Big data presents a big opportunity for local authorities

Data, data, data – it’s what everyone is talking about. But how is the data revolution affecting local authorities and its local public service offerings? Local authorities sit on a vast amount of information across many different areas which range from social care, waste collection, procurement, council tax to planning applications, all of which generates an enormous pool of data. The ability to process and understand this data is highly beneficial for local authorities, presenting opportunities to make their services more targeted and effective, better allocate their resources, save time in front and back office processes and also provide insight in the reason for costly social problems.

Analysing data is not something new to local authorities, as the majority of councils across the UK use available small data sets to intelligently improve their services. However, it is clear that with cuts to local government funding, there is a need for local authorities to transform and reinvent the way they provide their public services in order to support our communities and allow them to thrive. And it would appear that exploring big data presents not only opportunity to do so but also reward. A number of emerging trends are already revealing how some forward-thinking local authorities are using big data: 


1)   Predictive Analysis

The increase in power of analytical tools means that local authorities are adopting predictive analysis using algorithms to predict events with great accuracy before they even happen –

this allows them to better target their existing limited resources and can act before tragedies even happen. For example, numerous authorities use predictive analysis systems to identify families for attention from child services, which helps public sector managers focus their resources more effectively.  


2)   Data Warehousing

As public services have a nature of being organisation in silos, the lack of integration can lead to duplicated activity and poor services for residents leading to inefficiency and poor outcomes. “Data warehousing” is the ability to access a raw form of data collected across the public sector, such as councils, the police, housing providers, job centres and health services in one online portal, thus linking up the data and allowing for more efficient processing and solutions. 


3)   Smart Cities

Smart Cities and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives mix technology, such as physical objects equipped with sensors and network connectivity, with data in order to enhance functionality of places. In cities such as Bristol, Milton Keynes and Glasgow, the use of sensor technology and data is improving several areas. For example, installing sensors in recycling bins which can communicate when they are full and ready for collection has enabled targeted rather than routine bin collections, increasing efficiency and saving money. 


4)   Geo-spatial Analysis

Geospatial data is defined as data which has a geographic component, such as coordinates, addresses or postcodes, meaning it helps to understand the relationship between variables linked to a location and patterns in a particular area. This is one of the most used area for data analytics in the public sector, and local authorities across the UK have been using geospatial data to improve services such as housing, planning, waste collection and health and social care. For example, it is being used to find the quickest route for waste collection or identifying the areas with the highest poverty. 


5)   Open Data

Many local authorities such as Bristol, Leeds, Trafford and Cambridgeshire have created open data portals and analytics hubs striving on innovation to become more transparent and better engaged with their residents. Due to the advancement in computer power and capacity, more data has been made open and more accessible, usually taking form of spreadsheets containing static data through to real-time data which can be accessed through ‘Application Program Interfaces’ (APIs).  Innovation Labs at local authorities have helped to find solutions for problems in cities and develop solutions to issues such as the number of empty homes, encourage recycling, and the provision of data about schools’ admissions.


All in all, it would be impossible for local authorities to ignore the increasing wave of big data,  and with trends suggesting that the scale of data is only going to continue to grow, embracing the change seems to be at the forefront of local authority evolution and improvement of local public service delivery.