July 20, 2020

Beyond COVID-19: How can Data and Analytics Support Local Government?

Ciaran Gallagher
Ciaran Gallagher Consulting Manager & Analytics Training Lead

Business challenge:

Analytics Enablement
Data Maturity

Industry:

Public sector

TrueCue have a rich heritage working across the Public Sector. Historically maintaining a focus within Healthcare, we have completed over 50 analytics projects for the NHS.

Most recently, we have been involved in an NHS project to assist with the fight against COVID-19, providing the central analytics “Gold Command” centre with a holistic view of hospital capacity and demand, by demographic and patient pathway.

Within the last 2 years we have expanded this focus to include the local government sector. We have worked closely with Kirklees Council, one of the largest local authorities in England, in order to drive the adoption of a data driven approach to intelligence and reporting, to enhance the value delivered to local residents.

We are continuing to grow our expertise in this area as it rapidly evolves given current circumstances. To enhance this, TrueCue hosted a roundtable discussion with data analytics and intelligence leaders within local government, in order to discuss how data analytics technology can support them beyond COVID-19. This article explores learnings from this roundtable and next steps for TrueCue within this space.

Why is local government and the public sector a focus for TrueCue?

TrueCue’s objective within local government is to better serve these organisations using data and analytics during current circumstances and as we move towards a new normal.

At TrueCue, we are proud to have been involved in a number of “data for good” initiatives. We recognise that our expertise across the full analytics lifecycle (including data management, data science, advanced analytics and client enablement) allows us to help organisations accelerate their own “data for good” initiatives and digital transformation.

To support our objectives here, we have also worked with the wider public sector community on multiple pro bono initiatives. This includes the development of a suite of dashboards analysing deprivation in England using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). We employed novel techniques that enabled analysis of the change in relative deprivation in England for the first time, and made this available on a public platform to enable further analysis in response to specific local area needs.

We followed this with a 3-part webinar series, in partnership with Tableau, to explain how to get the most from these dashboards.

TrueCue Local Government COVID-19 Campaign 2020

A roundtable event to support local government beyond COVID-19

TrueCue Virtual Roundtable - How Can Data, Analytics and Technology Support Local Government Beyond COVID-19?png

Our experience so far has enabled us to identify a number of common key themes within local government organisations when considering data and analytics challenges. To explore this further TrueCue hosted a roundtable event supported by Mike Henry, Head of Intelligence and Performance at Kirklees Council.

12 video participants joined to discuss 3 prioritised topics, while nearly 30 additional attendees listened in to the discussion and contributed by responding to polls and joining breakout sessions. The attendees came from a range of district, borough, city and county councils, as well as representatives from public housing and healthcare providers, all holding strategic-level data, analytics and intelligence leadership roles, adding significant credibility to the outcomes from the day.

The objective for the event was to establish the most urgent needs facing local government organisations today.

Our prior research and learnings allowed us to identify a short-list of priority topics. We structured these within three main areas: Culture, Data Strategy and Analytics and Insight.

TrueCue Local Government Data and Analytics Maturity PollsIt was key to gain insights from multiple perspectives in order to determine the most important common themes so that our resulting efforts would have a greater positive impact. To do this we ran live polls on the day to determine a topic from each category above.

Culture

When transitioning through a digital transformation, a dedicated effort to nurture the right culture can easily be swept under the rug to be dealt with later. In some cases, this won’t matter, and a supportive culture can emerge organically if you already have the right skills within your workforce. For example: a minimum level of technical capability; confidence to work independently and as part of a team; a strong ability to understand a problem, and the ability to understand what actions are required to solve it.

Without these inherent skills, it does not mean that a data and analytics culture cannot be achieved, but rather that a conscious, dedicated effort is required to make it happen, led by those with the required skills.

This could include:

  •  Technical training to grow the analytics team data literacy skills
  •  Regular community activities and open communication to share knowledge, achievements or troubleshoot issues
  •  Development of data literacy across the wider organisation through live technology demos, webinars or on-demand “how-to” style videos
  •  Stakeholder engagement to gain buy-in in order to embed analytics and technology within everyday business and activities

Challenges

Of the four topics in our Culture category, the poll results led to a discussion on analytics team data literacy skills.

