Monday, 13 May 2013

Camden hosts 'hackday' to use data for public good

On Friday May 10th Camden participated in our first “hack day” with employees from Google, Barclays, EDF Energy, GlaxoSmithKline, and the Intellectual Property Office - alongside the Big Innovation Centre - all whom brought technical expertise and insights on how to make the most of Camden Council’s data to address common challenges.

Town Hall service staff and data crunchers and coders
from the private sector get down to business 
As part of our Digital Strategy (to be published shortly) Camden has been considering issues around public data – how we can use it more effectively across the council and with residents and businesses to improve transparency and performance.

The public sector holds a lot of data and this hack day explored the issues around unlocking the value it can hold by bringing together interested people to play around with large amounts of data to see what new insights they can glean or tools they can build to help make sense of the huge quantities of information that are around.

The possibilities from public data comes from New York, where the city started using data to 'predict' (a.k.a. take a best guess) where fires and crime might occur.

The event involved a day at Google Campus during which participants examined Camden Council's and other partners’ datasets, linked together different bits of data, and wrote software tools.

There were three goals:
  • Firstly, deliver some workable tools that allow the Council to make a more efficient use of its data;
  • Secondly, allow our partners to identify opportunities for developing innovative services by experimenting with data they usually would not have access to;
  • And thirdly, identify practical obstacles in using and sharing public and private data in order to set out sensible policy recommendations for the future.
Teams looked at three areas, using Camden's data (cleaned to ensure data protection) to ask these questions:
Street presence: how can we use the information and resources we have to better target our efforts to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour?
Housing: how can we target our repairs budget most effectively?
Social care: how can we predict who our future clients will be, to prevent them falling into dependency?
The event presented valuable insights into the area of Big Data - and is definitely something Camden should explore in more detail as we develop our new outcomes-based (or 'investment') approach to council budgeting for 2014 onwards.

My specific concern about data was this:

In 2010 the shock of front-loaded cuts means that councillors were served up with a range of unpalatable choices.  In our big spending departments, I remember pushing back in particular about cuts to  'low needs' services in adult social care (in Plain English this means luncheon clubs for seniors, still state-supported in Camden).

Officers put a choice to us: cut these popular but non-statutory services and ease pressure on statutory help for people with moderate or high needs (home care, bathing etc).  This made sense at the time from the perspective of having to make a short-term decision, but not a long-term one - because we didn't have the ability to deeper interrogate the data.

Luncheon clubs are for older people, who are well - but they are also linked to other services (e.g. the luncheon club at QCCA has fitness classes afterwards, see this moving video for their fundraising effort).  Removing these services also removes access to preventative help - which in turn might prevent admissions to A&E for trips and falls, which in turn result in people demanding more moderate or high needs care in the end.

Having good data therefore could enable decision-makers to really invest in preventative measures which help people and save money - while challenging services which might be 'gold-plated' because they are protected by statute.

Ultimately, it will enable us to humanise and personalise services - rather than relying on service run solely by state assumptions.

Overall, getting teams from across departments together to explore problems drove real insights - and having a wealth of data to hand meant that sacred cows could really be interrogated by public servant themselves.  There were some really good ideas on targeting housing repairs more accurately, using shared indicators.  How this works with other partners, e.g. NHS, might be more difficult, but also more rewarding in really driving out costs which fall between social care and health and in public health.  Here's my take on the hack day via local net entrepreneur Will Perrin (@willperrin) - mind my grinning face...

A further hack, with an emphasis on civic participation, will be hosted on 16th May - as part of the Camden Challenge.

"How to be a Changemaker"  will teach people about about tools and techniques for problem solving, and hear from innovators in Camden about how to  address the two Camden Challenge questions:
“What can we do to enable people on low incomes in Camden to thrive?”“
"How can we use space better in Camden?”
Young people have also been taking part in a more off-the-shelf interactions via the Camdenville project.

See the Hack Day You Tube here.

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