On behalf of the Local Government Data Unit ~ Wales’ Board, I am delighted to present our strategic plan, ‘Putting data and intelligence at the heart of public service delivery’, in which we set out the focus and direction of our work for the coming years.
Having served on the Data Unit’s Board for over a decade, I am very pleased to have been elected as its Chair at this exciting time for the Unit. In developing this plan, the Board has discussed the importance of data and intelligence in delivering effective public services. We recognise the progress the Unit has made over recent years, the role it has played and the significant contribution it has made. Nevertheless, we know the organisation can contribute further, and as a Board we are excited about the opportunities that exist for the organisation over the coming period.
As with most strategies, the devil will be in the detail. We have begun to develop a business plan for 2018-19, which will begin to set out how we intend to deliver the ambitions set out in our strategic plan. We will be sharing this shortly.
You will have noted that the strategic plan is accompanied by an exciting new change to our branding, which sees our operational title change from The Data Unit to ‘Data Cymru’. The launch of our plan offers a timely opportunity for us introduce this change. Our new, modern identity has been developed to support our increased online presence and to reflect the confident, forward looking direction set out in the plan.
While the strategic plan sets out the opportunities for Data Cymru to provide leadership, it has an equally strong focus on the importance of partnership working and delivering collaboratively. We look forward to continuing to work with colleagues across local government and partner organisations, to ensure that data and intelligence is rightly at the heart of future public service delivery in Wales.
In conclusion, on behalf of myself, my vice-Chair Cllr Geraint Hopkins and the whole of the Data Unit Board, I would like to reiterate that the board will do everything possible to support the Director and staff of the Unit to deliver the ambition set out in this plan.
Councillor Colin Mann
Chair of the Local Government Data Unit ~ Wales Board
The context for our work
Public services continue to be delivered against a backdrop of dwindling resources and increasing demand. More than ever, ensuring that the design and delivery of such services is informed by and based on relevant evidence, is vitally important.
The Local Government Data Unit ~ Wales was established in 2001 to work “with and for local authorities in Wales on data and statistical issues”. Our early work focused on collecting relevant data from local authorities and using this to inform and support service improvement. The removal of our Improvement Grant in 2015, when our funding was cut by over one third, signalled a fundamental shift in our strategic direction – one which formed the foundation for the Unit as it is today.
We have always strived to turn data into the evidence needed to support local government service delivery. Now, as ‘Data Cymru’, our current work programme includes:
- disseminating local and national data through web based portals including InfoBaseCymru – our public web-based statistics portal;
- local authority service benchmarking;
- assessments of local government performance and the ‘MyLocalCouncil’ website;
- providing data to underpin local population and well-being assessments; and
- providing survey advice and support.
Over recent years, our local government colleagues have increasingly delivered local solutions in partnership with other public services, and have been challenged to develop innovative service delivery models which cut across traditional organisational boundaries. Doing so in a truly sustainable way, whilst meeting the challenges of austerity, means business as usual is not an option. Bringing relevant data together as evidence to underpin local, regional and national decisions about how best to deliver vital services for the citizens of Wales, must, therefore, be the focus of our work.
In a climate of service transformation, such data provides evidence which allows organisations to:
- understand need and demand for services;
- assess capacity to respond to the identified need;
- assess delivery options and identify and evaluate solutions; and
- understand cost efficiency options.
It can also be used by elected politicians, the public and others to assess and understand how organisations and services are performing, and to hold public services to account.
The challenges facing us and the opportunities we see
Austerity appears to have, not surprisingly, changed the way local government thinks about the challenges it faces. Increasingly there is a recognition that undertaking appropriate work centrally can free up valuable resources for the work that can only be done locally. This presents an ongoing opportunity for Data Cymru. Our experience to date suggests that there are real benefits – in terms of efficiency and costs - to be gained from our ability to use common data from Wales and beyond to support evidence based thinking at regional and local levels. Equally there are economies of scale and added value to be found through coordination and partnership working in terms of data collection, storage and analytical work. We can play a leadership role here.
Data and intelligence is currently ‘in the spotlight’ for local authorities and their partners. Both the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 have introduced increased expectations that public services have a robust understanding of their local areas, and that this is based on effective analysis of an appropriate range of data. There is clearly an opportunity for Data Cymru to continue to work with our partners across Wales to develop effective tools to support public services in these aspects of their work.
