Councils need to share if we want digital transformation

by Victoria Thomason

16 Jun 2017

by Pamela Cook


There was an interesting article published in Public Technology this week that covered a topic most local government authorities, and indeed many private companies, will know something about: internal company issues that halt data projects before they’ve even begun. The author talked about how the daunting prospect of how to understand and use big data sets was putting off senior management, upon whom buy-in is key for digital transformation projects.


‘But why won’t you share?’

On the positive side, it is increasingly recognised that data can be used to underpin many local governmental initiatives and decisions. But unfortunately, as the article pointed out, not all digital transformation projects get off the ground, due in part to the lack of confidence and knowledge of how to deal with such large datasets. However, this is not the only barrier that is preventing data-led projects becoming a reality. A frustrating lack of cooperation between council departments is making data sharing and new system development impossible and ultimately precluding the development of citizen-centric services.

The reasons for the lack of cooperation are varied and complex. Typically, council employees can cite legislative limitations; internal organisational culture or a lack of understanding as reasons to block the availability of data to other departments. However, none are insurmountable and it is only with the collaboration of all data guardians within an authority that true digital transformation can happen.


Great things happen when we share data

The article discussed best practice examples of recent council-run digital projects that have “improved the lives of the counties constituents and made services smart”. These show the innovative projects that can be undertaken when data is shared and departments work together. The sensor-equipped frogs that help residents report damp to their landlords are a notable example of innovation and collaboration, not just between government departments but with the citizens within the local authority.

Putting the control of data collection in the hands of the citizens is not only empowering, it can also foster trust and positive relationships between a council and the people. But of course, for this trust to be maintained, data needs to be accurate and used only for the purpose it was collected for. This improving relationship between citizens and local government should be as strong a reason as any for council departments to remove blockers to data sharing and commit to collaborate on data projects that make people’s lives better.