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Enhancing the lives of residents through data

Written by Alison McKenzie-Folan, Deputy Chief Executive at Wigan Council

Wigan Council in Greater Manchester is utilising its digital interactions and data to transform its relationship with its residents and communities.

The Council, recently named the Local Government Chronicle’s ‘Digital Council of the Year’, has a wide-ranging digital strategy to drive behaviour change. In this post Alison Mckenzie-Folan, Deputy Chief Executive, describes how big data is transforming, enhancing and even extending lives.

Since councils were founded in the 19th century they have existed to serve their communities.

But how best do they achieve that service in this era of fast-paced digital change?

At Wigan Council, where we provide more than 700 services to a population of 320,000 residents, we have been passionate about digital for some years and the power it holds for transforming services and residents’ lives.

The power of digital is integral to our deal with our residents – an informal agreement promoting self-reliance and community participation – and our aspirations for healthier, cleaner and happier communities. One obvious example of how we are using data effectively is via online personal accounts, called ‘MyAccount,’ which have 49,000 sign ups so far.

Tailored content

Through MyAccount we can build up a richer picture of our residents and the services they consume. We provide tailored content, advice and guidance about services and use this data to develop services and a different relationship with our community.

We have been using powerful personalisation platform Agilsys Engage, to help us learn more about customer behaviour and to disrupt poorly performing service channels and if necessary close them down. MyAccount can help us interact with engaged residents – but what about the most vulnerable in our communities?

Our robust data sharing approach is directly helping those most at risk of poor health, low education outcomes and people most likely to be receiving help from multiple public service organisations. Of course these are also the residents costing the public purse the most.

Our risk stratification tool was developed to establish someone’s risk of being admitted to hospital and identifies those in the top 30% at risk of admission. This cohort has been used as a focus for our social services neighbourhood teams.

Initial work has indicated a 35% reduction in A&E attendances, 43% reduction in non-elective inpatient admissions and 17% reduction in outpatient appointments. This is a fantastic achievement – using the power of our data to directly improve health outcomes for at-risk people. In Wigan we have pushed risk stratification further by taking advantage of our high match rate of NHS numbers across health and social care.

This enables us to match data and look at service utilisation across both sectors to assess and predict service demand. We are rolling this approach out across wider public sector organisations to build a sister risk stratification tool, which will enable us to build in more data such as probation and housing data.

Again this will allow us to better predict future demand and inform service planning.

Meanwhile, our Behavioural Economics Work Programme has helped us to target our interventions and communications to greatest effect.

Successful examples include:

  • Changing the wording on reminder notices for unpaid council tax. A pilot run increased earlier payments by 10% and has now been fully adopted. It has the potential to prevent over 700 cases a year going to bailiffs and a forecast increase in earlier payments of £590,000
  • Changing the communication style of the National Child Measurement Programme letter sent to parents of children identified as being overweight. This resulted in an increase in sign-ups to a healthy lifestyle programmes and holiday clubs. The success of the trial has been discussed at a national steering group which is looking at mapping similar work nationally
  • Changing the construction and wording of the children and families social care feedback questionnaire to improve the quality of feedback from service users. The trial led to an increase in detailed feedback – intelligence which is now being used to improve and shape future service delivery. The new approach was fully rolled out in January.

We plan to extend our behavioural economics programme across the council to areas where it can have the greatest impact and add it to our staff development. At Wigan we are incredibly proud of our work so far, but we are aware this is only the beginning of realising the potential of our data and digital platforms.

We are lucky to have such passionate and talented staff, who are constantly looking at the big technology trends like big data, smart cities, IoT, and the growth of smart phones, all with one common goal: to improve the lives of our residents and the communities in which they live.

Alison Mckenzie-Folan is Deputy Chief Executive at Wigan Council. You can follow the local authority on Twitter @WiganCouncil. Alison will deliver a keynote address at the 11th National Digital Conference on 1 5 June. Register here: http://www.nd16.co.uk/

Vote for Wigan in Digital Council of the Year in the DL100: http://www.digileaders100.com/vote/#council

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