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Branwen Harris

Working in the dark

BH blog working in the dark

We have all taken different paths to where we are right now, but we all have one thing in common: we have got here because we have all learnt to learn. We reflect and remember our own experiences, decisions and actions as well as those of others around us in order to improve and positively move forward in our lives. In my role at iMPOWER, I interact with local authority stakeholders on a day to day basis and I am continuously surprised by the absence of data and analysis. My question to local authorities therefore is: how is it possible to move forward if past and present learnings are not being captured and analysed?

Data and analysis are undervalued in local authorities and often seen as surplus to the day-to-day running of a council. More often than not, they are given insufficient time or resource. The analysis of data is critical to find out what is really going on in a system. It provides insight and certainty on previously unknown operational and behavioural processes and their impact, especially in complex or difficult to understand areas.  Unfortunately, it is common for many local authorities to work in the dark when it comes to trying to improve how they serve the community.

Gathering and analysing data to support decision making and improve performance can be complex – particularly when measuring impact or outcomes. The absence of a gold standard of measurement that can be copied and pasted in a straightforward way adds to the complexity. Data and analysis in local government should be tackled head on in order to enable our councils to learn from the past and improve. The reality in local authorities is that in a time of austerity we need to be changing our mindset from relying on what we ‘think might work’ to relying on what we ‘know will work’. Data enables us to establish whether we are investing in the services we know are achieving positive outcomes for the community.

Focusing on the measurement and analysis of data does not mean that we should forget to draw on our experience when making decisions. One of my motivations to join iMPOWER in January ‘15 was the way we combine operational and outcome data with the experiences and human behaviour of frontline staff. Triangulating the real lessons that can be learnt from what has happened and what is happening is how councils can improve services and make a difference for their citizens.

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