Why the public sector should utilise big data to measure citizen sentiment

Written by Carol Brock on 29 September 2017 in Opinion

Carol Brock of OpenText believes better use of structured and unstructured data could help the government deliver better policy and services

The government could gather structured and unstructured data from social media and other sources

The government could save up to £33bn a year – the equivalent of £500 for each person in the country – by using public data more effectively, according to free-market think tank Policy Exchange.

Data holds the key to designing and provisioning better services in the public sector. For improving services, organisations must capture data from all sources – internal and external, structured and unstructured – to identify the sentiments of their citizens. 

Social media is omnipresent, and organisations operating in the public sector are certainly starting to sit up and take notice. Many are beginning to use social-media channels to engage with citizens and provide an accessible and personalised service at the individual level. 

However, monitoring and analysing social media has not been widely adopted throughout the public sector, with the result that a lot of potential insight is being missed. The ability to analyse these conversations can help public-sector organisations uncover crucial insights, including how well services are delivered and received, where staff are performing well and where they are not, and where there may problems that need to be addressed quickly. 

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Taking that vast repository of public sentiment and applying predictive analytics alongside geo-location data allows for a clear view of what citizens want at a local and national level. It also means organisations in the public sector are able to develop and prioritise services based on actual needs. 

One source, not the source 
Social media cannot be used in isolation. It’s important to marry data collected from social channels with other structured and unstructured data sources such as internal government operational systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, call-centre systems, voice recognition, and email correspondence. Together, they all add to the data available to deliver a comprehensive and well-rounded picture of citizens.

In order to achieve that holistic view, the public sector needs to centralise and normalise the data so that a ‘single version of the truth’ emerges. This provides organisations with the ability to access the sentiment of key citizen groups broken down by a range of demographic categories such as service usage or location – enabling better, faster decision-making. In a crisis or emergency, for example, this level of insight can provide an early warning to prepare the emergency services. It can also offer the ability to better formulate outgoing messages, target alerts to particular audiences, and give an agile response to meet citizen concerns.

As the public sector continues to embrace digital transformation, the effective analysis of data will provide the bridge to insight and informed decisions. The accurate measurement and monitoring of citizen sentiment will become an essential element of the big-data strategies for most public-sector organisations.

Harnessing the power of social media to truly understand how services are performing, and combining this with additional data sources can provide the insight needed to drive a more effective, more cost-efficient service.


About the author

Carol Brock is global public sector strategist at OpenText

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