Cambridgeshire County Counci is helping local partners use ‘real' data to address challenges and using a design-led approach to find better solutions, improve decision-making and retarget resources in chosen area.
In 2015, Cambridgeshire County Council was part of the East of England Design in the Public Sector programme, delivered by Design Council in partnership with the Local Government Association. Their challenge focused on how best to help local partners use ‘real’ data to address challenges and how a design-led approach could help them find better solutions, improve decision-making and retarget resources in this area.
Public service providers need data to deliver services to local residents in an accurate and timely manner. Cambridgeshire County Council wanted to cover a wide scope, from digital transformation to data transformation, as well as testing how improving and using data can impact services and partnerships.
At its core, the challenge was how to transform services and enable new thinking – based on data – in the context of dwindling resources. The council had already made a good start before the programme began. It launched a local research website called Cambridgeshire Insight (CI) to share evidence. As a result of this initial success, the council launched Cambridgeshire Insight Open Data (CIOD) to open up local data and enable its use and reuse, for free.
The sites include local partner data on topics including housing, deprivation, population, the economy, wellbeing and planning. By including a broad range of topics, the council aimed to help people cooperate on shared agendas and build new partnerships.
The council hoped that the Design in the Public Sector programme would help them better understand how to connect infrastructure, provide fit-for-purpose ICT and tackle some of its 'wicked' problems, such as housing and population growth, through better use of data.
Hendrik Grothuis, Research Manager-Innovation at Cambridgeshire County Council, explained: “We needed a shift in thinking, to co-design and co-deliver services aimed at residents’ real issues. To scale CI/CIOD to the level needed to inform future policy and services, we needed to learn from others, who have taken a similar journey, [how to] continue and improve our open data advocacy work with key partners, and develop new strategies to encourage communities to engage.”
Combined with sharing and learning from experts and peers, the council wanted to form a design-led network with the hope of delivering services intelligently with local insight, ready to adopt solutions and take on fast approaching challenges.
Engagement and action
The team set about distilling their challenge into a series of problem statements to help clarify more clearly the exact nature of the issue they were trying to address.
As the programme progressed, they realised that their mission had transformed from how they might increase the use of data in decision-making (a solution seeking a problem), into how data can play a key role in improving the lives of the most vulnerable (a problem seeking a solution).
The challenge was further refined to address how data could be used to combat fuel poverty specifically across Cambridgeshire through better targeting of warm home packs and solid wall insulation grants, ensuring more residents are able keep their homes adequately heated at a reasonable cost relative to their income.
This evolution enabled a focus on an achievable and important challenge that could act as a demonstrator for other data-driven solutions. Furthermore, this project helped the council to address its key challenge of increased demand on services and decreasing resources at their disposal.
Other teams who were part of the programme cohort also provided useful insights from their experience of using data effectively to address their own challenges.
The cross-organisation team, comprising Hendrik Grothuis of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Research Group, Rich Hall of the Local Government Shared Service team and Sue Beecroft of the Cambridge housing sub-region, were asked to act as the data ‘enabler’s’ for local outcomes, and to work with local partners to co-create and promote new, data-led solutions.
They needed to move beyond the culture where individual pieces of work were being commissioned as one-off projects and, instead, to begin integrating a design-led data approach into day-to-day working practices in order to improve the rate at which data informs the operating models of the County and the Cambridgeshire Insight partnership.
With insufficient resources to flood their organisations with data scientists or run organisation wide training, the team needed to appeal to a broad user-base with a diverse set of skills and competencies when using data: from organisations to individual officers and key users. Building on programme learning, they conducted practical sessions with users to observe them interacting with the data ‘products’; see how the products were being distributed/displayed; and then understanding how design principles could assist in improving the current offer.
They thought users were more likely to engage if solutions were personalised and tailored to their needs. The team’s relationship with various health agencies has resulted in greater collaborative working and as a result bids have been submitted for similar projects to continue the work started on the programme.
Update October 2016
Since May 2016, data has been updated on fuel poverty county-wide in an Interactive Atlas which incorporates improvements highlighted by the Warm Homes project, for all to use in targeting resources to those most in need.
Additionally, new data has been launched on the build date of housing based on council tax records, refined to help identify areas most likely to have a high proportion of homes with solid walls, to enable better targeting of grants. Furthermore, the volume and currency of data on the Cambridgeshire Insight Open data portal has increased and become more targeted with more users and additional data publishers trained.
The Warm Homes project continues to meet and plan for its next campaign in 2017, when the new data products can be fully tested. In the meantime, the data is available to use to prepare for the next winter campaign. The project has also enabled the team to take a more design-led approach to other data products, including:
- A new ‘guide to housing services’ product
- Piloting a new homelessness bulletin, their first report incorporating direct, live links to government data to facilitating automatic updates. This seeks to translate their learning from Warm Homes to a different issue, building on the learning they gained about different data user ‘levels’ and promoting the use of open data by all partners.
- Using a design-led approach to new data insight led projects.
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