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Camden Council CIO Wants To Save Lives With Data Analytics

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Omid Shiraji, CIO of London Borough of Camden, reveals how the council is mapping data to help vulnerable people

What is the biggest challenge for you as a council CIO?

From a local authority point of view, if you think about what the big challenges are, they’re in helping people in really complex social situations with very complex needs. And also making sure that you’re borough or town or city runs well – the bins are collected, parks are clean and all that kind of stuff.

We did something really interesting at Camden. It’s a pretty heartbreaking story, but we mapped a journey of a lady who was in a violent domestic relationship and she had two children. We mapped her journey with the council over the course of 10 years.

She’d gone through multiple dcamdenrug and mental health issues, and ended up with five children from three different partners. This was a manual mapping and we showed all of the touch points with different parts of the council and other agencies.

What you could see was a pattern that showed we had offered a lot of reactive and responsive care at our end but if we had seen a trigger earlier we could have intervened earlier in a different way.

This is how data could be really different. We, in the council, replaced a door a number of times in her property. We saw that as a repair but actually that’s a great indicator for domestic violence. If we were joining those things up that’s where data can really do some incredible things. That’s where we see the art of possible.


How important is it to share data in order to spot triggers like that?

I can speak on behalf of London because Camden is a London borough – one of 33. Camden’s population is about 250,000 so we have a lot of data on 250,000 people. London has 7-8 million people so that’s a very different data set.

We’re working with the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Mayor’s Office and other boroughs to figure out how we can share data across London to help tackle some of these challenges that I’ve described. We’re actually not focusing on the technology.

Cloud computing is completely irrelevant to the conversation to us. It’s about getting rid of some of the restrictions in place – perceptions or reality – and find out how we can come together across common outcomes we want to achieve, and what data we need in order to achieve that.

To what extent does legislation and compliance affect your ability to have a proactive use of data?

For local authorities there’s a whole bunch of information governance statutes, freedom of information and data protection issues that surround how we use data. Part of my challenge is trying to move the organisation from a risk averse culture to a risk appetite one that allows us to exploit the data. The way we’ve done that, and it’s a long journey, is to pick pockets of people who actually get what we can do with the data and then challenge perception. Most of the problem is perception.

If you start scratching under the surface of your legal people or information governance people who say “don’t do that”.  Ask them why and ask them to show you the law that says you shouldn’t do something. You begin to peel away some of the perception challenges.

Start small, challenge and show value quickly. That’s what we’ve started to do. It gets a bit more complicated when you start working with other agencies, such as the police and the fire service. What we’ve tried to do is find like-minded people and try to collaborate in small ways. We’ve found that to be quit useful.

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