Data maturity in local government

Black and white photo of someone running up steep stairs

I’d like to talk about Data Maturity

Data maturity has recently become a big thing in my life, not least because of my involvement in Data Evolution: a project looking into data maturity in charities and social enterprises. As part of that project some of my colleagues have undertaken a desk review of data maturity models.

I’ve found these models helpful in thinking how I work with specific organisations in a couple of ways:

  • I turn up and start talking about Google Analytics it is really helpful to get a sense of what the culture of the organisation is around the use of data to inform decisions first
  • Some of the tacit assumptions I have about the use of data and targets to manage organisations come from my experience in a reasonably data-mature organisation. In less mature organisations I find that we have little shared frame of reference.

Data vs open data

I’m also interested in the relationship (if there is one) between the data maturity of an organisation (the culture in the organisation around the use of data to inform and improve decision making) and the open data maturity (the publication and use of open data to support and enable a wider ecosystem).

So obviously I pitched a session on this at LocalGovCamp. We were a select band but I was delighted that anyone else at all wanted to talk about this topic.

What, actually, is data maturity?

We kicked around the idea that organisations can be at different stages on a data maturity gradient. Within Data Evolution my colleague Sian Basker often describes a broad sweep:

  1. ad-hoc gathering of data in some areas
  2. pulling data together centrally
  3. starting to use data looking backwards (how did we do last year? what should we do differently?)
  4. using data in real time to manage the organisation and move resources rapidly
  5. modelling the future before making decisions to enable better decisions to be taken
  6. modelling the future the organisation wants and working backwards to understand what needs to happen now to deliver that future

And all the evidence is that it’s hard work (and takes a long time) to progress along this gradient.

This seemed to resonate with our experience of local government.

Would a model help local government?

We concluded that a local government data maturity model might be really helpful:

  • to begin to structure conversations in organisations
  • to help people understand where their organisation is
  • to help people understand where their organisation might get to
  • to help inform decision making, investment and planning

Lucy Knight shared her experience of using the ODI Open Data Maturity model in just this way (to have useful conversations around open data).

There are some specific things to consider around local government. In England certainly, parliament has made a set of assumptions around the data maturity not just of councils but also of the local public service system. The requirement to undertake Joint Strategic Needs Assessments for example, assumes a minimum level of maturity. It will be interesting to reflect on how realistic these assumptions are.

Minimum viable models

Then we did what any self-respecting group of govcampers would do in such a situation: we got out a flipchart and started thinking about the sort of things that would be helpful to include in a local government data maturity model. Lucy Knight has already spun up a Google Doc with our first thoughts on a data maturity model for local government.

More, as they say, as we get it.

PS. Though no-one from NESTA was there it’s worth noting the Local DataVores research project which is investigating these sorts of areas (NESTA is also part funding Data Evolution: thanks NESTA!)