Digital Innovation for the Right Reasons

Mark Donovan says a digital project has helped identify those most in need of public services.

When we think about digital services, we must be ambitious and with the potential reorganisation of public services underway, it will be important to move past the basic ‘digital first’ services, where citizens can apply for licenses online, book waste collection or identify potholes that need filling. All vital services, but let’s think about what we could do if we really broke down barriers between people and services, and between more than one organisation.

Imagine if you could start again, joining up all the data available about how someone interacts with government services, and finding a way of redesigning services based on what people need, when they need it. The data would likely show that some people rely very heavily on government-funded services – perhaps they live alone and need social services support, or they are regularly in and out of hospital, or maybe they are a focus of police services because they are victims of violence, or indeed are regularly involved in anti-social behavior.

Surely that would be digital innovation for the right reasons, and a concept that we in Wales would highly value. We know that many of our communities have suffered significant social deprivation, and our instincts would be to provide support for those who need it most.

Sounds like a difficult task? It would need a fresh approach from people across the public sector. How would you get the different organisations to share the data they hold in its many forms and formats? Quite tricky to do in Wales?

Well I am pleased to say we have already tried it out. It works. And the potential is enormous.

The concept came about through innovative thinking from committed public servants within the Welsh Government, local authorities – Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly, Gwent Police and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. The idea was to develop an intelligence system that could identify particularly vulnerable people who needed more support than most, and this led to a project, which was lucky enough to secure a grant from the Local Service Board European Social Fund programme to explore the concept.

Imagine if you could predict who is most likely to be vulnerable to falls and trips. The cost to the public purse for the support required in those aged 65+ has been shown to be in excess of £12,000 (King’s Fund) for the twelve months following an admission to hospital due to a fall. If you could divert some resources to preventative measures, based on real information and good evidenced data, through home adaptations or just help with shopping, you could better support people to lead full, independent lives and reduce costs across the public sector.

It sounds easy, but sharing data across agencies is technologically fraught, and this is where Atos’ specialist expertise in data management, analytics and digital came in. We worked with the multi-agency team to draw in all sorts of raw data from all sorts of systems, matched it to individual records from multiple sources, and derived insights from citizens engaging with local public services. There were issues around sharing protocols and governance arrangements, and of course such collaboration needs political buy-in.

“We don’t have a baseline for success with this project” Jonathan Pinkney at Regional Project Coordinator at Blaenau Gwent  Council said at the outset of the project, “But if at the end of the pilot we have good quality, accurate and consistent information that we can take to a social worker, and say: how can you use this data to perform your duties better – to stop someone being abused, or help someone more quickly? That will be fantastic success.”

This six month pilot project has effectively proved that it can be done. The Vulnerability Intelligence Project shows that data sharing across complex organisation in Wales is possible, and that we now have the tools available to be able to redesign services around the people who need most help, in the best way we can.

What happens next is now being discussed and debated – do we create a new notification system, so social services can be alerted if the police are called or if someone is hospitalised, so the support required can be quickly targeted, or do we focus on prevention? It’s an exciting time because the potential is astounding, and we look forward to playing our part in truly making the most of digital innovation for all the right reasons in Wales.

Mark Donovan is a Client Executive for Atos

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