Prototyping an OpenCommunity Data Service model

Full Application: Funded

Our OpenCommunity Discovery found significant duplication of effort and cost in the provision of community based service information in local areas, as well as significant challenges around interoperability and usability. 

Our report estimates that substantial savings across 160 upper tier councils could be made if these issues were addressed, totalling at least £18.7m a year. 

The discovery found that significant benefits could be delivered through the adoption and development of a national data standard, based on the existing OpenReferral community services standard. Our research also found usability, cost, and interoperability issues with existing directory software, and massive duplication of effort with multiple, closed service directories being used in the same geographies within and across organisations. 

We found that service directory users have a wide spectrum of needs. Professionals need far quicker and easier access to information than currently provided. Existing public-facing directories and web services generally have poor usability and users with lower level support needs need far easier discovery using more natural language than the data categories and search terms currently used. Our research also showed that some directory information can be made public, and some cannot; and that there is scope to make discovery and connection to community based services far more human. These findings point to taking a clear user needs / service design approach to developing the OpenCommunity standard. 

The NHS, DWP, Police and others have a clear need to connect to reliable, well structured local community service data, and a critical insight was that community service providers have limited resources and do not have the capacity to keep multiple local and national directories up to date

A well-designed data standard could support effective and consistent provision of the right information that supports identified user needs, and this needs to be iteratively developed by prototyping what an OpenCommunity Data Service could look like for a local area, addressing all the user needs our research found. 

Acknowledging the significant challenges around adoption of any new model of working, the discovery also highlighted the need to build an OpenCommunity ecosystem, across several identified groups: community service providers, data custodians, infrastructure providers, strategic enablers and the standards community. We believe this community building work will be critical to the alpha project

As a result of the work done so far, Buckinghamshire were recently able to submit an application to the NHS Social Care Digital Pathfinder and this has been successful, attracting £50k alpha funding for this project. By working in the open, we have also identified two more authorities that wish to participate in the alpha; Leeds and Croydon. Leeds also have a project underway to build an alpha community data service and we are in the process of aligning the design and development work between Leeds and Buckinghamshire, with Croydon and Adur and Worthing supporting at this stage. 

Prototyping a data service will involve: the development and iteration of the standard to meet the user needs identified in the discovery, prototyping a data service product, design and testing of data administration approaches and exploring the use of the data service and standard by existing applications and suppliers (e.g. website, social care system or social prescribing tool), and potentially prototyping new front end applications as demonstrators.

We know that the problem of multiple, costly and hard to maintain community service directories is common to all localities, and that this is detrimental to all stakeholders, including service users, service providers and professionals. We know that the lack of common standards and interoperability is maintaining practice silos and siloed commissioning, preventing effective connections between organisations and stifling innovation. It’s an inefficient mess. 

Our discovery, which focused on user needs undertaking 49 in-depth interviews, has helped us get a clear sense of the different stakeholders operating in this area, and the different requirements people have, challenging some of our assumptions about how people work, and what they need. Our emphasis on user needs and service design has informed how we need to take community building and needs based approaches to this work. 

Our working in the open has sparked discussions and strong connections with the NHS which have helped us secure funding from the social care digital pathfinder, creating the buy-in and coalition that we clearly need between health and social care. We have learnt that working with the NHS is critical to success, as it will help drive adoption in localities if the NHS has expectations around community data standards. We are working with NHS England to align to their work on using data standards to support digital social prescribing. We have also secured strategic support from the Department of Work and Pensions who have a similar need to access reliable community service data. 

We believe our alpha project will give us the opportunity to explore whether an OpenCommunity standard and data service offer in an area can help improve access to community services by service users, and reduce costs and fragmentation. We have seen how many different organisations need access to this information, and the ecosystem of digital services that could consume a trusted, standardised and open data source such as NHS services, social prescribing, DWP and social care systems. 

In our alpha, working on the ground in Buckinghamshire and Leeds, we will establish and start to grow communities of practice, and prototype products that can be iterated and scaled up and out to become national infrastructure. We see this project as potentially providing infrastructure akin to Gov Pay and Notify, creating an effective data service model that is easy to adopt and implement by local authorities across the UK. We will also work with software providers to promote the adoption of the standard and contribute to its development over time, and look at how the adoption of the standard can be accelerated through procurement practices. 

We will explore during the alpha the ownership, governance and funding implications of creating shared infrastructure in the local government / NHS context.

Our discovery report developed estimates of the financial benefits of implementing an OpenCommunity data service. We looked at the 160 upper tier authorities with social care responsibilities, although savings will also accrue elsewhere, such as the NHS as a result of effective social prescribing, and in the community and voluntary sector through reduced administration. 

Based on just one more person per authority remaining independent for an additional year (delaying nursing and residential care) as a result of accessing the right community services via OpenCommunity, we estimate £7m savings nationally per year. Based on savings from reduced local data administration and lower (de-duplicated) software costs, we estimate £11.69m cashable savings per year. 

This is equivalent to £116k per authority area. The total investment from MHCLG could eventually total as follows: 

  • £80k Discovery
  • £50k Alpha
  • £350k Beta

Total £480k 

This would mean that only 5 councils/areas would need to adopt the OpenCommunity data service before achieving a return on investment. With Adur & Worthing, Leeds, Croydon and Buckinghamshire already working towards adopting the standard, we expect to show a return on the investment in a relatively short period of time.

Our project will continue to use the blog at to communicate progress and build the network through subscriptions. 

Delivery will be agile and managed in the same was as during the discovery project. We supported the usual agile rituals with Trello, Google Docs, Slack and regular phone check-ins. We will continue to use these tools throughout the alpha. 

Publishing weeknotes was a great way to share the week’s activity and keep a regular cadence of communication to the wide audience of stakeholders. Show and Tells will be shared live online so that anyone can check and challenge the work we are doing. 

We have successfully maintained fortnightly video conferencing throughout the discovery project and afterwards, which has proved the best method of maintaining and coordinating the work. Our delivery partner Snook were fundamental to our success in the discovery stage and we would seek a delivery partner to assist with the development of the alpha service and also support community and ecosystem development activities. 

As part of the procurement process, we will create a clear project brief which will clarify the roles and responsibilities of each partner, ensuring compliance with the Local Digital Declaration and local digital service standards. We will expect our delivery partner to meet the requirements of the brief by forming partnerships with others as needed. 

The fortnightly meetings will be used to track progress, and will involve the allocated MHCLG point of contact by default. 

We know that the success of this project rests on effective community building nationally as well as in local areas. We will seek support from MHCLG to convene round tables of strategic leaders from NHS(X), DWP, NAVCO, LGA, GDS and others so that we can show progress, and gain feedback in order to ensure we are meeting strategic needs. 

We will appreciate support from MHCLG in procuring the delivery partner through the Digital Marketplace, and in providing identified training for council staff as needed

The Leeds Repository project team took part in the NHS Managing Large Scale Change training programme, and there would be advantages in other partners seeking to influence changes across systems undertaking similar development.