Brighton and Hove Council - ‘Using a Local Information System to improve data sharing and needs assessment’
The Brighton and Hove Local Information Service (BHLIS) provides local strategic partnership (LSP) members access to a wide range of national and local statistics and indicators relating to Brighton & Hove at many different geographic levels.
Simon Ewing, Local Information Service Manager, Brighton and Hove City Council, explains that the initial approach was to run everything in-house and theLIS project started out as CityStats. Citystats –originally driven through the regeneration agenda (neighbourhood renewal). Citystats required a web team to carry out development work in-house and although it was initially cutting edge, things were moving fast and the team realised that it was becoming increasingly cumbersome and expensive.
Around the same time the council managed to get funding via a European Social Fund initiative called EQUAL to develop its local information system.
The council began a tender process with the intention to develop a LIS that was more user-friendly, technically more advanced and more cost-effective.
The council was impressed with InstantAtlas from Geowise and in particular the Flash-based mapping function and ability to allow for a devolved/shared administrative structure. In addition, the company was offering a good package in terms of maintenance and hosting and as a result Geowise was chosen to run the LIS.
The LIS was developed and allows users to access data across a range of themes and geographical levels in Brighton & Hove. It allows users to explore and investigate key pre-defined sets of indicators using a combination of interactive maps and charts. It is also possible to create custom tables for the same collections of indicators for download.
Meeting the need
According to Simon awareness levels in the first year after launch were good.“However, there was a gap between what it could initially deliver and what it was expected to deliver straight away. This was compounded by a lack of relevant user skills.”
Simon says the BHLIS team started out with the aim of delivering information around the Local Area Agreement (plus Demographics and Deprivation). The Local Area Agreement was designed to reflect and respond to the needs of the communities of Brighton & Hove. It brought together key partners and their services to create and deliver locally significant outcomes.
Simon believes that it was the requirements for a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) that really kick-started active interest in the LIS. The LIS was used to deliver elements of the JSNA. “On the back of this it developed into a system that was seen as potentially being able to deliver flexible needs assessment reporting and analysis that could be used to inform intelligent commissioning – which means it is becoming used by a much wider group of people,” says Simon. He thinks this will help facilitate a much stronger match between local service delivery and the requirements of the local population.
Currently, the best example of this, he says is how the LIS is being used in the child poverty programme. Groups of analysts involved in the programme are now using the LIS to share relevant information and data, to work more collaboratively, and to improve understanding of local factors and the impact of interventions.
“Overall, activity is primarily driven by a need to justify and sustain funding, which is why we have to find economies of scale, demonstrate wide usage, and highlight where efficiencies are being gained. This is even more important now in leaner times. The Intelligent Commissioning framework is helping in this respect,” says Simon.
Simon is convinced that the LIS is yet to reach its full potential and says there are a number of applications where it could be used. For example, it could be used: in the delivery of local election results; to support community organisation funding bids; for general information management requirements as well as monitoring and evaluation efforts of smaller organisations in the city.
The team is keen to develop a devolved network of administrators and contributors who are willing and able to use the system themselves. Not only for delivering their own data and information for wider use (e.g. commissioning) but also for managing and maintaining their own internal data and information.
The aim is a stronger link between analysts who need to use the system for their own use and the overall wider data and information sharing requirements - as presented under intelligent commissioning and open data agendas.
According to Simon, the challenge is in generating commitment within organisations to use the system themselves out of choice. There is a need to foster a match between an organisations own internal operational information management needs, it’s daily working practice, and actual acceptance of the system as a ‘useful tool’ for them, and the need for them to be contributing to its development.
“We are not quite there yet, but the delivery of needs assessments for informing wider commissioning practice beyond the council, is proving invaluable with regard to embedding overall awareness, understanding of potential, collaborative practice and user skills across the partnership,” he says.
“The challenge is mainly a human one (organisational, managerial, cultural), as opposed to a technical one.”
Other resources of interest
Interview with Matt France, Customer Insight Analyst (Research and Intelligence) Rochdale MBC and Jonathan Caunce, Intelligence Analyst, Wigan Council
Discussion on their own experiences and challenges in developing a local information system for their communities and partners.