In the public sector, there a need to be creative with resources in order for them to stretch and meet increasing demand for services. Neill Crump of Worcestershire County Council told Toni Sekinah how the non-metropolitan council is piloting new ways of sharing data to reduce vulnerability across the county.
Worcestershire is a hotbed for experimentation and innovation with data. Neill Crump, chief data officer of the Worcestershire Office for Data Analytics or WODA, explained that the council initiated six pilot projects with different agencies sharing data.
Crump used to be head of digital transformation and customer service at the county council, when Worcestershire’s Partnership Executive Group was evaluating what would have to happen in order for devolution to be a success.
Although devolution did not take place, it was decided that there would have to be better integration of public services and that data sharing could assist with that.
Crump and representatives of other public sector agencies created a data sharing roadmap and a chief data officer was needed for the 12-month project. Crump got the role in September 2017.
“Each of the agencies put seed money in to kick start greater maturity in the way that we use and share data,” he said.
The agencies conducted workshops with frontline staff which resulted in the creation of a longlist of 40 ideas for better data sharing. Those ideas were taken to the Partnership Executive Group which decided on six to pilot.
Crump explained that those six ideas are based on some of the critical issues faced by the county. Those six issues are: patient flow from hospital to social care settings, domestic abuse, falls and frailty, emergency planning and critical responses, connecting families and targeting support, and a business intelligence register.
Each pilot project had to meet three requirements. Within each project there had to be the possibility to link systems, data sharing had to have a positive effect on vulnerabilities in Worcestershire, and data sharing had to create benefit across a variety of Worcestershire public services.
With the domestic abuse pilot, the aim was to take perpetrator information from West Mercia Police and share it with other agencies; bringing together siloed data.
He said: “We realised that was helpful however it still only gave one part of understanding domestic abuse in Worcestershire. We ended up creating an electronic portal that we could share incident-related data for domestic abuse, across West Mercia Police, the NHS, Children’s Social Care and Adult Social Care.”
Crump said that previously this data sharing was all done manually with people coming together face to face in “triage meetings” and each agency using their own IT network and their own source applications. “As well as the physical co-location, you then get the data co-location,” he said of the new system.
As a result of the electronic portal being implemented, those triage meetings are now sometimes not needed or much shorter with just one or two critical questions having to be answered because data is shared in advance.
With the portal in place, Crump and his team realised they could expand it and change the workflow to exchange data for the Child Exploitation and Missing Persons services as well.
Not only are there sometimes links between domestic abuse and these issues, the teams from different agencies can be working on the same challenges.
These different service lines were therefore put into the portal, resulting in teams that accessed the portal specifically around domestic abuse then being able to also access it for child exploitation issues. “We realised we could take the portal and apply it to different use cases.”
As a result of data sharing with this and the other five pilot projects Crump said that frontline staff of the public sector agencies have been freed up to do more useful things, which is an important return on investment. Crump said: “Because demand is increasing so much on our public services, we’re not looking to reduce frontline people.”
To ensure that data was shared ethically and with respect for privacy, Crump set up the WODA Information Governance Group, comprised of information governance professionals from all the concerned agencies who meet regularly, to solve practical problems and support project delivery.
They use a cloud-based tool, Information Sharing Gateway, to create and collaborate on data sharing agreements. The idea and solution came from a group of information governance professionals in Lancashire working mainly in the NHS.
“Before, across the public sectors in Worcestershire, each agency had their own processes for doing information sharing agreements, all using different templates. This is a way that we could standardise our approach to information sharing agreements across the public sector agencies,” said Crump.
“We took the out of the box solution from this Information Sharing Gateway. There was already a GDPR-compliant way of doing it within the software, so we evaluated the tool, we looked at how we could use it locally and now we use that to create our multi-agency information sharing agreements online.”
One lesson that Crump learnt is that timing has to be right. If one of the partner agencies is willing but not able to fully participate because of misaligned timelines and current objectives, the ultimate aim will not be reached. He realised this from the Business Intelligence Register Pilot, where central government was not able to participate according to the desired timelines of Worcestershire County Council.
Moving forward, the online portal which allows the sharing of information between the NHS, West Mercia Police, and Adult and Children’s Social Care will be extended to eight more organisations including the voluntary and community sector such as Women’s Aid and both public and private probation service providers, in the coming months.
“Each of the frontline professionals were already working with them in terms of having the verbal conversation, so this is providing a more secure and consistent mechanism for doing so,” Crump explained.
After the initial 12 months, WODA was extended for a further six months and in March 2019 Worcestershire County Council took leadership of it. “It means we can ensure the long term delivery of WODA,” said Crump.
With ideas borrowed from Lancashire as well as pilot projects conceived and developed within Worcestershire County Council, data innovation has delivered real value to residents. “It was very brave really from each of the organisations to actively take a decision that they wanted to accelerate our use of data.”