NLGN report calls for creation of a digital programme, open data index and analytics hubs for local government
Local government needs more formal structures to make the most of its data, with a digital programme for the sector and the creation of regional analytics hubs, according to a report from the think tank New Local Government Network (NLGN).
Titled Demystifying Data and sponsored by cloud software company Socrata, it says that while local authorities are doing some good work with open data and analytics, there is an immense untapped potential that needs more coordination between public bodies.
"Councils are sitting on a goldmine of data that can help them transform their services and drive local economic growth," said Simon Parker, director of the NLGN. "But too often this information is locked up in siloed databases where staff and the public can't get hold of it.
"Radical transparency will be the hallmark of 21st century governance. It is time for British councils to take a lead and show how it can be done."
Among the report's recommendations is the creation of a Local Government Digital Programme, under a small unit led by the Department for Communities and Local Government and including members from other parts of central government and representative bodies of local government, such as Socitm and the Local Government Association. The central unit should include local government staff.
It would coordinate activities, develop common standards and strategies, form legislative proposals and act as a thought leader. It would also take the lead role in a Local Government Digital Development Programme, which would include work on interoperability, open standards, application program interfaces, digital infrastructure, procurement and governance.
The report says the programme should be launched with the government's 2015 Autumn Statement.
It also calls for the creation of a network of regional Public Data Analytics Hubs that would bring together public sector staff, university students and volunteers to solve local problems using data. It cites the example of what has been achieved by the New York Mayor's Office of Data Analytics.
Another recommendation is for the development of a Local Government Open Data Index and Open Data Top 30 to help councils assess their maturity in the area, and to highlight the achievements of those that make most progress. This could be run by the Open Data Institute, and could provide in-depth feedback for councils to use internally.
On a broader front, the report advocates an overhaul and rationalisation of data sharing legislation, and a more open approach by local authorities to making data available. They should release more non-personal information in open data formats for use by business, social enterprise and the voluntary sector, and create strategies for open and protected data.
They should also make efforts to foster digital skills, working with local further education bodies and employers to spread awareness of the potential of their data. This should be a cross-council initiative, involving leads in education and skills, economic development and digital champions.
Underlying all this is the report's view that, while many councils are aware of the potential of open and big data to improve their services, there are stumbling blocks in the way of progress. These come from:
- broadband infrastructure problems, especially in rural areas;
- a failure by many councils to collect and release useful data;
- a shortage of data analytics skills;
- a lingering anxiety in many authorities over opening up data;
- governance and legal barriers to data sharing.
Its broad assertions are that there is a need for more enthusiasm for open data, and that local government should play its part in fostering data capability skills. The latter can come from developing strategies and brokering partnerships with local businesses.
Report author Maia Beresford said: "Data is the oil that will smooth the wheels of integration, personalisation and economic development. If councils don't realise this asset, they will miss huge opportunities for investment and transformation - ultimately failing their people and places."
Pictured: Simon Parker | photo courtesy of NLGN.
Demystifying Data: http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/wp-content/uploads/DEMYSTIFYING-DATA1.pdf