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Local authorities risk irrelevance if they fail to harness the power of data

If councils fail to understand and harness the power of data they risk making themselves irrelevant to their citizens, according to a new report.

A paper released by New Local Government Network (NLGN) and prepared by Socrata today found that most local authorities are not taking full advantage of the data they hold.

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

Socrata believe that, if properly understood, data could help councils to make huge savings as they are able to target their services more effectively. But they will also be able to use this data to bring inward investment and put themselves at the centre of the data driven economy.

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. If councils don’t realise this asset, they will miss huge opportunities for investment and transformation – ultimately failing their people and places.”

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.

It found that some public sector organisations fear that shared data could be used to punish them, due to the historic association between data analytics and central government target regimes.

The report makes several recommendations for local authorities, including:

  • Senior council directors should come together to scrutinise their current approach to data and create local data strategies.
  • Councils should collaborate with each other and with local further education institutions and employers to foster digital skills.
  • Local authorities should develop skills in their existing workforce by forming exchanges and placement partnerships.
  • A Local Government Digital Programme should be established, including a cross sector skills development programme.
  • A network of regional public data analytics hubs to pool staff, students and volunteers to solve local problems using data should be created.

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