Open data: Norfolk County Council enhanced data spend

Norfolk County Council (NCC) is creating new insights in its procurement by redesigning how it publishes procurement and contracting data using an accessible interactive dashboard.

Data and transparency

This case study highlights how the data is being presented in a user friendly way to inform the public and local business and also to create a greater understanding of council activity in this area.

Specifically, the case study outlines how Norfolk has:

  • Worked with the Spend Network to make data more easily accessible to a wide audience
  • Developed an interactive dashboard to allow greater manipulation and use of the data

In the beginning

The council already published tables showing council spending, procurement and contracting data as a statutory duty under the Local Government Transparency Code, but recognised that this information was not displayed in the most user friendly way. There was public interest in the data as demonstrated by the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests that the council received. It was recognised that producing the data in a more accessible way that allowed it to be interrogated, would benefit both the council in reducing the volume of FOI requests received and the public, who could view the answers to their queries online.

Description

Working with the Spend Network (who harvest spending data and contract information directly from the NCC website, before publication on their website), the council has developed an interactive dashboard which provides an overview of council spending with suppliers including spending profiled by:

  • purchase category
  • supplier type
  • service; and
  • a pipeline of expiring contracts.

The dashboard also has click through and filter functionality making it as accessible as possible to the widest audience. Data tables are held alongside the dashboards for those users with more detailed requirements.

Additionally the council has augmented their spend data by adding other information such as Care Quality Commission (CQC) location id, company registration number, council’s contract reference id and council procurement category which enables cross referencing to sources relating to these entities if required by users. The linking to CQC data for commissioned adult social care services is of particular importance to Norfolk because it is a unique reference which accurately identifies individual care homes and can be used to link them with their parent organisation for spend analysis.

Benefits and impact

The dashboard has provided a range of benefits for the council, the public and suppliers.

The main benefit to the council has been the development of the data model (see appendix 1) which enables decisions to be made based on properly linked data. The Information Hub is being built on this data model and will enable ease of reporting across systems giving managers the data in a useful format to support decisions. For example, it will be easier to identify which suppliers are heavily reliant on the council for their turnover, or to target savings activity on the departments with highest spend on a particular category of goods or services. Time and money will be saved as officers will be able to produce statutory reports and returns at the push of a button, replacing the current system which requires lots of manual intervention.

From a council perspective, data cleansing which took place during the development phase has improved the quality of information available and helped it better scrutinise the data it provides. Linking the data using the CQC location reference will also make it easier for the council’s data to be understood by other parties as the CQC location reference is recognised nationally.

Once the final data checks are complete the council intends to publicise the website more widely, particularly to local suppliers.

Of particular interest to suppliers will be the contracts pipeline: they will be able to more easily identify which contracts are due to expire in the coming months in the particular category they are interested in by viewing the contracts pipeline. This will allow them to make the appropriate preparations to bid for work and to get involved at the right stage of the contract cycle.

Moving forward, the dashboard also potentially offers a reduction in FOI requests, benefiting the council by saving time and resource and benefiting the public who are able to find answers online using a flexible user friendly resource.

Taking stock

The dashboard has proved a success and though not being widely publicised, the council has 60 unique downloads of the data and 235 users between over a three week period in June 2015. The most popular page and downloads has been the contract pipeline page (33 per cent of all visits).

The dashboard provides potential benefits for a range of groups, including suppliers, the council, and the general public, and has created an awareness of the data available.

Data model diagram

This diagram demonstrates how the linkages are made between the various pieces of data from the council’s published open data. Linking in this way enables users to interrogate the data in various ways via the interactive dashboards. Useful advice: When considering the development of a similar approach to that used in Norfolk it is worth remembering that:

  • Senior level engagement is helpful to create a pro-open data approach through the organisation
  • Considering which questions you are trying to answer with the data is key

For more information

Norfolk County Council: Spending Dashboard

Email: [email protected]