Local government is struggling to make the best use of citizen data due to incompatible technology infrastructure, lack of budget and siloed data sources, according to a report.
Councils need to tackle technology infrastructure to make better use of data – Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0
Data Challenges and Opportunities in Local Government, published last week by iGov Survey and enterprise information management company OpenText, looked at the storage and use of data in the public sector and included a survey of 51 organisations.
The survey found that most organisations stored the majority of their citizen data digitally, which organisations said helped them have better access to data and to engage with residents.
However, the report found there were “significant barriers” stopping organisations from making the most of that data, with less than a third saying that are able to analyse the unstructured data that comes from people getting in touch with the council through different, digital channels.
Of those that could look at the data gathered through social media, phone calls and forums, 65% said it helped them develop more accurate information on citizens’ needs and 59% said it helped them target services and resources to those most in need.
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When asked what the biggest barrier to digital data was, 34% said it was because they had incompatible technology infrastructures, while 32% said it was a lack of budget to implement a digital solution, and 20% said it was a lack of in-house skills.
In addition, the survey found that many organisations are struggling with siloed data – 71% said that it was either a “huge” or “big” issue within their organisation that impacted either service delivery or the way in which the body worked.
A further 22% said that it was an issue, but it did not impact the way the organisation worked; just 5% said it was not an issue.
The report also considered data sharing between local organisations, which is widely accepted as a necessity to make local budgets stretch further, but found again that incompatible technologies and data, as well as a lack of in-house skills were barriers to this. Security risks were the biggest issue, with 56% saying this was an issue.
In the report conclusion, Mark Baillie, director of public sector industries at OpenText, said that local authorities “just need to take the next step to look at the wider social and economic issues caused by how we care for their citizens”.
He said: “The information exists – we just need to appreciate the importance of it and learn how to use it more effectively.”
The findings come as pressure is mounting on local government to make better use of its data, with a report from innovation agency Nesta published last month saying the need for councils to make better use of data “has scarcely been greater”.
Nesta’s report, Wise Council, recommended that central government set aside £4m a year to help councils embed data scientists in their teams to help catalyse “the culture change we need to see if [councils] are to stay one step ahead of budget cuts and meet people’s evolving needs”.
It also called for a city data exchange, to be supported by central government, which would allow local government data to be associated with datasets held outside government, by charities, universities, businesses or citizens.
Meanwhile, analysts Gartner have this month published a briefing note that estimates that 20% of all local government organisations will need to generate revenue from open data by 2020.
“As citizens increasingly use personal technology and social networks to organize their lives, governments and businesses are growing their investments in technology infrastructure and governance,” Anthony Mullen, research director at Gartner, said.
“This creates open platforms that enable citizens, communities and businesses to innovate and collaborate, and ultimately provide useful solutions that address civic needs.”