Making place based approaches a reality

Georgina Maratheftis, head of local government at techUK, explains how the technology sector can be involved in a place based approach to local services

Place-based approaches in local government are ultimately done to put the citizen at the heart of the service. There is a complex ecosystem with local public services continuing to face financial constraints in the face of rising demand and growing citizen expectations, and there is increasing recognition that challenges across public services provision are interlinked. Take, for example, preventing and tackling homelessness. This requires partnership between the council, the voluntary and health sector, and housing. Local authorities can begin working more strategically to predict and prevent homelessness by identifying households at risk of losing their home and work with housing associations to provide temporary accommodation and settled housing. This joined-up approach is therefore central efforts to tackle homelessness at the local level.

Technology is instinctively designed to assist collaboration, helping to make a place-based approach a reality. The Wigan’s award-winning ‘The Deal’ uses technology to facilitate the delivery of integrated services with communities at the heart of service delivery. The Council has worked closely with voluntary, third sector and private sector partners, to support community initiatives which use technology to create self-reliance. Its ambition is for Wigan to be a place where people want to invest, work and visit.

Within this article, we will explore key place-based innovation themes and best practice examples of how technology can be deployed to enable seamless service integration to improve processes and outcomes, empowering citizens to manage their own situation. Finally, we will discuss the importance of leadership in driving the cultural shift that will underpin the success of future public service offerings.  

Data-enriched places
A data-enriched place can provide more citizen-centric services. However, for this to be successful, the data needs to be of the highest quality and be shared in an effective and secure manner. Regions are creating offices for data analytics to bring together local public service agencies.

The Worcestershire Office of Data Analytics (WODA) aims to improve data sharing across the county. It brings together partners across the local government public services to introduce innovative ways to address challenges using frontline insights that generate a data-driven culture through digital transformation. As we move towards a place-based approach, many councils are opening an office of data analytics - West Midlands secured one as part of its new devolution deal – to overcome obstacles to data sharing and use analytics to better manage demand. This is certainly a positive approach that should scale throughout the country.

Furthermore, with increasing cross-agency working and greater collaboration, technologies, such as cloud-based services, are being deployed to ensure delivery partners can seamlessly work together – whether remotely or physically onsite – to find solutions to local challenges.  

Tech is an enabler that makes a place-based approach a reality. Tech facilitates solutions to the problem faced by local public services. One of the essential ways to achieve this is by bringing local public services and the tech industry together early in the procurement system to interrogate what the challenge is, understand the art of the possible, and validate ideas.

Connected places
Technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), can help create smart places and communities. The use of IoT sensors in key local assets, like roads and bridges, which can cross local boundaries, also provides another opportunity for local agencies to generate a common view of the state of local infrastructure and coordinate and take action together, where needed.

Sensors can also help create a more connected health and social care system and put citizens in charge of their care. CityVerve in Manchester is using IoT to join people together across the population of 2.5 million. As part of its Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) treatment project, an app is used to alert its users if the sensors in their home detect an unhealthy temperature or if particular parts of the city are badly polluted that day. There is also a map feature to highlight COPD-friendly social areas. In addition, the app is linked to a smart inhaler which records how often it is being used – and can advise the patient to order new prescriptions when it is running low.

Digital leadership
Technology, however, is the easy part. Leadership and culture are essential in creating the environment for people and agencies to feel confident and empowered to break down silos and share – whether that’s data or experiences. The devolved areas are a good starting point in demonstrating the possibility of a place-based approach and engendering change. The Mayors have the levers and powers to reshape and integrate services, creating places where citizens want to live, work and thrive. As outlined in techUK’s Digital Devolution: A Guide for Mayors, they can be the figureheads and champions to improve coordination by convening stakeholders across the city-region to accelerate the pace of transformation.

More and more local public services are collaborating but there is still some way to go before it becomes the norm. The Local Digital Declaration, which techUK is a co-publisher of, has created momentum behind collaboration and uniting local public services to respond to common challenges, either from the Local Digital Fund or by sharing patterns and templates. The Declaration is a joint endeavour initiated by the UK Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Government Digital Service (GDS), and a collection of local authorities and sector bodies from across the UK. With 61 signatories, including two fire and rescue service, the aim is to co-create the conditions for the next generation of local public services, where technology is an enabler rather than a barrier to service improvements. Never has it been possible to collaborate so effectively across local public services and boundaries.

techUK has also championed the appointment of a regional Chief Digital Officers (CDO) as such an appointment sends a clear signal of commitment that digital and collaborative working are the new norm. We’ve already seen this appointment in London, Salford and Leeds. In Leeds the CDO is accountable for delivery of place-based outcomes for and across multiple organisations including three CCGs as well Leeds City Council.

Doing things differently
Local public services have a great opportunity to be at the forefront in creating the conditions for successful collaboration. That is why techUK has published ‘Collaboration for public safety outcomes’ paper for local public services to provide some technology tools and ideas that have the potential to transform public safety services. It highlights the role that culture, processes and procedures have in empowering technological solutions to facilitate collaboration. In addition to highlighting what the art of the possible is, the supplier community can work with local public services to deliver more interoperable solutions. Interoperability and standards could be a whole article in itself, but an importance piece of the place base puzzle.

It is about bringing technology and place together to solve the pressing issues our communities face, and creating places where citizens want to live, work, thrive and feel safe. There is a time and a place for improved collaboration... and it's now!

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