New Thinking Needed for Public Sector to Realise Value of Data

As individuals we already understand the value of data and the benefits it can bring us. We all use data – it runs through every part of our lives. We consume, create and re-use it every day.  In recent years, we have adapted to using online data – through the web, mobile apps and digital media.

However, for the public sector, gaining more value from digital data is challenging. We may have a lot of data to utilise– about services and their effectiveness, the geography of cities and countryside as well as the demographics of people who live there, but adapting to use this more effectively takes time.

The public sector is beginning to gain a richer understanding of its data assets and using this to inform decision making and improve services. It is working with partners to gain insights and inform thinking for the future.

That said, the public sector has limitations in terms of budget and skills, and needs to find new approaches to fully realise value from data.

Having the right skills available to analyse data is only the tip of the iceberg. Data optimisation needs a managed infrastructure that connects data, understands these connections, and sees the possibilities for service change and local improvements that will benefit life for city and rural dwellers. The sector may want to embrace a data-driven society but key components need to be in place:

·         Strong governance – ensuring that personal data is managed appropriately with agreed protocols and standards in place so that use public data is appropriate, relevant and reasonable

·         Data knowledge – an organisation needs to know the data it holds, the standard of this data, and crucially, how the data is being used and where further benefit might be found

·         Data skills – this is not limited to data analysts and scientists who can work with data and answer questions through analysis. Officers in the Public Sector have service knowledge and experience that informs any work with this data

·         Designing with data – the ability to see problems from a different angle. The public sector must develop new ways of seeing and working to use its data more effectively and build services which can be more responsive to change

Demonstrating the benefits of data science within local authorities and the public sector overall is key. Events such as this month’s DataFest18, where data talent from around the world can gather and collaborate, will only strengthen Scotland’s own data-driven skills and future prosperity.

By working collaboratively with partners in other sectors and with communities, the public sector will be able deliver services that are more responsive and flexible, adapting to changing needs. The pace of change – technological and environmental – is making this need an urgent one and data is the key to doing this successfully.

Words by Sally Kerr, Digital Innovation Manager at the City of Edinburgh Council and has been identified as a ‘Data Warrior’ by DataFest18. 

This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on the 12th of March.

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