OpenCommunity: data standards for local community-based services or directory of services DISCOVERY

Project details:

Organisation Devon County Council
Department Digital Communications Team
Collaboration Level Open To Conversation
Budget £50K > £100k
Key Contact Tom Dixon
Phase start 07 December 2018
Phase Estimated end 31 March 2019



This project is in receipt of MHCLG Local Digital funding as of 7th December 2019.

This is a joint project run by Adur and Worthing (Paul Brewer), Buckinghamshire (Ben Unsworth) and Devon County Council (Tom Dixon)

Our project wishes to bring joined-up, best-practice digital thinking to this challenging problem of directory-based information. Every local authority, health organisation, police force, together with other voluntary sector partners are attempting to maintain some form of directory-based information. Aside from the basic fact that this is difficult information to curate in an accurate and meaningful manner, typically there is little join-up, no data standards, quality assurance and little in the way of automated (= efficient) data harvesting or publishing via APIs. Many directories have artificial geographical boundaries, resulting in the poor provision of information to citizens located near administrative boundaries.

Our experience of maintaining directories, over many years, and conversations with different partners and suppliers locally and across England, including health, police and the voluntary sector have convinced us that there is considerable merit in undertaking discovery work to understand what a 'directory as a service' could and should look like in 2019.

We believe that the essential underpinning to any vision of joined-up data is a data standard (s). To compliment any data standard(s), and to ensure that data can be accessed and shared easily, we also believe there would be a considerable benefit to be gained by researching and defining a fully featured API or suite of APIs.

By researching and developing a common data standard based on rigorous user research, across a full range of use cases, together with best of breed APIs, any single organisation, local authority, health setting or indeed any third party can easily build an interface to the underlying data that suits their users or purpose. This could include public-facing website, social prescribing, NHS Directory of Services and 111, and aligns with the broad requirement for all public sector agencies to support prevention strategies and signpost to community-based help and support. It also supports local authority statutory duties around the provision of e.g. child care information, the universal information offer around Care Act, the Local Offer etc.

Given the existing range of approaches at the application/product level that we have found in our initial collaboration discussions, we believe a data standard with API strategy will be the most widely helpful way to approach this problem for councils.  If councils convene on the same standard, we can expect the market of existing and new suppliers to continually innovate around it.

We believe that researching patterns relating to data ownership and maintenance will be a critical area to explore. Having looked at projects elsewhere, we believe there is still a lot of research to be done to understand how it might be possible to establish a single master local community service directory in a local system and for it to be trusted and canonical.

The wider benefits of creating a proven, authoritative standard have the potential to be considerable and will be explored through Discovery. However, they could include:

  • A catalyst for innovation, allowing third parties to consume high-quality data in a consistent fashion across - England? - to create novel applications, data mashups etc
  • Far more efficient for LAs and organisations to curate data
  • Development of an ecosystem of community information, avoiding the need for one single aggregator, but all participants having equal access to information
  • Ability to pull data out for research purposes - how do we define community resilience, how do we target communities that need LA support?
  • Metrics and intelligence - e.g. dashboarding search stats offering early warning of issues
  • Will provide incentives for providers to update their information once, in an appropriate manner, in the knowledge that information can be easily syndicated via data share¬†

However, crucially, this approach should ultimately provide citizens with better outcomes - whether it be help, support, access to wellbeing, services - and lead to an improved quality of life and the opportunity to remain independent for longer.




Status Updates

21 December 2018

07 December 2018

  • Tom Dixon

    This project is in receipt of MHCLG Local Digital funding as of 7th December 2019.