Developing data driven policy (Q&A)

The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham has established an ‘Insight Hub’ team that works closely with the leadership of the organisation. In this interview, Sal Asghar, Strategy and Performance Manager, and Pye Nyunt, Insight Hub Manager, tell us how data is being used to drive policy


What is the Insight Hub?

The Insight Hub is a team of both data and behavioural scientists who sit in the strategic core of the organisation. The key responsibilities of the team are to support the organisation in forecasting demand into services, develop a deep understanding of the residents in the community, embed and make better use of data in the design of local policy and introduce behavioural science techniques into the delivery of interventions.


Why was the Insight Hub set up and how do you work together?

The Insight Hub was set up to support the wider Transformation Programme at The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, which involved making financial savings of £70m by 2020. It was designed to take ownership of ensuring the council gets best value out of data, and to play a key part of the creative and innovative thinking of the organisation. It has been designed as a team that can experiment with different solutions. It was imperative that the team sits near the strategy team (rather than somewhere like in an IT department) to ensure that future policy is evidence-led. Understanding our resident base and demographic is vital (we have a rapidly changing borough) and collectively we are able to use insight from data to ensure that strategies are robust and that as the borough continues to grow, no one is left behind.


What have been your joint wins so far?

One of our biggest wins to date has been the development of the ‘Borough Manifesto’ which can be read here.

This was the borough’s largest response to a public consultation, with over 3,000 residents responding to questions on how they see the borough in the next 20 years. The strategy team was responsible for engaging with as many residents as well as other local public bodies across the borough. We stood at the tube stations, asked people in the street and spoke at schools to capture residents’ aspirations. The Insight Hub then analysed all this primary data, set out key themes, researched current performance against those themes and set new targets and measures for the borough to aspire to over the next 20 years.

The document is merely a product of our consultation, the real value was in the insight we got from the conversations with residents. We don’t view the Borough Manifesto as a “council document,” it is a community one; we merely facilitated its delivery.


What issues are you having to overcome?

Data sharing and data quality are issues that we are facing. The council, like many others, have legacy IT systems working in disparate service areas. What this means is we hold multiple records of an individual but in different places and residents are having to submit information to the council more than once.

The real value in what the team does is connecting all this data together. Where we can provide front-line officers with the full picture of the residents they serve, they will save time, make better decisions, and ultimately improve service quality for residents. That’s the reason we have been developing an analytical tool that matches together people based data across at least eight different datasets across the council. We used this tool to develop an understanding of vulnerability when we were looking at our new gambling policy; another example where both teams worked together very closely.


What can you share with other councils?

Our advice to other councils is to start with the data they already have rather than search for more. We must focus on ways to connect people-based data together and thereafter design services, policies, and interventions around this. Doing this will help us forecast demand more accurately.

We also need to embed data and techniques from behavioural science into the policy making lifecycle as without this insight, we will struggle to achieve the outcomes that our residents want. We also need to shift our focus on using data to measure what is being done to using data to model what could be done.

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