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The art of blending: How to combine public sector data sources for a clearer picture of your local community

Friday 24 November 2017 Data Insight & AnalyticsDemographic Data

Stewart Eldridge's picture
By Stewart Eldridge

In the public sector, it’s not just important to make the right decision. You need to demonstrate you have used the correct process, and the most appropriate evidence. That means choosing the best data source. The only challenge is, there is no single “best” source of data.

As someone who works in the public sector, you’ll have access to Open Government Data sources, such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Ordnance Survey (OS) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). These make an excellent starting point, because they carry legal authority, give a common currency among researches, and have no costs attached.

However, the information is typically only available for broader, administrative geographies, and may be updated infrequently. So while Open Government Data can give you a good, top-level view of a community, you may need to blend in other kinds of data if you want a more up-to-date picture, or a postcode or household-level view.

Our new discussion paper draws on our work with LARIA to highlight the types of data available to the public sector, why data blending is important, and how the data can be used effectively.

Why blending is important

We’ve identified three main kinds of data, which can help organisations provide better services, and use scarce resources more efficiently. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
 To achieve the clearest view, a blended approach is needed – taking in two or even three of the following data types:

1. Free and open data

It’ll come as no surprise that free and open data is often the natural go-to for researchers, not just because it is freely accessible, but also the authority and independence it carries. But while it provides a high-level understanding of communities, and a robust common currency between researchers and public sector bodies, it can lack necessary detail in some cases. Often, each data point represents 100 households or more, whereas other sources can drill right down to a specific postcode – around 15 households – or even household level. It’s therefore a good starting point, before using other data to add clarity and interpretation. 

2. Administrative data

Owned administrative data is unique to your organisation, and could include resident surveys, tax payments and online services. It serves an important purpose in understanding how and why residents use your services. But this kind of data is highly sensitive, and as such, can carry significant red tape – not least the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force in May 2018. Also, because it’s data about residents who use your services, it can often neglect those who don’t – and so may only tell you half the story.

3. Commercial data

For scalability and a complete picture, commercial data fits the brief very well. For example, CACI’s Acorn lifestyle database has records for 48 million UK adults, at postcode and household levels.
 Commercial data really comes into its own as it’s up to date, and in some cases real-time. When dealing with peoples’ welfare, this is vitally important. And commercial segmentation tools can give you a more accurate profile of who lives where, and exactly what their needs are.
 But this data does carry a licence fee, so it’s best used selectively, to enrich and expand other data sources, so you can build a more accurate picture of your communities’ needs and requirements in a cost-effective way.You should also be aware that some commercial data sources don’t always disclose their origin, and unless you work with an experienced public sector partner, it may not be ideally suited for public use.

A blended data approach: providing the critical difference

Using a blended data approach can make a critical difference to communities – and for local authorities, this can take a variety of forms. Three clear examples include:

  • Supporting an ageing population and limited budgets – identifying vulnerable residents who are unable to meet the cost of their care
  • Targeting residents more likely to use wrap around and premium services – to help build a better picture of residents’ needs, and tailor services while at the same time increasing Council revenues
  • Managing the implementation of digital services – identifying “offline” residents and offering extra help to ensure individuals don’t slip through the cracks into isolation and exclusion
     

Data is your most important asset – it’s time to make the most of it

As a public sector organisation today, you face an important dilemma: how do you provide increasingly better services, using limited resources? Your answer currently may be to make do with what you have access to, and do the best you can.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our latest discussion paper "Cut through the Public Sector Data Jungle" – written in partnership with LARIA –  highlights how you can best blend the three pillars of data, to improve efficiency, save money, and serve your community better.

Cut through the data jungle

Further Information

If you want to hear more about how CACI's Public Sector expertise can help you, get in contact now

In the public sector, it’s not just important to make the right decision. You need to demonstrate you have used the correct process, and the most appropriate evidence. That means choosing the best data source.

The art of blending: How to combine public sector data sources for a clearer picture of your local community

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