Targets legacy ‘driving open data fears’

Local authorities risk irrelevance if they fail to get to grips with the power of data they hold, according to a report.

A paper prepared by open data solutions supplier Socrata on behalf of the New Local Government Network said that most councils are not yet taking full advantage of the data assets they hold.

It said that data is not just a financial asset but has the potential to help transform and integrate services to improve organisational efficiency.

Report author Maia Beresford said: “It is only through the proper use, understanding and interpretation of data that councils can achieve any of their aims to transform their services to make them more personal and more effective.

“Data is the oil that will smooth the wheels of integration, personalisation, and economic development.”

The report said cultural barriers remain in the way of councils making better use of their data.

It said that specialised security and information governance advisers lack knowledge on how to link up protected data for the public benefit and block it even when it might be legal to do so.

One council staff member interviewed said: “My experience is that this professional group isn’t tuned in fully to the ‘art of the possible’ and therefore adopt risk averse stance”.

Some public sector organisations also feared that shared data could be used to punish them, due to the historic association between data analytics and central government target regimes.

The report recommended councils should:

  • Bring senior council directors together to scrutinise their current approach to data and create local data strategies
  • Collaborate with each other and with local further education institutions and employers to foster digital skills
  • Develop skills in their existing workforce by forming exchanges and placement partnerships
  • Identify where data can help create business cluster and help place shaping
  • Create a Local Government Digital Programme including a cross sector skills development programme
  • Build regional public data analytics hubs to pool staff, students and volunteers to solve local problems using data

Colin Marrs

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