A vision for finding the right local services
A new project has started in Summer 2016 to work with data standards experts, open data enthusiasts and local public service providers (including local authorities and their partners) to find a better way to identify and match local services to the needs of citizens and the places they serve. Read on....
The range and diversity of local public services is vast. They are delivered by many different organisations. Different people need different combinations of service and different channels of delivery. To understand the landscape of what services are available, to whom they are directed and how to apply usually involves an in-depth knowledge of local government or complex and time-consuming research.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to exploit the benefits of modern IT technology including mobile apps which collect the nature of a person’s needs or aspirations along with their location and then suggested appropriate local services that are available to meet those needs? To be truly useful, the services listed should be those delivered by a wide range of organisations from the public sector, voluntary and community organisations and commercial businesses.
In summer 2016, we are starting a pilot programme to work with service delivery, data and frontline professionals to trial a solution to better identify the availability of local services. This programme aims to develop a consistent way for describing all local services, no matter what the context, such that the data can be made available to public organisations and software developers to provide a means for citizens to find appropriate services from across organisations and local borders.
For some time, the consideration of local public services sub-divided on local authority lines has started to become less relevant as we look to break down the country into “places” and other “localities”. Additionally, local services are increasingly being delivered by many and varied providers, not just by local authorities. Partner organisations in the public and private sector are meeting the needs of local citizens in many ways as already set out in the list of hundreds of different local government services.
A project has just started in July 2016 to coordinate a better and more consistent way of publishing the availability and details of all local services. In time, all local services providers in the public and private sector can participate in order that we can promote, analyse and discover services along any geographical lines and match them to people’s particular needs and circumstances. This work seeks to build upon the developments that have been underway in local government for over a decade, working to define, structure and standardise the information being collected and managed about local services. It also seeks to harness the progress made in recent years in more open publishing of public sector data in ways that make them easier to discover, integrate and re-use.
Our vision is to develop an information standard that describes locally delivered services such that all local providers – including local authorities and their partners – can publish the availability of their services in ways to encourage innovative and flexible analysis and re-use.
We are looking to work with local service providers, data consumers and software developers to trial the creation of a national service data schema against which local services can be published locally and then brought together and presented to consumers in targeted and flexible ways across organisational and geographical borders. In short, we see the potential for apps to be developed which can combine these data with local information to assist people to find the right service choices for their circumstances.
Local services are generally delivered to citizens to meet particular needs and aspirations as they journey through life. These needs and aspirations largely arise from events and other circumstances that interrupt our daily lives. The vision, then, is to assemble a profile relating to a citizen’s needs or aspirations and then match these to appropriate local services available. Almost like an “eBay” for local services!
Somerset Choices has already shown the potential for this new way of working in its online YouTube video.
The benefits from easier discovery and provision of the right local services are many fold. From the point of view of citizens or their carers it means that they have a list of options available locally to meet their needs, along with all the supporting information that might be necessary to make informed choices and progress to taking up services. Promotion in this way removes the regular confusion of which local organisation delivers which service as apps can direct people to the best choices – perhaps based on locality, closeness, statutory obligations, quality of outcomes, etc. From a service delivery point of view, this approach has the potential to ease the burden on front line staff and can provide an initial interface between service and recipient without the need for costly contact with local officials. For public sector planners, central government and private providers it provides evidence of local capacity, performance levels, gaps in capability, etc. from one area to another. This will help future planning and local investment needs.
To achieve this potential, a number of work areas should be considered. We need to:
- review the various local information systems currently available and identify the areas of best practice and lessons learned
- mobilise and encourage support and participation from local service providers and data experts to develop a simple but fit-for-purpose data schema that can be deployed by all participants without too much additional burden. From this, we can begin to assemble a ‘distributed’ database of local services where content from individual providers are published in many locations throughout the county, but are consistent in format and capable of search and aggregation in part or in whole along many subject and geographical lines.
- develop a process of data publishing, along with easy discovery, validation and up-keep
- try out the results through a series of user apps designed to collect requests from users and then search and deliver lists of options in a useful and easy manner
- After a trial period – perhaps based upon a small geographical area or a service functional theme –work up wider take-up and national promotion.
At these early stages, we are all learning together and anyone who has an interest can get involved.
