At the IA LIS Workshop

At the Geowise InstantAtlas (IAS) workshop in Nottingham, more than 70 public sector IAS users shared experiences and suggestions over how their systems were helping support local decisions and services.

In the interactive workshop session run by OCSI’s Tom Smith [Tom’s presentation – LIS in the Age of Austerity is available here, and we’ll link to the other presentations when available], Tom summarised the context with 3 points:

  1. Increasing need for local intelligence, but …
  2. Less national (and regional) infrastructure and support for local decision-making, e.g. disappearing Data Hub, Places Analysis Toolkit, Floor Targets, State of the Cities, Regional ONS statisticians and Local Improvement Advisors. ONS hit by 10% per year budget cuts, CLG even more.
  3. Value of local information systems and local intelligence = influence on local actions and decisions.

Delegates then hotly debated two questions: What has been done in your area (with your LIS) to influence decisions and actions? And what would you like to do that would give most value to your communities? Some important themes were highlighted, with the Work Boards (see photo) full of suggestions on how LIS can support local working.

Efficiency – local one-stop-shops

Many users and case studies highlighted the growing role of local information systems as the first port of call for public sector, providers (both 3rd sector and commercial), local communities and citizens looking for information on the local area. Users saw this role as increasing in importance with the disappearance of national systems such as the CLG Places Analysis Toolkit and Floor Targets – and there was speculation over the future of Neighbourhood Statistics given ONS budget cuts.

As well as the efficiency in providing a one-stop-shop for local information – reducing duplication across agencies – users also quoted the “collect once, use many times” mantra. There were real savings in areas where LIS were used to quickly bring together “Data Appendices” for a range of needs assessments, such as the health and social care Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), Local Economic Assessment (LEA) and the community safety Joint Strategic Intelligence Assessment (JSIA). Local analysts were then freed-up to focus on adding-value to local data, and understanding and interpreting the key local messages (rather than spending time developing and reporting the routine datasets for these assessments).

Finally, LIS were seen as a key resource in getting evidence and analysis quickly to users – rather than waiting for lengthy reports to be written and published. The InstantAtlas templates were being used as a standard way to disseminate information to different local groups, such as performance data for GPs and results from local surveys and other data collection.

Improving knowledge and skills – influencing actions and decisions

“… good decisions depend on the skills and knowledge of those who have been empowered”, Kirsteen Thomson (Sustainable Communities Excellence Network).

Unsurprisingly, many flagged-up the importance of providing data for communities, and making it  available over time to understand trends. However, it was noticeable that the discussions quickly moved onto the need for knowledge and data for specific groups and particular decisions – rather than a general call for “raw data now”.

Many of the examples for how the LIS had influenced actions and decisions were about local hot topics, such as providing evidence to help locate Sure Start centres, health services and new technical college provision, and helping decide how resources were spent on social care services. And some LIS teams were providing external training to the community and voluntary sectors as well as other public agencies such as Fire and Rescue services, in using the LIS and the information held. Regular mail-outs, and “how-to-use” materials such as videos, were also identified as good ways of helping different groups make best use of the information in the LIS.

Engaging and informing different types of users

Local information systems need to work well for different types of user – who will have different information requirements and skill levels. The Welsh Local Government Data Unit team highlighted that there were 3 different types of user of their InfoBase system – names and photographs for these user-types (‘personas’) help the team keep the different groups in mind when publishing new information or designing new functionality. The 3 personas were:

  1. Those with limited technical skills (both computer and data) simply wanting overview information, maybe a couple of times a year – primarily members of the public (nicknamed ‘Bethan’)
  2. Those technically proficient but with no knowledge of official statistics, wanting to use data to inform, for example, funding bids and planning – primarily voluntary organisations, councillors, and local authority officers (nicknamed ‘Alys)
  3. Those with advanced computer skills and knowledge of official statistics such as researchers who are already using data (nicknamed ‘Carys’).

There were also many examples from other LIS teams around the importance of analysing and interpreting the data. Summary reports, analysis and profiles add value for those users less familiar with the data were seen as important in engaging and informing users from the community and voluntary sectors. Suggestions on how to maximize impact of analysis included data visualisations and “bold conclusions”. However, the raw data is still needed for ‘power users’ such as researchers (who may want access to a much wider set of data than practical to include in reports).

Theme What has been done in your area (with your LIS) to influence decisions and actions? What would you like to do that would give most value to your communities?
Efficiency – LIS as local one-stop-shops Identify where we have saved time, effort and money through having a shared system, reduces duplicationImprove partnership work in our area, better communication between analysts and easier sharing of dataStrategic Assessments (JSNAs, JSIAs, LEAs) – Collect once, use for many, – latest figuresUse Atlases to speed up dissemination of data from collection
Influencing  actions and decision Support Big Society, localism, neighbourhood decision-making. Imparting local knowledge so people can be involved in decision-makingData for community groups and armchair commissioning is democratisingPublic consultation engine driven by the publicBe bold in your conclusions – don’t over caveatProvide an evidence base for decision-makers, particularly those making decisions about future service provisionData at local level so communities can understand more about their neighbourhood
Supporting hot local topics National Frameworks dismantled, encouraging officers to ask better questions around local need rather than national priorities leads to more targeted researchCustomer insight: – appropriate targeting, – effective marketing, – tangible efficienciesOur LIS has been used to analyse various deprivation indicators to determine the location of Sure Start children centresProduction of health profiles are greatly used at local level to support decisions and provide a baseline for PCTs & LAs / CountiesTargeted analysis on domestic abuse, – analysts working together in partnership, – engaging commissioners early helping them to ask the right questionsSocial Care Needs data has led to politicians’ decisions to provide funding for social care

Local partnerships identifying job market needs and using the education sector to develop skills & knowledge to match those needs

Hosting JSNA to interrogate data at ward level -> Prioritisation + targeting of health services

Local Area Profiles to aid councillors with decision-making and empower them with more knowledge about their areas

Making evidence based decisions on service optimisation, linking to MOSAIC to create customer profiles e.g. University technical college location and libraries

Engaging and informing different types of users Make sure we are thinking about our different types of user – with photos and names!Widening access and accessibilityTraining with partners bespoke to suit their needs e.g. The fire serviceThink about “Bethan” when developing Local Information Systems [“Bethan” was one of the typical user types identified by the Welsh Local Government Data Unit]
A wider range of outputs Adding value to data before publishing itProvide answers/insight not dataInfluence through reports (often statutory)Creating a “Living Resource” [reports that are kept up-to-date, not just sitting on a shelf]Structure reports and data carefully to make impactVisualisation tells a better story

Influences through Atlases showing GP performance (information for GPs)

Improved data As broad a range of data and geography as possibleBreak down barriers and insecurities about publishing data at lower geographiesService data and contextual population data [are key]Expand point-level data feature on LISCapturing community views and opinionsUse Atlases for feedback on data quality & response

Used in preparations for census – identifying areas of potential “hard-to-count” populations

Publicity and marketing Encourage site subscription and newsletterObservatory blog & mailing listPublicise site more widely


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