Data literacy: Three shifts necessary for local public services to survive and thrive.

Hendrik Grothuis, Research Manager-Innovation (@hendrikg)

Richard Hall, IT Applications Architect (@ribenno)

This series of articles originated as a short paper we produced for Smart Cambridgeshire in 2015. In them we draw upon our experience of technology and research within local government over the last 13 years.

Part 1

In the local public sector, using data from services and business systems to unlock combined insights has many impediments and difficulties. Yet if these are not overcome, then the local public sector will increasingly struggle to take on the challenges of the 21st century. Digital infrastructure alone is not the solution, data literacy within public sector needs to evolve, building on the work of the open data movement and of local partnerships such as Cambridgeshire Insight.

Cambridgeshire Insight is a shared research knowledge base and is designed to allow users from a diverse set of backgrounds an efficient easy way to access local data, share research and find reports. It contains a wealth of local information on socio-demographic and economic themes and includes tools for data visualisation, area profiling and key indicators.

The Cambridgeshire Insight website has developed as a partnership driven initiative. The current partnership is composed of voluntary and third sector groups, local public sector partners and relevant local research project teams and initiatives.

As the site is partnership driven, its strength lies in the energy, people, especially the community advocates, and projects driving it forward.

There exists a wealth of existing domain knowledge within organisations concerned with local public services. While a broader data revolution is underway with automation, smart cities, Internet of Things (IoT) and data science as a whole, we highlight the following shifts as key to supporting the evolution of data literacy within public services.

The Three Shifts

We believe three key shifts are necessary to the evolution of organisations involved in the delivery of local public services:

  1. DATA: From Surveys to Streams.
  2. SKILLS: From Information Worker to Data Scientist.
  3. CULTURE: From Consultation to Co-design.

In each case, the intention is not about the complete replacement of one approach or position with another. It is more about developing new capabilities incrementally; putting in place essential building blocks for developing future capacity while addressing existing practical organisational need. It is also about the awareness of the interdependencies between these 3 aspects: data, skills and culture.

The anticipated rewards?

The data revolution offers seemingly limitless potential to optimise existing, and create entirely new, service models. All at a time of great pressure on public services to drive down operating costs, develop capacity and improve outcomes.

Context and domain knowledge can greatly help identify areas to target innovation. Those more adaptive, smarter, public service organisations can therefore play an important part within a broader ecosystem of public service innovation that spans all sectors.

We believe public service organisations that are most self-aware in respect of these three shifts around data literacy will find themselves best place to realise the innovative potential of the data revolution through augmenting the application of new technologies with the best existing sector insight and knowledge.

In parts 2, 3 and 4 we’ll look at each of the three shifts in more detail.

In the meantime we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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