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What can we learn from Essex?

The third in a series of international Data for Policy conferences took place in London on the 6-7 September 2017. This year the theme was “Government by Algorithm”, and hosted academics, representatives from Central and Local Government, as well as other organisations from all over the world.

Essex Partners took part in this international gathering, presenting the important transformative work we are developing around data and policy.

The Essex Partners session was titled Data and Urban Policy Making: “Building a whole system approach to data capability – collaborative data use and storage in local government as a way to improve service delivery.”

Stephen Aldridge CB, Director for Analysis and Data, Department of Communities and Local Government reflects on the Essex Partners' presentation at the Data For Policy conference.

These are exciting times for an analyst such as me. Digital technology and associated changes mean more data is being created than ever. In parallel, data that has always existed – including for example administrative data held by the public sector – is becoming more and more accessible. Alongside this we’re also witnessing a huge step change in the methods that can be used to collect and analyse it.

This transformation in the data landscape spans both the private and public sectors. In the public sector, it’s laying the ground for:

• A better understanding of public policy problems
• A better understanding of the performance of different interventions
• Better targeting of the right interventions at the right people at the right time
• And automation of functions previously requiring large teams

In short, better outcomes for citizens and better value for the taxpayer.

These potential opportunities – mainly around collaboration, data sharing and innovation were brought out powerfully by the presentations on Data and Urban Policy Making:

• Liz Ridler from Essex County Council described the insights that can be gained from joining up and analysing data from a number of organisations. It was fascinating to hear how predictive analytics has been able to assess children’s school readiness with 74% accuracy
• David Wilde described Essex County Council’s great plans for a data supermarket, bringing together data from industries and sectors across Essex
• Vicki Harrington’s presentation outlined the role of the new Essex Centre for Data Analytics. This will provide a great platform for sharing data, host data science and other expertise and crucially bring together a range of local partners – the Police Service, the County and District Councils, the University of Essex and others. I will be very interested to follow the progress of the modern slavery and human trafficking work described.
• Last but not least, Eddie Copeland from NESTA gave us an overview of the potential contribution data can make to the transformation of local government. Local government has used innovation and creativity substantially to mitigate the impacts of financial constraints on outputs and outcomes in recent years. It’s hard to measure but local government productivity has undoubtedly increased.

My own work has identified technology and data as two key drivers of public sector efficiency and productivity. So, I’m optimistic about the positive contribution data and data analytics can make, and an increasing number of authorities are using data in this way.

What are we doing in DCLG?

What I’ve heard chimes with progress we’ve made in DCLG:

• We’ve invested in a new single system for collecting all our data by electronic transfer
• We’ve worked to set data standards so that we can more easily compile national data from for example local brownfield registers. Data standards and unique identifiers for data are incredibly important.
• We’ve successful linked administrative data from over 150 local authorities, the National Pupil Database, the Police National Computer and DWP to help us monitor and evaluate the Troubled Families programme
• With a private sector partner, we’ve set up an open data platform – Open Data Communities - to release our data as reusable and linkable open data. This now holds over 200 different series of data as well as the entire stock of data in 15 million Energy Performance Certificates.

Stephen Aldridge CB

Director for Analysis and Data, Department of Communities and Local Government

21 September 2017