information will be collected, analysed and reported by council staff, and corporate processes will be developed to fully develop it.
This means ensuring that effective plans are in place to underpin or build your council's capacity to complete and implement the LEA from start to finish. This should include the ability to directly address challenges on the need for additional data where gaps exist and the ability, as a last resort, to commission it from third parties.
Try to commission data which is comparable across the whole of England. If you commission one-off data for your area, its use will be limited to telling a static story of just your place.
Think about how you are going to use data before you commission it - there is no point commissioning new data if you cannot interpret it or relate it to data you already have. It can be tempting just to collect data about things which would be interesting to know, as opposed to crucial to achieving an effective LEA.
Be clear not just on what you want, but why you want it. Expect to have a dialogue with those you are commissioning the data from. This will ensure that the limitations of what can be achieved are fully understood on both sides.
Seek the support of partners and experts, particularly the Office for National Statistics (ONS) staff outposted with regional development agencies (RDAs) and the regional improvement efficiency partnership (RIEP) local improvement advisers. This will ensure you have as much expertise as possible in getting the best out of those from whom you are commissioning the data.
Where possible, try to have the data geographical information system (GIS) mapped and related to established territorial definitions, such as the rural and or urban definition. This will ensure that you can give it a strong spatial context.
Look at the 'small print' in any arrangement you come to. Ensure that you are able to disclose the data straightforwardly and widely and that you do not get locked into a difficult contractual relationship around ongoing access to it.
The LEA is a chance for local government to show that it has the expertise to understand and intervene in local economies. It is the ultimate rationale for our place-shaping activities.
It will be tempting when commissioning data to fall into the trap of letting the organisation providing the data and information do everything for you. There is a balance to be maintained between the insightful commissioning of data and analysis to support or challenge your insights, and just passing the hard elements of the LEA on to a third party. East Riding Council developed their 'Compendium of Evidence' as a way of drawing together key data sets.
Compendium of Evidence (PDF, 56 pages, 2.82MB large file) - on the Rocket Science website
You should only commission data to help progress your analysis and understanding. It should not become an alternative to doing these things yourself and building your internal capacity and capability for the future.
A logic flow in considering the commissioning of additional data
If, after consultation and discussion, anecdotal and analysed evidence point to unanswered questions, then you need to go through a logical process flow:
- Reach concensus on data gaps
- Consult with partners to consider joining up
- Develop and agree the brief
- Assess risk and future use of data
- Set out quality protocols
- Use pilot to test validity
- Set out competitive procurement process
- Review and publish outcomes and values.
Discussions need to take place internally and with partners to establish that the information gaps do exist. Agreement is needed that there is scope to undertake work, either within the council or through third parties, to collect data to fill the gaps.
Dialogues with adjoining and similar councils can show whether there is an appetite to either work together to develop the data, or to jointly source it from other data sources or third party consultants.
Once the need for additional data is validated and justified with particular reference to how it will be used in the LEA, a tight, specific, time-bound and costed brief is developed. This will ensure that it is procured either in-house by the allocation of staff time, or sourced externally in partnership.
Those procuring the data need to establish clearly in the agreed brief:
- the evidence supporting the need for the data
- how it is going to be used for analysis
- that it can be procured on a basis that allows national comparison and can be broken down at small areas levels that will enable a detailed profiling of place
- that it can be updated regularly
- that the ownership of the data, once collected, is not so onerous that it can't be used regularly and effectively without issues around cost and copyright.
Where appropriate, a pilot information collection should be done to test the validity and robustness of the data source and the collection approach considered.
The commissioning of additional data, where externally sourced, should not only be properly scoped but should be procured competitively where possible.
Once unique and bespoke information is collected and analysed, clear and robust reasons confirming the justification for its collection must be given. The additional insights and or outcomes arising from its collection are then made clear and given a prominent place in the assessment.
Example: innovative use of innovative data
The Local Government Association (LGA), in a recent study, was asked to consider the relationship between productivity and peripherality in local economies in England. They commissioned a piece of research to examine how model indicators of local economic development for small economies could best be produced.
The work was undertaken by the University of Sheffield and identified actual or proxy measures for:
- the distribution of capital assets across England - by looking at the rateable values of non-domestic properties and income by workplace, to develop a combined detailed local proxy for productivity
- the relationship between productivity and control - by mapping the average distance for each local authority district between each key company and its corporate headquarters
- the relationship between workplace locations and residential desirability - by looking at the residential distribution of directors of companies with an annual turnover of £1,500,000 or more
- the geographical alignment of place - by looking at the socio-economic characteristics of settlements and the work travel patterns of their residents.
All data was comparable at national levels and was modelled for all settlements in England, with reference to 13 local authority areas as key benchmarks. The key data areas to be modelled and the initial findings were tested with an action learning set (ALS) of local authorities drawn from the areas used as benchmarks.
This enabled a pattern of the distribution of productivity to be mapped across England. Inferences could then be drawn from the other indicators about how remoteness and residential desirability impinge on local economic development.
Value for money tips
Always try to work with partners to identify approaches that can help tackle the issue of gaps in the material for analysis.
- It is often cheaper and easier to collect local intelligence through simple surveys.
- Try to commission original research in partnership: talking to neighbouring local authorities and regional partners can be as valuable as commercial research.
- If you do commission original research, the assistance of a RIEP local improvement adviser is helpful in ensuring you get the brief right and manage the commission to get maximum value for money.
3 May 2012