Austerity has also impacted on our organisation. Whilst we have been able to maintain the staffing levels necessary to continue to deliver on our work, management and ‘back office’ functions have been pared back, and capacity for organisational development is limited.
However, as an independent, not-for-profit company aligned to local government, we are well placed to make the most of the opportunities before us. As an organisation, we have the commercial freedom to set our own work programmes and the agility to move quickly when opportunities present themselves. Our role to support local government remains paramount. Our co-location with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has enabled us to be increasingly responsive to emerging issues, with heightened awareness of their critical issues and enhanced operational relationships. Our long-standing relationship with local authorities across Wales, their goodwill, and our reputation for delivery further strengthen our position.
More recently Welsh Government’ strategy ‘Prosperity for All’ sets out plans for integration and collaboration and new ways of working, with a particular focus on five areas. We will want to support local government and partners in their contribution to the delivery of the strategy.
What does this mean for Data Cymru over the next five years?
Clearly, the need for robust, reliable data remains, and our role in facilitating access to such data and supporting its use is as important as ever. Data and research capacity within our public services is increasingly limited, so our ability to undertake activities that have the potential to benefit the wider public service community puts us in a unique position – one that offers real advantages to local government and its partners. We will continue to pursue opportunities to provide cost effective approaches to the provision and use of data across Wales, where benefits can be maximised and costs reduced through collaboration.
Much like our local government colleagues, we recognise the value of working with partners. We already have close working relationships with Welsh Government’s ‘Knowledge and Analytical Services’ Division, colleagues at the Office for National Statistics and a range of academic and commercial data and research organisations across the UK. We will continue building links with the new Data Science Campus in Newport, and will take a more proactive approach to data science and its potential to support the design of future local authority services.
Continued liaison with our partners will also enable us to share experience, share good practice and avoid unnecessary and often costly duplication in the development and dissemination of relevant data. Bringing data together from a range of existing sources, and making data accessible in appropriate and helpful formats for use by public services continues to be an important focus for our work.
One specific aspect of this relates to the Welsh language. We already ensure that all our data is collected and disseminated bilingually. We also translate relevant meta-data where this is not already provided bilingually at source. By undertaking these activities centrally, we can avoid unnecessary additional work for local authorities and other organisations across Wales, whilst promoting the use of the Welsh language within the statistical community.
We believe that the use of credible evidence should underpin effective decision making. Credibility, for us, comes from our status as an independent company within the local government ‘family’ of organisations in Wales. Our ability to present data, information and evidence which is free from political or other bias remains vitally important to us. We have already been designated as producers of Official Statistics which further highlights the quality and independence of our data offerings.
Increasingly, much of our dissemination work takes the form of dynamic and interactive data presentations which are accessed via the internet on a range of devices. We will continue to maximise the opportunities to enhance the availability, accessibility and use of data presented by new technical developments.
Building on Welsh Government’s Open Data Plan, part of this work will be to take an active lead in the move towards the use of ‘open’ data, where organisations ensure that their data is ‘open’ for re-use by others. We believe that this promotes innovative, dynamic use of data and broadens its use beyond traditional service silos, and can support local authorities as they embrace digital service transformation.
Whilst we are well positioned to support local government in its effective use of data and intelligence, we continue to recognise the need to build local capacity and knowledge. Over the coming period we will review our training provision and develop a new, more relevant programme of support for those working with data within public services across Wales and beyond. Within this programme, we will develop further support for those using data to drive improvement within public services, and those seeking to identify efficiencies, for example, using meaningful benchmarking and comparison.
Organisationally, our staff are our main asset and we value their contribution. We will continue to develop and maintain an appropriate range of skills and knowledge across the breadth of our work programme. In doing so, we will not shy away from making necessary changes within the workforce to deliver on our work. We have already strengthened our technical development function, and we plan to increase our formal statistical capacity to provide additional analysis and research capabilities within the business.
We will maximise our capacity to deliver our work bilingually by strengthening our Welsh language capacity whenever opportunities exist to do so.
We have recognised the benefits associated with co-location with the WLGA
, and will seek to maintain these in the future, whilst continuing to take advantage of the opportunities presented through remote and flexible working arrangements
The focus of our work
Within this context, we believe that there are several key activities which will underpin our work. These include:
- Continuing to collect, collate, analyse and disseminate data – both quantitative and qualitative – relevant to local authorities and their partners as they face likely challenges such as continued austerity, and local government reform.
