Camden Council and the benefits of opening data

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Sudip Trivedi is the head of data and analytics, and connectivity business partner at Camden Council. Central to his role is improving the quality of data within the borough and allowing more people to access that data.

Trivedi came to the council on a four-week contract as a web developer 12 years ago. In that time he has held a number of roles including senior business analyst and head of business intelligence.

Sudip Trivedi, head of data and analytics and connectivity business partner at Camden CouncilDuring his tenure, Trivedi was instrumental in incorporating a digital and data strategy “a first for a local government organisations“ into the overall organisational strategy of the council – Our Camden Plan. It states how the council will adapt services to the needs of its residents and business community going forward.

"We can be data driven as an organisation."

“Our current thinking around strategy is rather than having a separate digital strategy, we have an organisational strategy that talks about being digital and data-driven,” he said. “I’m leading on looking at the kind of things we should have in place, internally speaking, so we can deliver services in a much more effective manner and be data driven as an organisation.”

In the section of the plan titled ‘What this means for us’ the council states its commitments to continuing its journey of digital transformation. This means: “improving how we use data and information, so we can join up our services and make it easier for our residents. We will be open and transparent, and use our data to inform our decisions and services.”

Trivedi and his team were able to bring in the data aspect by having "a couple of iterations" of what they meant by being data driven to their management teams, the chief exec and the directors.

Camden lock canal and barges, LondonNow that Our Camden Plan is a well understood concept throughout the organisation, the current focus is getting the organisation to think about attaining and maintaining a high standard of data quality. According to Trivedi it is important that everyone in the organisation, including those on the frontline such as social workers, understands that it is part of their job to have an excellent level of data quality, and to maintain that they need the right tools and the right framework.

He said it is important for data to be held in high esteem because good data quality is one of the foundational blocks that needs to be in place before anything else can be built on top of it, with Camden operating so many lines of business.

“If you think about collecting rubbish as a single line of business, we’ve got around 600 discrete services and that puts any work we do around digital and data into perspective,” said Trivedi.

"The cost  avoidance could be huge if done rightly."

One tactic that Trivedi is using to stress the importance of data is to compare it to finance. This is to emphasise the importance of it and once that understanding exists, people are willing to do more to look after it. Consequently “the cost avoidance could be huge if done rightly,” he said.

As well as attaining and maintaining high standard of data quality, the second part of Trivedi’s mission is to make data easier to access. Launched in March 2017, Open Data Camden is the council’s open data portal that makes datasets, on everything from parks and gardens to parking, available on an Open Government Licence.

Back in 2015, central government issued the local government transparency code which outlined the legal obligation for local authorities to publish data externally, but he and his team decided that it didn’t go far enough.

“We started by having the Camden Open Data Charter which is a public commitment that talks about why we are doing this and what it means for us to be open. We talk about being transparent as well as well as opening up our information. Our residents benefit from new ways of receiving information than they would have otherwise,” said Trivedi.

He states that the platform would benefit the business community and local development groups also as they would be able to access and leverage commercial advantage from the data within it.

Mural featuring Amy Winehouse in Camden, LondonFurthermore Trivedi would like Camden’s datasets to be used by developers to create apps that could benefit Camdeners and Londoners, much in the same way that apps like Citymapper have been created using Transport for London data.

Another advantage of opening up data that benefits Camden Council in a tangible way is the freeing up of manpower. Staff no longer have to spend as much time administering freedom of information requests, subject access requests or general data queries.

"We ask that you go to our open data platform and self serve."

Trivedi said: “For officers, that releases them from doing a much needed task of providing the service. In terms of responding to the queries, we ask that you go to our open data platform and self-serve. You actually might be able to get much better information in the platform than you would otherwise.”

Looking forward, Trivedi stated  that open data and high quality data are foundational aspects for Camden to become a smart borough. He said: “If all the things we hear about IoT or AI or driverless cars materialise, we need to have these platforms in place so that we can handle that information. We’re never going to be able to cope with the information and the data result internally or externally if we don’t have the foundational mechanism in place.”