Unlocking Data: local government led information infrastructure
- 5 October 2015
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: Archive
In the fourth of our blogs on data, Gesche Schmid discusses data standards and outlines the need for a locally led common information infrastructure.
As local places differ so will be the data that are created and used to provide local services. However, there is a need for comparing and combining data across local and regional boundaries as part of devolution, improving services, making efficiencies and meeting an increasing mobile and online service need. In my previous blog under the unlocking data series I described the needs for standards and some examples where the use of standards make a difference to better connect and deliver public services. In this blog I will explain a sector led approach to develop and use standards across different local places and how we can promote, make more use and enhance data standards through a collaborative approach as part of the wider information infrastructure.
The need for a common information infrastructure
The Government has recognised the need for a National Information Infrastructure (NII)as a framework to manage the delivery of strategically important data held by government to support delivery platforms and to provide connected digital services through the Government Digital Service (GDS). Standards form an important part of the framework alongside governance, guiding principles and adherence to quality to manage and govern the consistency, quality and reliability of data.
There is an evolving local information infrastructure which enables local data and information to be easily discovered, combined and compared to make them more meaningful in a regional or national context. The local information infrastructure is a sector led approach to develop and maintain:
- common standards, classifications and taxonomies where they do not already exist
- practical and technical guidance which sets out some of the principles for publishing and linking data
- a local domain to provide a common focal point for sharing and promoting local open data, common standards, apps and initiatives
- promote the benefits of standards that already exist
A sector led approach enables authorities to work together to design standards that meet their collective needs and demands. They will own and maintain this approach if they are able to influence outcomes and if it is in their interest to improve and share services rather than when they are centrally imposed. The LGA together with the Local e-Government Standards Body (LeGSB), pioneering local authorities, GDS and the Department for Communities Local Government have been involved in developing and promoting a local information infrastructure through a local government led collaborative approach. Government has recognised the validity of such an approach.
The LGA has been working with the local government sector since 2002 through the LGInform Plus programme (formerly esd-toolkit – effective service delivery) to develop common information sharing standards. This work has advanced substantially in recent years with the advent of wider data publishing and the LGA’s open data portal from where registers of standards and data, guidance and tools are available which generates substantial access levels and interest.
Examples of the use of standards in publishing open data
In the previous blog I explained the use of classifications and unique reference identifiers in connecting services. Examples below demonstrate local government achievements so far for developing and using standardised schemas to create and use datasets at regional or national level. These examples can act as exemplars for future and further development which the LGA and LeGSB are promoting through their standards programmes.
To-date, some open data schemas and guidance on how to use them are available and in use for spending, procurement, land assets, inventories, planning applications, licensed premises and public conveniences which help to combine data from local authorities in a consistent way. Most of these standards were developed through a local government led approach to support the requirements of the Local Government Transparency Code and to encourage releasing the published data in a consistent way. The publishing of consistent data enables other data consumers to take the data from wide numbers of individual councils for regional and national analyses. For example, spendnetwork is using the schemas to compare spending data from local authorities to provide better insights for future procurement decisions.
Challenges still remain and the need for further promotion, coordination and support is still essential. Too few authorities have signed up to these standards at the present time – largely due to limited resources and a lack of skill and support.
The recent local open data incentive scheme – funded by Cabinet Office – demonstrated that local authorities can be encouraged to publish data to common standards with some central coordination and support. Over ninety local authorities took part in the incentive scheme and published over 200 datasets to consistent standards covering public toilets, planning applications and licensed premises. These datasets have been combined to national data sets. For example, aggregated public toilet data drawn from each of the 87 participating councils is able to drive the public toilet map application to show your nearest loo. This saves data analysts time and resources to scrape the data individually and to process them. Similarly, Hampshire has developed and used the schema to harvest local planning applications from their district networks and to publish and visualise them in a consistent way.
We also continue to work closely with the Cabinet Office to publish local open data on data.gov.uk so that local dataset can be easily discovered in one place. Local inventories– lists of metadata about data that local authorities publish – can now be directly harvested from local authority networks into data.gov.uk. This enables authorities to register their entire data inventory on data.gov.uk instead of having to update individual records. Some suppliers have also signed up to take-up the inventory standards in their platform applications. Almost 6000 local data sets are now signposted on data.gov.uk. Over 400 of these datasets have been published according to common schemas developed through a sector-led approach by the LGA for the transparency code and incentive scheme.
Call for further collaboration
The above examples demonstrate some initial achievements through a local government-led collaborative approach to developing and creating standardised data. However, with the devolution to regions and the increasing transformation to digital service on larger platforms there is a need to further enhance, develop and share standards.
It is now vital to promote and encourage the take up of these standards by suppliers and developers to create linkable data and to enhance the information value chain.
The LGA is driving the coordination of a joined-up sector-led approach for local data standards supporting councils to improve the quality of data to meet the needs of local digital government, customer insight and public service transformation. This is being achieved through its LG Inform Plus Programme, which intends to;
- maintain and enhance its reliable, consistent library of standardswhich will enable authorities to make data available in comparable ways so that they can be easily used as a trusted data source,
- facilitate and develop new sets of standard schemas for publishing data to meet business needs, support efficiencies and the digital transformation
- encourage authorities to publish datasets in standardised ways so that they can be more widely used
- increase the understanding and use of local government standards in digital government services, platforms, apps and tools.
- work with other networks and specialists to develop a shared common, partnership approach
There is a core need for working together with the local government sector, government departments and other stakeholders to further develop, coordinate and recognise common standards and to provide the necessary support through policies and governance, networks and engagement, procurement and up skilling.
The LGA is welcoming further engagement to work with the sector and partners to promote, make more use and enhance the locally developed standards within a wider information infrastructure.
Gesche Schmid, Data and Transparency, Local Government Association