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Innovation / Leadership / Big data analytics


The municipality’s analytical journey

Odense – one of Denmark’s largest municipalities – is working towards becoming more analytical, and fact and evidence based. The idea is to integrate analytical thinking on pretty much every level and to use data to drive innovation within welfare production.

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‘Our ambition is to use analyses, data and evidence to support the long-term transformation of the municipality. The politicians and the administration are well aware that we need to find new ways of doing things. The financial framework is tighter after the financial crisis and it does not look like it’s going to expand. We need to innovate the way we deliver welfare so our welfare services are experienced as better by the citizens, even though it’s become cheaper,’ says Sarah Gaarde, finance and analysis manager in Denmark’s third largest municipality. Odense combines governing with experiments and new solutions. Under the header ‘New reality new welfare’ the municipality aims for a comprehensive new way of approaching welfare deliveries.

Sarah Gaarde backs VIA – Værdi Igennem Analyse (Value through Analysis) – a special programme which is to improve the integration of analysis and fact on all levels of administration and in all institutions. Gaarde sees the initiative in the context of Big Data. Maybe it is image material or handwritten notes or something completely different that holds the biggest potential within a given area for the analytical municipality of the future?

‘We want to see whether managers could get used to requesting facts, now that we have them or are able to find them through analysis. We also want to find out in what way we can support decisions by analytical insight.’

Big changes

‘We view it as a big and fundamental change. That’s why we have chosen to start the project with a long line of interviews of managers and employees. We haven’t tied ourselves down to any set goals or mandates from the offset. First, we want to investigate the state of things and the possibilities within the municipality. We want to see whether managers could get used to requesting facts, now that we have them or are able to find them through analysis. We also want to find out in what way we could support decisions by analytic insight,’ says Sarah Gaarde, who is a trained economist and has been responsible for the municipality budget process for several years.

Odense has joined forces with consultants from SAS Institute and in preparation for the project the municipality is collecting large amounts of data in a SAS data warehouse. Up to 400 separate IT systems are in use within the municipality administration and supplies data for the data warehouse. The basic condition for this analytical journey is that all this data – and much more – can be used and requested to a much wider extent.

Data mining prevents

‘We have experienced a few really good analytic success stories. For example, it turns out that it is very valuable to use data mining within healthcare for optimising prevention efforts. But at the same time there are several areas where we don’t use our data and thus make decisions without this dimension,’ says Sarah Gaarde.

An area where the municipality is picking up pace is the heavily problematic residential area of Vollsmose. This part of the city has suffered crime, social issues and problems with integration. Against tradition, Odense has chosen to tear up the organisational divisions and has established a unit that investigates how to achieve the best results from the efforts targeting the 100 concerned families and 500 people in total. In this case the access to analytics is crucial.

Analytic evolution

‘Right now we are investigating where and how we can take the next step and get to a higher analytical level. I see this as an evolution and there is no doubt in my mind that we have a lot to gain. But at the same time, it is of critical importance that this is not done by decrees and decisions made at the top. We have enough culture and tradition to find new ways of working together and we will do that in this area as well.’

According to Sarah Gaarde it is not the data nor the software tools for analysing data that creates the barriers.

‘Out there- in the first line of welfare production - there is a long-standing tradition and extensive professional insights held by educators, teachers, healthcare staff etc. You cannot just change this by crossing it out, and you shouldn’t. To me it is about using data and analytical insight in order to develop welfare services. That requires managers and employees who understand the possibilities and who gain positive experiences by using analyses,’ she says.

In the same way, Odense municipality has strong and long-standing traditions for making well-founded decisions. For that reason, the next step in the municipality’s analytic journey will most definitely include some cultural changes. Odense has also started a general training programme about how to handle changes for managers and employees in order to facilitate the innovation and the new ways of solving challenges. The municipality’s vision is called ‘New reality new welfare’, which in the end is about ensuring welfare through new ways of delivering more effect by using the same means or less. The analytic evolution fits perfectly into this scenario.

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