The role of open data in public service reform
Author: David Ayre
- Service Data and AI
- Sector Local government
- Date 04 February 2021
Local Government Partner, David Ayre, shares his thoughts on his time at Budapest Smart City event as a panellist to discuss the role and use of open data and technology in public service reform in the city.
Budapest Smart City event
Over the past nine months, TPXimpact has been working with the city of Budapest to design and deliver a new healthcare service for residents. With a new administration, the city has a bold vision for the future and the ambition to set the standard for digitally enabled service delivery in Hungary. As part of our work, we’ve also supported them to design their first Digital, Data and Technology Strategy with clear parameters for change and a shared vision for the future. This has included hiring the first service designer in the municipality to continue the work we’ve done together, long after we’ve gone.
At the end of 2020, I joined the Budapest Smart City event as a panellist to discuss the role and use of open data and technology in public service reform in the city. This was a chance to join colleagues from Prague, Vienna and Warsaw and share our experiences of testing new approaches, standards and governance of data. It also offered an insight into the potential to improve the focus and approach of cities across Europe and learn more about the direction of travel across the EU.
Here are my reflections from the event.
The right tools for the right reasons
One of the ways to succeed in this area is by focusing on value. Too often, new and shiny tech is adopted without a clear, holistic view of how it fits in the technical architecture of a city, or how it benefits residents and staff. This is particularly true in the case of artificial intelligence. Cities want to find efficiencies in the way they deliver their services and see bots and other similar automated processes as being the answer.
However, this efficiency is not always effective. Will the adoption of this technology help cities deal with residents quicker while solving their problems? And If the metric of success is quantity rather than quality, how does this create impact on the demand for wider services?
We’ve been working with Budapest to understand what the simplest, quickest and cheapest way of testing new delivery models for their services are. Going through this process has allowed us to clearly focus on where we can add the most value for residents and the organisation, making sure they’re adopting the right tools for the right reasons.
Building trust in data
It’s widely considered that opening up data sets can help spark innovation in a city. And this provides more opportunities across a range of factors to solve public service challenges. This is most obvious in the case of Citymapper using TfL data in London.
To get to this point requires significant thought, effort and new forms of partnership to make it a success. It asks hard questions of organisations about their data governance, quality and standards that will often have far-reaching implications beyond an initial service that’s exploring open data.
From experience, it can also be the case that opening up data is as much a shift in mindset as it is in practice. Adopting open standards for data means you need to find a balance between improved data literacy but also building trust in the use of data.
Our previous work in Doncaster found that data was fragmented and difficult to access, which makes it problematic to use effectively, and ultimately eroded trust. By building new partnerships, we were able to begin filling in gaps and mobilising a broad range of parties around a shared challenge. Without this alignment, delivering the impact you want to see can be hard to do.
Put impact for residents at the heart
It’s clear that having a focus on how this supports an organisation to achieve meaningful impact for residents is essential. The need to be a careful custodian of data at a time when security and privacy are high on the public agenda is critical.
This means that a balance needs to be struck between obvious organisational or commercial benefit with what it means for residents. Being transparent about the motivations for the use and adoption of open data, and what this will mean for the services they receive and the outcomes it will achieve, is part of the radical shift to new delivery models that this enables.
In Budapest, where building public trust in the city government is high on the agenda, finding the right balance and approach to where and how they do this in future is a primary focus.
Taking learnings from the event, over the next nine months we’ll continue to support Budapest in their journey of digital transformation and their desire to be at the forefront of Smart City developments in the EU.