Measuring “no one left behind”; how Barking & Dagenham democratised data to improve outcomes
The council of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is committed to ensuring no residents are "left behind". The population of the borough experiences the highest level of deprivation in the London and has historically struggled with many social and environmental indicators of success. Coupled with central government mandated austerity, the local authority required a strategic decision-making tool to illustrate at a community level where the most investment is needed to improve outcomes.
1) How the course of action was determined:
In late 2015 an independent review of the borough was commissioned by the council. The product of this review was known as the "Growth Commission" and it ascertained that despite being the most deprived borough of London, the borough had the largest growth potential. However, economic growth lead by infrastructure development alone would not be sufficient, the council needed to think about social and environmental outcomes for its residents to ensure "no-one left behind". However this independent review did not go as far as detail how "no-one left behind" could or should be measured. This innovation was therefore borne out of an acknowledgement of the review but a challenge to the borough about what this new mantra truly means.
2) What the innovation is, objectives and goals:
The 'Measuring "no-one left behind" project was launched by the internal insight team in early 2017. The innovation is the collation of 84 social and environmental indicators across two years which can be mapped at a borough, ward and lower super output area geographic levels. Approximately half of the datasets are internal and the remaining half are publicly available already albeit fragmented. Using the Social Progress Imperative's methodology, these datasets were mapped to the SPI framework. Each dataset added required extensive collaboration and consultation with subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and validity. The second part of the innovation is the visualisation of the index in a web platform. This product was launched as the "Borough Data Explorer" and is now publicly available.
The objectives of the project were to;
a) Build a recognisable framework to re-define and measure the borough's social and environmental growth year on year
b) Use the tool to activate multiple stakeholders including the police and health services to join forces and deal with the most difficult social issues the borough faces
c) Build a tool to provide evidence of the impact of certain interventions (policy and projects) on the community
d) Use data to hold decision-makers to account and make this data entirely transparent and easily accessible by everyone
The goals of this project are to:
a) Replicate the project with the other 31 London boroughs and form greater collaborations across other local authorities
b) Use the SPI to influence and shape LBBD's approach to the Social Value Act, a national legislation that only a few councils in the UK have managed to adopt. This project has the potential to transform the way the council commissions future services.
3) What our sponsor and collaborator have said about this project:
Councillor Saima Ashraf, the Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement has this to say about the innovation: "the Insight team have taken our ambition of "no-one left behind" and have made it into a very real and useful tool. "No-one left behind" means different things to different stakeholders and what the team have done is captured the very real social issues that we face as a borough and given us a tool to track our progress every year. For me the ease of use is key; data can be a very difficult subject area to understand but what the team has done is create a tool that provides insight in an instant at our own fingertips. As a ward councillor, the ward indexes, yearly comparisons and coloured progress ratings clearly illustrates where our attention and efforts should be for our residents."
Michael Green, the CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, had this to say about how innovative this project is: “Barking and Dagenham is the first local authority in the world to have built a Social Progress Index at the level of granularity of the ward. This is an outstanding innovation in the use of the Index that we plan to scale in the UK and globally. This innovation was an initiative of Barking and Dagenham, who approached the Social Progress Imperative having learned about the Index to see if it could be harnessed to support the Borough's Plans. Our experience globally is that such projects require committed local partners who will commit their own resources and want to drive the project. Barking and Dagenham clearly met this requirement. The Barking and Dagenham Index has pioneered the use of administrative data with other data to bring the comparative measure of social progress to a local level. Barking and Dagenham has also innovated in data visualisation and is already developing new ways of using the data to support policy and programme design, and for dialogue between the council, residents and stakeholders. We are optimistic that we will see a clear case study of how the Social Progress Index can impact spending and policy decisions to have a real, positive impact on people’s lives. We are already exploring how to scale this model across local authorities in England and will be sharing this experience globally.”
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The project is innovative for several reasons and across a number of organisational layers:
1) Strategy and Policy - previously a fragmented approach across the local authority, the social progress framework ties together and standardises an approach to policy development. As it is entirely data-driven and can be backdated (we backdated the result to 2016 and 2017) so we could view changes in outcomes against previously designed strategies and policies.
2) Evidence base for social investment - prior to the launch of our project the council had never attempted alternative funding routes for social investment such as Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). Since the launch of the project, the council has embarked upon two SIBs and successfully attracted funding from social investors. This is because the social progress scorecards evidenced the need and can also be used to evidence the success of the intervention.
3) This is confirmed as the first Social Progress Index at ward-level in the world.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Currently the social progress visualisation platform (known as the "borough data explorer") has been launched publicly. There are two major events where the project has been showcased. Firstly, at the "State of the Borough Conference" the project was showcased to over 100 stakeholders from outside of the council, which has activated multiple cross-sector strategies to collectively deal with some of the borough's most pressing issues. Secondly the results of project were used on a three-day leadership event held by the council with the most senior directors in the organisation. Consequently, several business cases have been aligned to the results of the project and now new ideas to improve social outcomes are being developed into proposals. One proposal for example is on fuel poverty. The council are starting their own renewable energy company to alleviate fuel poverty for its residents. Using the results of our project, the council now knows exactly who in the borough would benefit.