The programme is being led by the Local Government Association Research & Information Team with programme manager, Tim Adams. The work will build upon the information standards and open data support already provided as part of the “Better Use of Data” workstream, underpinned by the LGA’s open data online tools and resources. The work will follow the best practice guidelines that are set out in the joint LGA/Open Data Institute (ODI) eLearning modules.
Expert standards support is being provided by Local eGovernment’s standards body, iStandUK with Director of Standards, Paul Davidson and his team.
Members of Porism Ltd, led by project manager Nicki Gill, will oversee the enhancements to the information standards and the open data publishing tools provided as part of LG Inform Plus.
IEG4 led by co-development manager, Ian Singleton, is working with software developers and representative local service delivery organisations in the North West to prototype an online app that makes use of the service data published to the emerging standard. This will focus on those services delivered across Lancashire but with an initial focus on Chorley (Contact Marcus Devaney at Lancashire County Council). A scrutiny and advisory group including Blackpool, Blackburn, Lancashire County, Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, the LGA Sefton CVS, AgeUK, Bolton Council and i-Network will ensure any progress is sufficiently generic to work in any sub-region
Other participants, developers or service providers, are most welcome and any interested parties are encouraged to make themselves known to me.
It is our intention to progress carefully in an agile way to test what is possible and respond to obstacles as they arise. Momentum will build as the information standards and the availability of open data take shape.
The programme has been assigned modest funding from LGA sources for 2016-2017 financial year in order to make an initial start. It breaks into three core projects:
- Creation of a data standard (a service schema) against which service providers can publish information about local services in a nationally consistent way;
- Guidelines, tools, networking to assist data publishing and to encourage trial take-up by local service providers;
- Example app developments to locate the published data, match these with information about users’ needs and self-serve optional services to meet these needs.
All programme communications, interactions, plans and materials are being discussed openly on Local Government’s Knowledge Hub in the Local Open Data Community Knowledge Group.
Creation of the service schema standard
We will undertake initial research to identify the current landscape of existing local solutions already in place. We will draw on existing examples of successes and best practice used in local information systems throughout England and we will encourage service providers and data consumers to describe their experiences and ideas. We will also reach out further, drawing on the experiences of schema.org, open311, openReferral, GDS Local Links and the European Community ‘SERVICE’ core vocabulary to determine how the data standards used in these services are able to bring different data from many sources together for wider re-use.
The local government business model will support the association between needs, circumstances and service types. These will be extended, updated and deployed within the schema to allow apps to match local services to the people and places they are serving.
From this baseline, we will develop an initial csv schema that remains as simple as possible to minimise burden on data publishers but provides the potential to link this powerful open data resource to other online information through the use of uniform resource identifiers (URIs). A minimum set of essential data fields will be mandated in the data specification to support useful regional and national re-use. Optional, discretionary additional fields will be possible to suit local specific needs.
Once the first draft schema specification is ready (mid-Autumn 2016), a consultation will follow to encourage inputs from wide ranging, interested parties to make refinements and improvements. In parallel, this data schema will support published data from Lancashire and from other participants in order to drive the early prototype app being developed by IEG4.
Creation of the self-served services app
A prototype app will be developed to test access to the online local services data published against the data schema. Initial focus will be given to health and wellbeing services and we will experiment with how the work might assist typical user enquiries that might come in the future. We see two case studies as being representative for early trials:
The project will consider the use case of a family support worker.
Linda is 48 and has been a family support worker for 18 years. She knows the local area very well and has a book of agencies & services that she has turned to help her clients. She recognises that there are probably services that she doesn’t know about but can she trust them? Technology does not come easy to her but she knows that it could help her find services and book them. She does sometimes email suggested services to her clients.
The project will consider the use case of a retired single person.
Jim is 73 years old and has been retired for 8 years. He only has one son who is married with a son at university and lives about 2 hours away. Jim says ‘they have their own lives to live’. Jim’s wife died 4 years ago. He has taught himself to cook and enjoys watching sport on TV with a cold beer. He regards himself as reasonably healthy though probably needs to lose a bit of weight.
We are working towards phased progress in milestones between July 2016 and March 2017. During this period, we hope to see what is possible, the barriers and challenges that might emerge and the landscape of locally delivered service providers who might be supportive of taking this work to a wider national rollout in future years.
Contact me to be involved and follow our progress in discussions and announcements in the Knowledge Hub Local Open Data Community group
Local Government Association