Featured article -
02 September 2020
By Wajid Shafiq, CEO, Xantura
The imposition of Leicester’s recent extended lockdown took many by surprise. But for those who work in local government and public health, it was something which could always happen when our data about local Covid-19 infections are incomplete and out of date. If we can’t track and trace the disease’s spread, we can’t effectively respond.
The Covid-19 crisis has taught us many lessons, but perhaps none more important than our need to have good accessible data about our communities - who has been infected, where they live, and how we make contact with them. But more broadly, Covid-19 has also brought into sharp focus the importance of having good data, not just to keep communities Covid-free, but also to enable people to live safer, better connected and more fulfilled lives.
During the last few months, we have seen commissioners and practitioners increasingly recognise the value of good data - data which tells you in much more detail the issues and challenges people face and how these are likely to alter over time.
During the crisis, we have wanted to find out a lot more about the communities we serve. Who is at most risk from Covid-19? Who do we need to shield? Who might be at risk from not paying their rent or becoming homeless? Who might be at risk from domestic violence and abuse? How might people’s needs change as a result of the lockdown?
Time to understand communities
As we return to normality, it will be unlikely we will lose our thirst for more and better data. Why? Because in the immediate future, and most likely for many years ahead, money will be tight. Demand for social care is likely to rapidly return to its upward trajectory. In these circumstances, we will need to have a better understanding of our communities than ever, their needs and how these are changing.
Increasing social care leaders grasp this. As a group they have long understood the need to develop robust early intervention strategies, but recognise also that these strategies can only work if they are driven by good quality data. Data which not just presents the health and social care status of local people (although having this is helpful), but also tells us something about the risks they face, and the likelihood that their situations will worsen. If we can understand which people are most at risk, we can step in much earlier to help prevent their circumstances escalating.
What does this mean in practice? It means pulling together data from many council agencies to create a joined-up, insightful view of an individual, a family or a group. Having this full picture then means you can make better decisions, take more effective action and have a bigger impact
The OneView platform, developed by xantura - a leading independent data analytical agency which helps local authorities use ‘big data’ to make better decisions - does this; it allows you to ethically look at cohorts of the population and build an understanding of who is at risk. During a period when face to face work with citizens has been limited, and local authorities have lost the traditional eyes and ears of direct work, having access to accurate and holistic data on people is more crucial than ever.
Interpreting the data
In Thurrock, this has meant using the platform to identify people who were struggling with debt and other vulnerabilities and offering them tailored debt management strategies, reducing in turn demands on other services.
But the level of challenge we face in social care requires more than just better data. Commissioners and practitioners, such as social workers, need support to help embed data use in their day jobs. This is where SCIE come in. Working closely with the xantura team, we work collaboratively with social care teams to understand and apply this data, and where necessary redesign processes and systems to make data use easier. We work with commissioners to interpret the data and how it can be used to shaped commissioning plans that are likely to deliver the greatest outcomes.
This is why we have decided to launch a partnership that brings together our complementary skills – excellence in social care practice and excellence in data management – which together help to deliver a shared goal of improving outcomes for vulnerable people and communities.
Covid-19 has rocked local authorities to their core. But many have been able to innovate and take more risks, with digital technology and data being two areas where the boundaries have been pushed. As we emerge from the worst of the crisis, let’s use the enormous potential of data and analytics to improve people’s lives.