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Covid-19 has accelerated councils’ data innovation


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Local authorities have been innovative in using data in response to Covid-19, but it needs engagement with local citizens to make it sustainable, according to a new report.

The Government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) has produced Local Government Use of Data During the Pandemic from a forum involving councils across the country and research into public attitudes.

Its key findings include that local authorities have used individual- and population-level data creatively to help keep people safe during the pandemic. Examples include Hackney’s attempts to identify residents who are particularly vulnerable, and Glasgow City Council’s online platform to promote social distancing

They have also found new ways of sharing health data, such as in obtaining access to the NHS database on patients who are shielding, which has helped in co-ordinating efforts to provide support through food and pharmacy deliveries.

The report says authorities have had more success in changing how they deploy existing datasets than in acquiring or sharing data with central government or local service providers.

But there are concerns that as the pandemic subsides the progress will not be sustained, due to uncertainty over whether emergency access to some datasets will be repealed, a waning of enthusiasm, and a fear of misjudging the public mood on the acceptable use of data.


There are also long-standing barriers to data innovation, including skills gaps, a lack of clarity around legal issue, poor data quality and limits on funding.

CDEI says that, for sustainable adoption, there is a need for governance that comes from engagement with local citizens to ensure it is trustworthy.

It says its own recent polling of 2,025 people showed that half wanted to engage with their local authority on how data is used to make decisions.

There is also a need for dedicated action from central and local government, building on initiatives such as the Local Government Association’s guide to predictive analytics and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Covid-19 challenge fund.

Need for support

Edwina Dunn, board member for the CDEI, said: “Almost every aspect of local government has required at least temporary reform during the pandemic. Data and data driven technologies have played an important part in enabling local councils to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, helping to inform public health measures, protect the most vulnerable in local communities, and keep public services running.

“With the right support, councils can retain and build on efforts to utilise data effectively, in a way that is in keeping with the expectations of their residents, to provide local services communities can rely on.

“The CDEI is looking forward to continuing to work with the Government, as well as with local authorities and other relevant stakeholders, on this important agenda.”

The organisation said it is now working in partnership with local authorities to help maximise the benefits of data by building trustworthy governance.

Image from iStock, Natasaadzic

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