Our work at OCSI can pretty much be summed up as “good evidence presented in the right way means more informed discussions and better decisions” (snappy!). So we are continually looking for better ways of getting the right data to the party – feeding good evidence in to discussions and decisions so that people can engage with and use the data.
Some audiences still prefer to digest the old staples of a fat report or website tool containing all the data (our Data Packs programme works with Local Information Systems across 50 Local Authorities, and more than 150 housing associations using our Community Insight tools). Others want to work through the information piece-by-piece as a group (our Rural Evidence analysis is part of ACRE’s community-planning toolkit for more than 4,000 parishes). Others are more selective, grabbing information on the move (our Numberhood app – ‘local stats in your pocket‘ – has now reached 70,000 downloads) relevant to what they’re doing.
Over the last few months, we’ve been exploring a different way of identifying and feeding relevant information into local discussions & decisions. Working together with the excellent Public-i and Democratic Society, the ‘Next Generation Local Information’ project has been part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board and NESTA under their ‘Destination local’ programme.
Put simply, we’re using smart ‘semantic’ search technologies – similar to those used by Amazon and other online retailers – to link our OCSI databases of local data to local forums and social media platforms. This means that relevant content from our continually updated collection of all government published data can help inform – and engage – discussions going on in local areas such as “how should we prioritise our Local Authority budget?”, “what should our neighbourhood plan look like?”, and so on.
So what are we going to be doing with all this?
In the short term, we (OCSI) will be using the technology to improve our Data Packs, Numberhood and Community Insight tools – opening-up wider range of relevant data to users. We think that the data and search technologies we’ve developed under the project are a great next step in using the information published by government and other sources to better inform discussions & decisions about local services and priorities.
Longer-term, there are a whole host of potential uses. The technology component of the project was launched at the LGA Annual conference in July, showcased from the conference website, and is currently being used in local projects with Lewes Council communities team. Together with the ninja expertise in digital services and building local engagement from Public-i and Democratic Society, we are exploring how the information can help feed into innovative ways of running local engagement/ consultations, wider (and more representative) participation and more collaborative discussions around neighbourhood planning, community budgets, redesigning services and so on.
As always, it is a real privilege to be working on some of the biggest challenges in using data and analysis to improve services and communities. Helping give people the right information, and in the right way, so that they feel empowered to join in the discussion. And also helping ensure that good quality evidence is used to inform and influence decisions and discussions. Bottom line, we believe that better data and information leads to better decisions and services.
Tom Smith, OCSI