- Using the latest technology to develop and maintain systems which support the effective use and open publication of data and encourage local authorities in their shift towards digital services, information management and transparency.
- Identifying which of our statistics should be published as official statistics and developing our processes and documentation accordingly.
- Further developing the National Performance Framework for local government.
- Supporting the evidence needs of Public Service Boards and Regional Partnership Boards.
- Undertaking analysis and producing intelligence to support local government.
- Supporting the ‘scrutiny function’ across Wales by providing relevant data and developing appropriate support for scrutiny officers and members.
- Promoting service benchmarking as an effective tool to support improvement.
- Promoting the role of local government as both a provider and user of data/statistics, and representing their interests appropriately.
An organisation that is fit for purpose
To be effective as we deliver on these key work areas, we will be determined and focused on making a difference. We will be visible – maintaining awareness of our role and function amongst local government and other public service organisations, and involving them in shaping our work. This, in part, will result from us being responsive – reflecting the ‘wicked issues’ impacting on local government and its partners across Wales.
We will be agile – being aware and thinking and acting quickly – and dynamic – characterised by being energetic and active in pursuit of our desire to see data used effectively. We will be responsible – with our data and our use of data – ensuring that standards are maintained.
We will retain our independence and our reputation for delivering quality outputs. It follows that we will maintain/develop a wide range of skills/knowledge/expertise – using external experts as appropriate.
We will seek and encourage collaborative approaches to meeting the evidence needs of local government and its partners. We will be forward looking both in terms of how we deliver our support, and also in shaping the evidence needed to support the delivery of the public services of the future.
We will be assured about our role and confident in our ability to deliver. We will be ambitious and not risk-averse in pursuing our aims.
Like many other organisations in the public sector, we have had to adjust to the changing financial climate.
We have made the most of the circumstances facing us and have seized the opportunity to adopt a more central supporting role for our local government colleagues – one that reflects the aspirations for the Data Unit when it was first established.
Despite the fears of our not-so-recent past, we find ourselves in a strong position. We continue to have a unique role in the area of data and statistics, both in supporting and representing local government and we plan to build on this. Demand for our work is high, and feedback on our work suggests that it continues to be appreciated and valued.
Data Cymru is already on an exciting journey, and some of the changes identified here are already underway. For example, 2018 will see the launch of our new ‘Thriving Places’ Index for Wales which will provide a new and increased understanding of the local conditions for well-being.
But this is just the beginning. This plan provides the stimulus for a new and re-vitalised organisation, well placed and ready to play a key role in an ever-changing public services landscape in Wales.
Business Plan 2020-21
In March 2018 we published our strategic plan ‘Putting data and intelligence at the heart of public service delivery’. This set out the direction and focus of our work for the coming years. We developed business plans for 2018-19 and 2019-20 which set out how we would begin the journey of delivery. This business plan for 2020-21 sets out how we intend to continue the journey of delivering the ambitions in our plan. This business plan focuses on both our programme of work - what we will deliver - and on organisational development - the how we will deliver. We recognise we may need to reprioritise our plans as we better understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our staff continue to be key to the delivery of the ambitions set out in our Strategic Plan.
Having retained Investors in People (IIP) accreditation in 2018, we have set ourselves a target of working towards ‘advanced’ embedded practice as set out in the IIP model. During the coming year we will continue to work on addressing the findings of our assessment and areas for development.
We plan to review the initial deployment of our recent skills audit and refine this as necessary. We will seek to fill identified skills gaps (or provide further resilience) where necessary - specifically around geo spatial web development and data. We will continue to strengthen our statistical capacity.
Our accommodation lease comes to an end in 2021. Our Board has confirmed that our preference is to continue to co-locate with the WLGA. We will work with WLGA colleagues to finalise new accommodation arrangements.
Linked to our work on accommodation, we will be seeking to learn the lessons from COVID-19 and the expectations for a ‘new norm’. We will be seeking the views of staff around future accommodation and working arrangements, asking them to reflect on their experience of the period of lockdown. We will develop plans in response to their feedback.
Quality and integrity
As an organisation with a strong emphasis on data and information, the quality and integrity of our outputs is a key priority.