Collaborations & Partnerships
LBBD's in-house Insight team created and lead the design and deployment of the solution whilst working in collaboration with the Social Progress Imperative whom have previously designed the Social Progress Index at national and regional levels. The methodology behind the index was scaled down to a ward-level of geography by the Insight team which has never been done before even by the Social Progress Imperative. LBBD then partnered with Emu Analytics to visualise the results via a web platform.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The following groups are affected by the innovation:
1) The council - can reshape its service provision to provide the best outcome for residents. The Transformation programme is responsible for resident-centric design.
2) Local ward councillors - have full visibility of the most pressing social and environmental concerns of their ward and a way to measure progress.
3) Residents - can view with total transparency whether people in the borough are being "left-behind" and challenge decisions.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The impact of the project to date has been:
1) The Corporate Policy team have included the project's results in the council's Corporate Plan. This is refreshed every year meaning the index will also be refreshed annually to ensure the council can track progress.
2) The Communications and Campaigns team have re-organised their planned annual campaigns to focus on campaigning on some of the most worst performing indicators on the index. Over the next year the team will design campaigns to improve the top 10 worst indicators. Previously the team used to design campaigns without any insight nor understanding of whether the campaigns' success could be measured.
3) The index was presented at the annual 'State of the Borough Conference' as well as a 3-day leadership away day with all the directors of the council.
Future plans include use of the index to respond to the government's Social Value Act where the council will use the index to decide on how to commission services per ward.
Challenges and Failures
Some of the key challenges faced during the project included initial leadership buy-in and data availability. As this solution had never been done before in local government, articulating its potential benefits to both the executive as well as political leadership took a few attempts. What made us successful in overcoming this was illustrating the current difficulties the organisation faced when measuring the impact of its projects on the community. The current paradigm for measurement tends to be on economic outputs e.g. number of jobs created. This is because it is easy to measure. However, socio-environmental indicators can be much harder to capture e.g. fuel poverty, community harmony and non-decent homes. Despite being harder to capture, they are more important to residents, hence we felt it was important to measure what matters despite challenges in data availability. Since project completion the entirety of the leadership of the council are huge advocates of the final product.
Conditions for Success
1) Support from senior leaders to experiment was essential. This required a huge level of input and creativity from the internal Insight team so senior leaders had to trust in staff to deliver; this couldn't have been delivered by external consultants.
2) Commitment to action; there is no point in developing the project if there was no commitment to act on the results. Since all the results are fully transparent, even members of the public can use the data to hold their local politicians and the council to account. The internal policy team were fully committed to changing local policy and including the results of the project in the corporate plan.
3) Local knowledge was key; the Insight team co-designed the index with local stakeholders to ensure we collected the right data. This included a wide range of stakeholders within and outside of the council including the police, the health service and environment agencies.
4) An undeterred vision to measure "no one left behind"
The tool is already being used by wider stakeholders in civil society. For example, some voluntary sector organisations are currently using the tool as evidence to bid for government funding. If replicated across the country the Social Progress Index could revive a more outcome focused third sector which is properly funded.
Other councils have also approached the LBBD Insight team to replicate the tool for their own geographic area. LBBD, the Social Progress Imperative and Emu Analytics are currently in discussion to start replicating and expanding the model for other local government areas across the UK. The initial focus has been replication across the 31 boroughs of London.
The project has also been presented at the London Prosperity Board (LPB) (https://londonprosperityboard.org/); a collective of London boroughs, partners and think-tanks discussing new and innovative ways to measure the prosperity of Londoners. LPB are currently championing our project across their network.
1) Requires internal commitment at multiple levels in the hierarchy at both executive and political levels
What made this project successful in the initial phases was the committed leadership from the council's Director of Policy and the Deputy Leader of the council, as well as the trust and approval of the council's Chief Executive. We were given the capacity to explore and the freedom to make mistakes. These individuals had nothing to use to benchmark the solution, instead they put their trust in the Insight team to set the benchmark themselves.
2) When starting something that has never been done before, do your research and exhaust your networks.
When we started this initiative, we engaged with many different specialists in the field of Index development. We started with the Social Progress Imperative (and ultimately adopted their methodology) but also engaged with the London Prosperity Board (which is comprised of the Institute of Global Prosperity and University College London) for their advice. We also tested pilots of our idea out on policy researchers and at least three national think-tanks for their feedback.
3) Internal Data Science skills are a necessity
This type of project needs to be internally resourced because repeating the index every year will add more value to the results. It is for this reason that the Insight team took it upon themselves to lead the project from idea generation to implementation. We have seen central government attempt to develop indices at a country level, but these are always implemented by external consultants with little or no influence on the ability for the government to change and act in accordance with the results.
4) Protect data but be transparent with it
In local government we are sometimes afraid to publish data fearing reputational risk. Many UK councils hence opt to publish performance related data (which focuses on inputs and outputs) rather than data on outcomes. Focus on data that matters.
The CEO of Emu Analytics, one of our collaborators, provided a quote on their experience with us:
"Emu worked with LBBD’s Insight team after having first met whilst collaborating on a project during a hackathon in March 2018. LBBD are the first local authority that the company has worked with, having previously focused predominantly in the private sector in fields such as telecoms, transport and energy. Working with the council's Insight team on a very innovative and exciting initiative has been a very rewarding exercise, allowing us to both evolve our product capabilities, widen our customer footprint and to open doors for the business into other public sector organisations. The LBBD team were very innovation focused, understanding that the value of their data is in its ability to be easily accessed, interpreted and utilised by residents. The team were friendly, intelligent, data-savvy and most importantly for us, willing to work with a young SME on a very public facing project."