Services > BPO

How Insight is helping Barnet Council make informed decisions

Published 14 April 2015

Barnet Council chief executive Andrew Travers explains the council's use of insight through data to improve its understanding of residents and deliver better, more informed services


The challenges facing public services - and specifically local authorities - will be familiar to all: increasing demand and high customer expectations combined with worsening financial pressure, with councils being asked to deliver more for less.

What is less well known is how authorities are looking to meet those challenges. What is the most effective way to meet the demands of our residents, provide them with the best possible service and, in Barnet's case, meet a £90m budget gap over the next 5 years?

In Barnet, we are facing these concerns head on. Where retailers have led the way in getting to understand their customers, authorities must follow. Our residents have the same expectations of their local authority as they do of their high street superstores - they want choice, trust and outstanding service. And they want to be able to do more things when they want to - not when we dictate they must.

The need for authorities to become more insightful has become more evident, which is why we have put this at the heart of our approach. We have made predicting what our residents may want and need from us central to the work we are doing in Barnet, through our partnership with Capita.

Barnet's Customer Support Group contract with Capita includes a dedicated insight team with data analysts, marketers, demographers and geographers. They capture data from a huge variety of sources to help pinpoint the exact needs and expectations of our residents as precisely as they possibly can.

The team has access to all manner of data, whether that is from Council Tax collections and housing benefits, parking permits, the school censors or the electoral roll. As a result, we are transforming what we do with the immense amount of data at our fingertips. We are using this data to develop our information management systems so that we can match up individual residents to their households and behavioural segments, and predict where services are lacking, or where they are currently not being used to their full capacity.

We are using this capability to focus and target customer service - particularly around channel development. To give a tangible example, our website has launched with the full insight gathered from our top 200 pieces of correspondence, which has helped inform its look and feel, as well as the services it will provide our residents.

We have also just launched a new traffic information website following a review into all the parking restrictions in the borough. We hope this will make our residents' lives easier by ensuring all restrictions, yellow lines and signs are working properly and by giving residents access to up-to-date information.

The insight team has identified which residents are most likely to volunteer and which parks they use most. It found 72 per cent of parks have residents who are likely to volunteer and, as a result, the Council has launched a targeted volunteer recruitment drive in those areas.

Furthermore, we are using insight to commission better services. The insight model we have developed is designed to provide the Council's Commissioning Group with a data warehouse to help model and analyse information to help us understanding the future demand for services. This will identify those who need the support of the council, with the ultimate aim of creating a 'single view' of the customer to enable efficient and effective programmes of support to be developed.

An interactive dashboard for councillors provides a regular, up-to-date snapshot of information in the borough's wards. This allows them to track changes over time and gives them a detailed view of residents, helping them make informed decisions

And we are already using insight to build an understanding of demographic changes in the borough, which will again help us plan for the future of our services.

The wider implications of insight for local authorities could be huge. Take, for example, the 'single view' of a fictional vulnerable single-parent family, where the child has learning difficulties and the parent is ill. The school census and children's services information would allow us to identify children with learning difficulties, while a chronically ill parent could be identified from the adult social care dataset.

By combining information from these different sources and linking in to one household, the local authority could identify this family and its challenges, which would help to predict likely outcomes and provide the services today that could save money and improve quality of life in the future. This, ultimately, is the goal of Barnet's insight project.

We are beginning to change and improve the Council's understanding of its residents, and are making our first steps towards better services guided by in-depth insight. This is a long-term project and, while we won't transform the services we deliver overnight, in Barnet, this is undoubtedly how we see the future of local authority services being designed.

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