LGA Place-based Directory of Services Loneliness Pilots

Place-based Directory of Services Loneliness Pilots

Making it easier to access information about local community groups, activities and support services to alleviate loneliness

The Government recognises the difficulty people and organisations have accessing activities and services available locally to address their specific needs and circumstances. The Local Government Association, participating local authorities and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have initiated a project to trial easier means of identifying and promoting local services through the publishing of information about local and hyper local services online. It aims to open data standards, ensuring consistency across the country and easy discovery by app developers and data consumers.

Read how Councillor Peter Fleming (chair of the LGA's Improvement & Innovation Board) introduced this initiative to elected members in the November 2019 edition of Councillor First magazine.

The project is funded by the cross-government initiative helping to combat loneliness, focusing on local services that are particularly helpful to the needs of lonely people. During the 2019-20 financial year, a series of pilots are underway in Elmbridge District Council, Hull City Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council to explore how local authorities and their partners can capture and share information on local activities and support that might help to tackle loneliness.

Partners across local government, digital experts and representatives from the voluntary sector have shaped the pilots. Building on existing work carried out with local authorities to provide quality assured categorised place-wide service data, these pilots are testing and refining data standards and taxonomies, investigating ways of collecting information to make them more efficient, accurate and sustainable, and exploring how stakeholders from a range of sectors can be motivated to capture this data and keep it up to date. Data and learning will be published at the end of March 2020, in order to encourage wider take-up by other local authorities.

The pilots are already attracting attention across England, with other councils, such as Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Yorkshire, eager to contribute to our learning, offer insight and test the pilots’ data standards and taxonomies.

The core outputs from the project are sets of local service information, published as open data to a national standard, along with accompanying learning materials that can encourage wider rollout by other local areas in coming years. Additionally, the LGA and the participating local authorities are commissioning free data architecture software capable of data discovery, validation, aggregation and filtering via an application programmable interface (API). An open source, free-to-use App will be made available to demonstrate the use and benefits arising from the open data. It aims to ascertaining a user’s location, eligibility, needs and circumstances, to inform the selection of a prioritised list of services sufficiently well-presented to enable the user to discover and go on and use their chosen service(s). Any other local providers that publish their services to the national standard can benefit from this means of promotion and outreach.

The current project focuses on identifying local and hyper-local services that might be especially helpful for lonely people. It forms part of a national pilot project to ‘standardise’ how councils and local partners collect and publish information about local services. It aims to change people’s lives for the better. Following the Government’s Loneliness Strategy, local government was invited to identify, assure and publish data about local services for consumption by apps and websites irrespective of location and service provider. Information is to be accessed by carers, health and well-being advocates, and service planners as well as citizens themselves.

Why do this project?

Councils already collect data to provide services and support for their residents but the open-data pilots aims to kick-start a step-change in how people access services and support from councils and local partners. The aim is to make it easier for people to get the help and advice they need and to drive efficiencies.

Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) research found that six per cent of adults in England feel ‘always’ or ‘often’ lonely. There is compelling evidence that loneliness affects people of all ages and is a growing social issue. A lack of good quality, up to date and easily accessible information about local support all too often prevents lonely people from accessing accurate and timely advice that they so desperately need.

Councils are working hard to stop people feeling ignored and invisible, which can harm their health and wellbeing. They are empowering and informing their communities with the right access to support services before people reach crisis point. Loneliness is a societal issue as well as a serious public health concern which can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness also creates additional cost pressures on social care and other local services - with 50 per cent of patients attending GP surgeries in need of non-clinical services. Accessible, timely data could give GPs a greater ability to ‘socially prescribe’, saving the NHS millions further down the line.

The LGA and the Campaign to End Loneliness and Age UK produced a comprehensive guide for councils to tackle loneliness in 2016 – ‘Combating loneliness: A guide for local authorities’

The LGA produced a guide for councils to check if they are actively tackling loneliness as part of its development offer in 2018 - ‘Loneliness: how do you know your council is actively tackling loneliness?’

Project Approach

As part of the LGA’s development offer, the project team is working with local authorities to create a ‘standardised’ way to collect and publish data which helps both residents and the sector to access information. Wide ranging consultation from local government information managers and open data experts have influenced the progression of this data standard. Participating local authorities are receiving technical and project management support from the LGA to develop processes and data content that can be shared nationally and reused outside their council areas. It is hoped that the lessons learned will support further refinement and wider rollout by local government in future years.

Project plans for each of the pilot areas set out the timetable and approach to establishing local governance, signing-up local delivery partners from community, voluntary and health groups, identifying local services, assuring and validating the content about them, transferring to the national standard, publishing, wider discovery and trial by consumer groups.

These plans are here: Hull, Elmbridge, Blackburn with Darwen.

The local stakeholders working with our pilot areas are set out as a pdf file here.

Bristol City Council has been working with the software developer company Place Cube to create a software package capable of easing the collection, assurance and publishing of local services data online.  This work has been nominated for an i-Network 2019 innovation award.  This short video describing the vision and capabilities of this approach has been prepared to assist the award promotion.  Take a look.  It is likely that our partners, Elmbridge District and Blackburn with Darwen will also make use of this software.  This is just the start.  We are hopeful of a plethora of data preparation and management systems from many developers will start to gain momentum in future years.

Making better use of and standardising data sharing could have a far-reaching impact that extends beyond loneliness – from supporting ex-homeless households embed in their communities to finding engaging activities for young people in their spare time.

There is risk, of course. Councils want to support government to deliver on its priorities but they need the certainty of sustainable funding of local facilities and activities if these pilots are to be a success.

Towards a data standard

The project team is working closely with the GitHub community, iStandUK (the local eGovernment Standards Body), Porism (the LGA’s technical partner) and Digital Gaps to provide central technical and facilitation services to refine and trial the data standard. Other support and oversight comes from the MHCLG Local Digital Team, GDS and supportive local authorities. The technical aspects are introduced by this blog. We are maintaining resources in this GitHub repository. The base standard builds on a mixture of the local services standard first developed by the LGA and partners in 2016. It is aligned closely to the Open Referral international standard. To expand on the limitations of both standards and in order to meet the objectives of this loneliness project, we are proposing an extension to the Open Referral specification with an application profile to define how it can/should be used for local services in England. Sample test data to better illustrate this is available (though its content should not be considered current). Proposed extensions will be refined in consultation with public organisations and software providers in England before being submitted for formal inclusion in Open Referral.

The project is using online communications and workshops with commercial IT suppliers to understand practical issues and take advice.

For more information contact: LGA Programme Manager, Tim Adams - transparency@local.gov.uk


posted by LGA Data & Transparency Team on 14th October 2019

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