We need to industrialise collaboration and data sharing to sustain great local services
Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy
If anyone was questioning the government’s appetite for letting go, George Osborne answered it in the Spending Review when he announced a “devolution revolution”.
Rhetoric aside, being able to plan and deliver services close to the communities that use them offers huge benefits.
Speak to a council or a housing association and it becomes immediately clear that they know their communities inside out – like which families are close to crisis or how many people are online.
Wolverhampton Homes, for example, realised that its plans to encourage more customers to use its online services by offering free wifi had little effect. So they started working with community partners promoting the general benefits of being online in the first place. It’s now getting easier to encourage their customers to use online services and they’ve set ambitious targets as a result.
It’s this level of insight that the government is relying on to sustain public services as austerity continues to bite. When you target services more effectively, efficiency is the knock-on benefit.
But the process of pooling insight and then acting on it can be exhausting. Putting people in the same offices can help, such as stationing a mental health nurse in a 999 call centre, but at some point we need collaboration to be automatic and second nature.
Collaboration by default
The police-led Athena programme is a model worth looking at, because it’s underpinned by a software platform that was designed for sharing.
Common data standards hold everything together but they don’t enforce the same structure or even the same technology – each police force can still use whatever software it wants to meet local needs.
Data sharing legislation, audit trails, even the requirements of the Victims Code are built in and automated, allowing information to be shared automatically with the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Court Service and, in future, victims themselves.
It frees up the huge amounts of time that get wasted on data entry and manual checks, and that’s before you factor in the benefit of knowing that the suspect you’re looking for is in custody in another force.
As power continues to shift locally, we’ll need to industrialise collaboration so that it increases productivity to the same extent as it delivers better outcomes. Otherwise collaboration itself will become a burden that no amount of skilled professionals can overcome.