How can local authorities embrace open data?

As the quantity of data available to us proliferates at an astounding rate, organisations are focusing on using better ways to share and analyse this information. But what about local governments?

The wealth of data available through smart city technology – covering everything from city energy use to High Street footfall and traffic management – can help tackle urban challenges through the development and adoption of new data-rich technologies and services, yet governments have been notoriously slow and inefficient at using this data.

A new report by Future Cities Catapult – a government-supported initiative for the advancement of smart cities – explains how local governments can make the most of the mass of data available through smart city technology, and the stumbling blocks as to why they are not already doing it.

Catapult Barriers To Data

Barriers to data optimisation

Catapult’s Quick Start Guide to City Data guide highlights the current weakness of data sharing between linked organisations, such as between health and social care divisions, and outlines the following barriers to data optimisation:

  • Mindset – Local authorities need to adopt a mindset that embraces data, encourages understanding and values experimentation.
  • Resources – Resources in the public sector are increasingly stretched, with priority going to statutory services.
  • Skills – City regions need to make their places more attractive. They should stimulate more demand for skilled data positions within their cities.
  • Technology – Encouraging suppliers to produce affordable technology needs to happen, but this might only be viable when regions help make technology scalable.
  • Operations – Data science needs to straddle different parts of an organisation in order to provide a transformative service.
  • Legal – An absence of common frameworks, processes and systems to navigate legal processes on topics such as data sharing is causing confusion.

How can local authorities cash in on big data?

Catapult gives several examples of how governments can overcome the challenges of implementing big data. Collaboration between local authorities is one of its main recommendations, as this can lead to shared resources, knowledge and advice, alongside shared risk when it comes to investing in new technologies.

Equally, the report argues the emergence of cross-government organisations to provide advanced data services on behalf of others across regions should be encouraged. Additionally, a mixture of standards, frameworks, governance and software solutions are needed to reduce the legal burden.

Catapult also has a its own solutions for local authorities, as part of its Tombolo programme. This includes open source software to allow data specialists to connect data sets into a common format, a data visualisation app to visualise exports from commonly used Geographic Information Systems, and a tool that allows Integrated Urban Models to be created in an efficient and scalable way.

Catapult Open Data

What else is the UK Government and local authorities doing to harness data?

The first major governmental data portal was launched in 2009, and this year the Offices of Data Analytics officially opened in the UK. The UK Government has also launched the Geospatial Comission, which was created to maximise the value of data linked to locations, as part of the #SmarterGov campaign. In 2019, the Government will release the first National Geospatial Strategy.

While on a more regional scale governments are still working to establish its data strategies, some local authorities are already embracing new technology. West Berkshire and Oxfordshire County Councils have a Digital Collaboration Agreement, which enables them to meet bi-monthly to share code and other digital developments.

Meanwhile, Barking and Dagenham have recruited a real data science team within their council who have been working on dedicated data projects since 2015, and Manchester City Council have created Open Data Manchester, to grow the city’s knowledge and expertise on data usage.

Read the full Quick Guide to City Data here

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