We plan to ensure that our statistical releases are in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice. We have reviewed our compliance with the Code and are drawing up an action plan to meet best practice. We expect to have completed the implementation of most of the actions arising from our review during 2020-21.
As we have developed skills in new technologies (Power BI, R, Python etc.), we need to ensure that our statistical dissemination standards reflect the capabilities of these new tools. To this end, we are developing a suite of internal guidance.
Efficiency and effectiveness
We have committed ourselves to continuing to look for increases in efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. We continue to have a programme work aimed at improving the quality of processes and delivering resource efficiencies.
We will continue to integrate the wider Office 365 suite into our day-to-day business, including completing the move from Skype for business to Teams for all telephony services. We will investigate the adoption of formal CRM software.
We will complete the move to a fully digital HR record for all staff and exploit our HR software to allow integration of HR data into our internal reports where appropriate.
Our web development team has introduced Microsoft Azure DevOps for source control and code management. There are significant features within DevOps for us to exploit and we plan to progress this work in 2020-21. We have commissioned a Continuous Integration and Delivery server to streamline our development and deployment processes.
We will be migrating our existing web and database servers to more current Microsoft technologies. This will bring performance and functionality improvements and offer significantly more resilience.
We have developed our data science capabilities to the point where such solutions are now integrated into business activities. Going forward we plan to develop resilience and to expand our technical toolkit to take advantage of product integration within the Microsoft suite.
Partnership and collaboration
Partnership and collaborative working have been an integral part of our approach to supporting local government and its partners. Our early work during the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of this. In 2020-21 we will build on the progress made, focusing in particular on ensuring our role and support is relevant, timely and adds value.
Our work programme for 2020-21
As in previous years, our work programme for the coming year will be dynamic and respond to needs as they arise, not least the impact of COVID-19. It will also include an element of known ongoing activity. Key areas of activity in the coming year will include:
- COVID-19 - Our priorities will include a continuation of data collection and analyses to support the WLGA, local authorities and partners as they monitor the impact of, and the response to, the pandemic. Over time they will want to monitor the recovery and the impact of interventions. We will develop an initial dashboard set of indicators and measures and work with partners to understand what other information they need and how this might be sourced.
- Local authority improvement support - The temporary postponement of the collection of the performance data offers us the opportunity to consider what data local authorities should be looking at as they start to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. We will use this opportunity to facilitate a discussion around future measures local authorities might want to be held to account for. This will include developing local authority profiles which will support local self-assessment and will link to data around recovery and the ‘new norm’.
- Open data - Building on progress made in 2019-20, we continue to have a number of strands of work in this area, underpinned by our open data strategy. At a strategic level we will continue to work with Welsh local authorities, Welsh Government and ODI-Cardiff to help create a public sector open data ecosystem. We will publish an Open Data area of our website, to enable users to access information and support about open data. We are developing ‘opendata.wales’ - a one-stop-shop for local authority open data in Wales. The ‘hub’ or ‘portal’ will allow local authorities and other public sector organisations to publish their data in an open format so users can access it easily from a single source. We will continue our series of events for local authority officers to help us understand what support they might need to enable them to publish and use more open data.
- Building capacity - Our Strategic Plan recognised the need to continue to build local capacity and knowledge. This was reinforced in the subsequent WAO report. Sharing good practice with colleagues and partners is a key element of our corporate strategy. So far, we have published an evaluation guide and will shortly publish a summary statistics guide. We intend to add two more guides during 2020-21.
- DataBasicCymru - We are committed to encouraging and supporting authorities to continue to put evidence at the heart of decision making. DataBasic, developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a learning programme to facilitate fun, creative introductions to understanding and using data. During 2020-21 we will work with MIT to deliver DataBasicCymru, which will be aimed specifically at a Welsh audience. In addition to this ‘self-serve’ website, we will develop activities to support our planned roll out of the training.
- Well-being and population assessments - Public Services Boards and Regional Partnership Boards are required to produce assessments/reassessments by April 2022 to support their strategic plans. We expect to be involved in the development of the guidance on the assessment process with respect to data, and to be offering a range of tools and support to help partners in this work.
- Data and data tools and systems – We will support the publication of higher-profile data releases with visualisations, blogs and additional information to help inform users, reflecting the specific needs of our local government audience. We will Increase the technical and dissemination solutions available to clients for online portals and websites.