How sharing public sector data can solve societal problems

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Lee Howell, currently seconded to Avon and Somerset Constabulary as chief fire officer, is committed to taking the benefits and learnings from working with data into the real world to solve strategic problems, and he thinks to key to this is sharing data.
The specific outcomes that Howell wants are safer communities and a reduction in demand for emergency services. He thinks this can be achieved with early intervention by targeting prevention activity in the right way.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service signed up to a programme to share data with Avon and Somerset Police and several local authorities within the catchment area of the fire service.
These organisations are all part of the Office for Data Analytics programme, an initiative established in June 2016 by Nesta to enable numerous public sector bodies in the same city or region to converge, analyse and act on their collective data.

“You can make a difference by acting on the whole system.”

“When you look at the whole system of public sector, you can really make a difference by acting on the whole system not just looking at the world through your own organisational lens or statutory duty,” said Howell.
The different bodies drew road safety information from a range of sources from all the police forces in the South West region, as well as data from Highways England and acute health data. This  amounted to 517,00 specific pieces of information. The tools used included Microsoft Azure, BAE Systems, Accenture and Qlik. By filtering out everything except collision data, they were able to see that accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles were spiking on weekday afternoons around the time that children leave school.
This meant that road safety awareness campaigners then knew that they would need to target their activities to change behaviours of pedestrians and motorists when using the roads at this time. Howell also revealed that traditionally the average age of a fatal victim of a road collision is assumed to be quite young at around 17 or so. However, the collective data showed that it was in fact 46. As a result, road safety educators now know that they should direct their efforts at older drivers.

“The data tells you the story.”

Howell said: “The data tells you the story, you target your activities based on what the data is telling, not what you think you should be doing, and that changing culture is fundamental. By getting data from various partners together, in a way that isn’t currently used, it allows you for the first time to get a complete picture of risk.”
While Howell admitted that some societal problems will be easier to solve than others – for example serious organised crime would be much trickier to address than arson – greater data sharing and better tools that facilitate that sharing can maximise the benefit of early intervention.
Lee Howell was speaking at Big Data LDN.

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