Since joining Norwich City Council as a business analyst in November 2015, the momentum behind increased data analytics and the ‘smart councils’ agenda has become more evident.
Over the previous 12 months I have attended various events, including Nesta’s ‘Datavores’ agenda, which looks at ways the councils can take advantage of the vast swathes of data they hold.
It is no secret local government budgets are tightening, therefore any tools that can help councils target resources more efficiently will become vital, not only now, but in future years.
So it made perfect sense to go along to the latest training course (‘Empowering the Public Sector: Delving into data analytics’) offered by the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre. Things kicked off with a seminar on ABM (Agent Based Modelling). I admit that despite studying economics for four years, I had never come across this. Dr Peter Barbrook-Johnson explained how the model is developed and used, what I took from the session was its usefulness when analysing policies that rely on social interactions. For the training course to be of use the practical implications of ABM will need to be developed within Norwich City Council and this is something we have already began to think about. As Norwich is a district council, many of the obvious routes for ABM implementation relating to social services and children’s services don’t apply. However, the example given relating to policy analysis of solar panel incentives has given us food for thought.
The afternoon session was less hands on and looked at predictive modelling. Throughout the afternoon, theoretical and mathematical examples were given alongside real world case studies to show how simple regressions could identify risk early or highlight how to spend council funds efficiently.
The final session on Friday morning was a seminar explaining both the theory and practice of GIS mapping software. This was particularly useful as the software used throughout the morning is used by Norwich City Council. We already use GIS when it comes to providing residents with information (MyNorwich) and have started to put it to use for interrogating and layering data. An example of this is a recent piece of research the council completed looking at possible ‘Housing affordability’ within the city, which included layering polygon postcode data for house prices over household income data. This allowed us to identify areas within Norwich that could be unaffordable to local residents, having the highest income-price ratio.
The course overall was a useful eye opener to topics I hadn’t previously come across (ABM) and a refresh of knowledge that I had previously acquired (predictive modelling and GIS). It is clear both from speaking to the delegates of this course and attending other data analytics events that the major savings regarding data analytics are within social services and children services. Our challenge as a district council is to now take the knowledge learned over the two days and apply it for the benefit of the people of Norwich. One way we hope to achieve this is through an ongoing partnership with the BLGDRC and the University of East Anglia (UEA). The council made contact with the UEA last year and quickly became aware of the many possibilities this collaboration could offer. There are currently three strands of research running in tandem, the main piece regarding the interrogation of council data to reduce demand on certain services and identify those social tenants most at risk from an early stage. The BLGDRC is also advising the council on how to encourage ‘self-serve’ and about potential behavioural change initiatives.
Overall, the course was well worth attending, informative and useful, and I know the council intends to keep a close relationship with the BLGDRC in order to overcome likely challenges going forward.
Blog post by Ben Foster (Business Analyst at Norwich City Council), a delegate at ‘Empowering the Public Sector’ held at the University of Essex in January 2017. Recordings of the ABM and GIS sessions are available here. Please email us if you have any questions about the contents of this post.
Published 2 February 2017