From this, two main outcomes arose in terms of challenges faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • A rapid increase in demand for insights using data and analytics
  • An increase in demand for more advanced analytics, such as predictive modelling

The increase in demand for insights, in practical terms, seems to stem from greater access to data along with more liberal cooperation between existing partnerships. There has also been an acceleration in the creation of new partnerships, such as between district and borough councils, and healthcare providers like the NHS. The ability to deliver against a greater increase in demand can be solved by expanding your analytics team (or hoping people will work longer hours – a more common outcome for those working in response to the current situation).

The demand for advanced analytics in part stems from the increasing data literacy of the general public, which is increasingly nurtured by the subtle inclusion of advanced analytics in everyday news and media reporting. With a pandemic that is as widespread and prolific as COVID-19, the general public demand answers to questions of the future. For example: when will cases reduce to zero in my local area? Or, when will I be able to go back to the office? These advanced analytics approaches require a more sophisticated skillset involving data science, maths and statistics, which can be more challenging to establish within an organisation, an area that TrueCue can help with.

Positive Outcomes from COVID-19

Despite a number of challenges, several positive outcomes were identified as a result of the additional demands on data literacy due to COVID-19. An acceleration of a data driven culture was noted, with people asking more specific and urgent questions, requiring intelligent responses. In turn, this has resulted in accelerated data governance processes. Investment in technology and education has also increased in some cases, enabling more near real-time analysis. Finally, prioritisation of work has improved, primarily for COVID-19 related reporting, but increasingly elsewhere too, as organisations become more suited to the new ways of working.

Importantly, outputs are being seen faster (weeks instead of months), in part due to the aforementioned, but also due an acceptance of “rough and ready” (yet accurate) above finesse and polish of the final product.

Data Strategy

A clearly defined data strategy is important when embedding a data driven approach to intelligence and insight. The winner of the poll was Data Quality & Validation, although Systems was a close second.

Challenges

Briefly considering Systems first, my experience of working within local authorities has given me insight over the vast potential number of different systems in place to serve various functions or services within a local authority (e.g. LiquidLogic, Northgate, Capita, Sage, Midlands HR etc.). In fact, a study completed by the London Office of Technology and Innovations (LOTI) and London Councils indicated that the 32 borough councils of London collectively use over 800 systems made by over 400 different manufacturers. On average, a single council will use at least 36 different systems. This results in siloed data storage and analytics, something we strive to move away from with a comprehensive and streamlined data strategy. An integrated smart data warehouse solution helps to address such issues.

Moving on to the chosen topic of discussion: Data Quality & Validation. The importance of such a topic is currently heightened, where life-changing decisions must be made quickly based on facts, with emotions set aside. It is of utmost importance to have complete confidence in the quality and accuracy of your analytics.

Two key challenges raised in the discussion were:

  • Fair access to accurate COVID-19 related data
  • Quality of data captured through data input

When under pressure to provide answers, it is important to have access to the most up to date data available. Some reported frustration when findings were reported in the media, before they had access to the same information, despite it being relevant to their function and local area. When addressing important topics, such as death rates in care homes for example, this can be particularly sensitive and limits efficacy of organisations through no fault of their own. It is not always clear how this occurs – the media may be speculating or using an unreliable source.

During the last 3 months large quantities of data have been collected related to COVID-19. On a national scale, an example is the NHS Coronavirus Status/Symptom checker, whereas, a local area example includes vulnerable person surveys to register for receipt of voluntary help. Both are hugely important in order to understand the virus better and to provide satisfactory care to residents. Above this, the normal processes still need to continue. Consider social care: community care workers and counsellors need to visit (face to face or virtually) patients as they did before, or even more regularly now. This is particularly important given many home environments may not be safe, yet more time is being spent in them.

