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Blog - Data in the Public Sector: how can it be utilised better?

Public sector organisations need to invest smartly in more skills and collaborative software for working with data. They need to adopt new mindsets and strategies to continue innovating through data and digital in 2018.

At Future Cities Catapult, we’ve spent the past year talking to the public sector about data and digital and understanding how we can accelerate the benefits of advanced data skills available in this country.  By embedding them into public sector organisations more quickly and scaling replicable data work more widely, we can tackle the issue head on.


Introducing Tombolo

Tombolo is an innovation project, developing products to help public sector organisations better use data to improve their cities.

Our City Data Vision

Digitisation, the internet and the rise of IoT mean that we are producing more data within our cities than ever before. This data can give us considerable insight into how our complex cities work. Yet, many city authorities do not analyse this data to inform decision-making or policy.

Our vision is that cities should be governed as the large, interconnected systems that they are. If we remove silos and connect data sets from across our cities, we can begin to build a more holistic view of how they interact and behave. This will allow us to develop far more effective and innovative solutions for addressing multiple challenges at once and accelerate the rate at which we improve our cities and make them more liveable spaces for people.

Open and collaborative products for data specialists

Data specialists are expensive. No matter how much we advocate for investment, they are going to trickle into the public sector over the next few years. That’s why we advocate the development of open and collaborative products for public sector data specialists.

The Digital Connector: a free and open source tool enabling data specialists to collaborate

Open and collaborative approaches to data between organisations will multiply the impact of collective investment. Here’s two scenarios — how we currently work and how we can work more intelligently in the future:

  • Current working: No data collaboration across organisations 10 x data specialists | in 10 x organisations | no common way to share data work = 1 x data insight capacity per organisation
  • Intelligent working: Data collaboration across organisations 10 x data specialists | across 10 x organisations | with the ability to share data work = 10 x data insight capacity per organisation

It’s an illustrative example, but it demonstrates why the public sector should be changing their attitudes towards data. They can do this through investing in innovative new ways of working with data across organisations and breaking the tradition of being focused on sole delivery within their organisation.

What does the Digital Connector enable?

The Digital Connector provides public sector organisations with the ability to collaborate and share data work in a common way. It’s designed to enable data specialists to:

  1. Import large datasets into a common format
  2. Re-use others, adapt existing or build new data models with imported data
  3. Extract and gain valuable insight from data models
  4. Share new data importers and models with a community of users
  5. Do all of this without needing to share the data itself — which can often be too sensitive to share

What kind of datasets and models are already available in the Digital Connector for users?

In collaboration with Leeds City Council, we built a national Social Isolation index using open based on an AgeUK data model. We’ve also made our Green Space and Active Transport indexes available through The Digital Connector.

Introduce your data specialists to The Digital Connector

The Digital Connector is available for data specialists to use now through GitHub. We’re testing and developing the product through collaboration with data scientists in leading UK local authorities, including London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s Corporate Insights Hub.

Visualising Data: Turning Insight into Action

The Digital Connector is ideal for data specialists, but we also realise that once data specialists have their insights, they need to be equipped to tell persuasive data stories with decision-makers. By collaborating with local authorities, we’re prototyping a customisable, data visualisation platform that can help public sector organisations turn their insights into action.

The platform is capable of visualising geospatial data models that give public sector authorities and local delivery partners enough insight to inform how they might respond to local challenges.

We’ll be releasing a version for public sector audiences packed with data models available openly through The Digital Connector in early 2018.

Growing the City Data Network

Future Cities Catapult want to continue to grow the UK’s City Data Network. Throughout 2018, the team will be hosting talks and hacks.

On the horizon we have our CitiData Hack (16–18 March, London), where participants will have the chance to hack our tools and combine the data insights with service design in order to respond to local authority challenges.

Jon Robertson is currently the Delivery Lead for Tombolo and leading Data and Digital projects at Future Cities Catapult. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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