Towards easier identification of local services for lonely people

Towards better connecting local services to citizens’ needs

As programme manager at the Local Government Association (LGA), my entire twenty-year career here has been focused on moving the local government sector towards more transparency and shared working and data between councils and between their delivery partners in local communities, volunteers and industry.

We have been developing and maintaining the much regarded Information Sharing Standards since 2003 and these controlled lists form a rigorous framework of definitions that (when used as identifiers in data specifications) can facilitate easy interconnection between data sets to provide more holistic intelligence and to match services to the needs and special circumstances of the people we are there to support.

We have also developed and trialled many tools and procedures to assist councils and the wider community to develop, publish and discover online data sources about local public services. See the LGA’s open data pages for more details.

We are excited about the potential of the Open Referral UK data standard and its deployment as this seems to be an essential contribution to one of the biggest barriers to working together and sharing awareness of local public services. Everyone does it differently. There is no harm in that. However, when we wish to discover content, bring it together and analyse it, we have an immense job because there are so many variations of what is published. The emergence of a simple but powerful data standard for the publication of local services is surely worth progressing. If all service providers publish data to the same specification then the magnitude of skills, capabilities and resources in the country can burst towards developing innovative ways of better describing what services are available and filter and match results to people’s specific circumstances and needs. It means that non-local-government experts like health workers, clinicians, link workers, friends, carers, family can find filtered, exact services and all about them easily without having endless Google mismatches.

In 2019-20 Cabinet Office, DCMS, MHCLG and the LGA came together to kickstart the development and trial deployment of a data collection, assurance and publishing process to a standard that has morphed into Open Referral UK. This pilot project was applied to trying to find support and services especially helpful to lonely people and was one of the key initiatives in the Government’s strategy for loneliness launched in 2019. We launched our project here. News Item | LG Inform Plus

Around seven councils worked with us to trial the creation local data governance and collection regimes and they worked with their platform providers to adopt the Open Referral UK standard. Good progress was made, and many lessons learned. The Covid-19 pandemic suspended full realisation of the results, but we hope to pick things up again soon.

We did achieve a Final Project Report which sets out our achievements, learning and a business case for wider take-up. We’ll be building on this in future years. See here:

We also interviewed key beneficiaries of this new way of work and documented the user stories in this document here:

I can expand further if readers wish to know more. I am hopeful that a wider take up of the new data standard will ease the ability to encourage developers to implement it and for councils to work together towards national coverage of information about local and hyper local support services.

All best wishes

Tim Adams (LGA)