When capturing data, the primary challenge arose from capturing high quality data at source, which is impacted if initial design of the data capture is lacking. Many of these systems are legacy systems, having been developed several years ago, with higher prevalence of “free text” inputs, for example, leading to the capture of uncontrolled and unstructured data. Secondly, it was reported that network connectivity can also cause issues, particularly in rural areas.

What is the solution? The best approach is to focus on improving the quality of source data ensuring high quality data capture. For data which has already been captured, a painstaking data mapping process may be required. However, with advances in technology being made ever more accessible, such as natural language processing using artificial intelligence, this can be eased. For example, an application can automatically determine that “no symptoms”, “symptomless” and even “NS” should all be grouped as the same value.

Positive Outcomes from COVID-19

A clear outcome from the current situation is that new data capture initiatives are producing higher quality data that ever before. This will in part be due to the demand for this data from both perspectives, those capturing it (looking to provide answers) and those providing it (looking to ensure safety and health of themselves and loved ones, for example).

Analytics and Insight

This topic references the value generated following the application of analytics to provide insight and enable actionable change. The live poll dedicated the discussion to driving decision and insight using action with a clear majority share of the votes. This area focuses on the ambition to provide answers to the questions that people really need in order to carry out their role to its greatest potential. At TrueCue, we begin this process with subject matter experts and stakeholders in a room (or virtual room) to gather key requirements and list out those most important questions.

Challenges

The discussion looked at challenges around ensuring people know what the “right” questions are to ask. This requires an understanding of the processes within a subject area, but more importantly, knowledge of the end goal. For example, when considering social care, the end goal is not to complete 10 visits in a day, or ensure that Patient A has had their follow up visit within 14 days, or that 100% of all initial contacts are processed within 24 hours. It is, however, to ensure that the best possible care and preventative action can be provided in order to improve the well-being of individuals in a local community. This is not necessarily easy to achieve and it will need to be addressed by a well-structured suite (or multiple suites) of analytics addressing various chapters, categories and sub-categories, for various target audiences. When starting a new analytics project, it is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and do things “right” to achieve an optimal outcome.

Specifically, how do we help the wider team to ask the right questions, and work with a consultative mindset? Asking people to think and work in a completely different way to what they are used to (for several decades, potentially) can be a real challenge. This relates back to the Culture section above, and the importance of leadership and community to foster the correct skills and mindset for the longer term.

This could be achieved by establishing a “Centre of Excellence” (CoE), where data analytics and insights ownership and skills are centralised into a single function. This aligns the analytics strategy for an entire organisation, sets standards, provides governance and allows better quality assurance, along with many other benefits.

Additionally, to aid with ensuring the focus is on the insights and intelligence rather than the data, some of the “heavy lifting” can be removed from case by case projects by centralising all your data in a single place upfront (again, a data warehouse is a likely solution here). It was also mentioned that this can result in a rapidly increased Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) process for individual projects as the source data is housed within a single trusted and accredited repository.

Positive Outcomes from COVID-19

A notable positive change has already been seen for many in this space with an increase in the quality of questions being asked of analytics teams. The nature of the situation we are currently in demands more specific answers in a shorter time frame, as the impact on lives is far greater.

Secondly, it was reported that stakeholders are understanding and embracing this approach more, with a focus on outcome requirements rather than what data is available and what technology platform is being used. Finally, as touched on previously, the increased data availability gives greater scope for more sophisticated and insightful analysis.

Business challenge:

Analytics Enablement
Data Maturity

Industry:

Public sector
Ciaran Gallagher
Written by Ciaran Gallagher Consulting Manager & Analytics Training Lead

Senior Consultant With over 5 years’ experience in providing analytics business solutions for clients, primarily across Public Sector, Healthcare and FMCG organisations. Ciaran holds a MEng in Mechanical Engineering and specialises in analytics enablement using platforms such as Tableau, Power BI and Alteryx.

Case Study: Fighting COVID-19 with Data

Learn about how we’re helping the largest Sustainability and Transformation Partnership in the NHS, to use data analytics to improve their response to COVID-19 and save lives.

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