Shropshire Council is using large datasets to shape the social care and health market.
- Project: The Bridge
- Objectives: To shape the social care and health market, predict and prevent demand and better utilise our resources
- Timescale: January 2018 to present
- Cost to authority: Net zero cost achieved by working with NHS Digital and the Local Government Association
- Number of staff working on project: 15 people including from the council, the local games development company, NHS, Adass, the local university and the Local Government Association
- Improved provider market stability
- Improved outcomes with better prevention
- Increased service resilience
- Improved quality and security
- Reduced costs
- Improved service delivery and service user outcomes
- Officer contact details: Andy Begley
The problem we’re trying to solve is quite simple: market fragility.
Because of an ageing population, we are seeing demand for social care services is outstripping what the market can supply. This fundamental issue affects social care, all council services directly or indirectly, and our partners and providers across the health and social care sector.
Focusing on the management of supply and demand, we began to look at how our input – the decisions we make – has a wider economic impact, positively affecting more than our core responsibility to meet the health and social care needs of our communities.
The result – our data visualisation tool the Bridge – empowers us to shape the market through smarter commissioning, with the programme being delivered in partnership with NHS Digital, the Local Government Association, West Midlands Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (which I chair) and local partners from across Shropshire.
By taking large datasets from health and social care and applying predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning, we can better understand the current demand in social care, allowing organisations to better predict and prevent future demand. This approach will help inform the way the council and its partners commission services in the future, leading to a more efficient use of resources and better outcomes for our communities.
Our journey started with ideas on how we could possibly turn adult social care into a driver of the local economy, rather than a drain.
In 2018, the council and West Midlands Adass commissioned an economist to look at the wider economic impact of health and social care. In his report Sherman Wong showed how the health and social care industry is one of the most economically valuable sectors in the region.
The findings of this report gave way to long discussion about how we could effectively calculate the economic value of commissioning decisions to help us make them more effectively. The process was lengthy and resource intensive, requiring more data on market supply and demand. The big challenge for us was to look at how we could better use and model our data and present it in a way which would engage with the user and allow them to interact with it.
“We have the right data but our insight is poor. I see the Bridge as a way of enabling us to use data to make good decisions on how to spend precious public money.”
Mark Barrow, executive director of commercial services, Shropshire Council
As there was no current cost-effective tool available on the market meeting all of our requirements, we began working with the games industry to develop a prototype which could use data and perform predictive analytics through simulation.
Our first prototype was presented at the Adass spring conference and was successfully received. We called it the Bridge after its ability to bridge multiple datasets and having strategic functionality like that of a ship’s bridge, from where a vessel is commanded. This prototype could use models informed by data from Mr Wong’s economic study, allowing people to interact with the simulator and see the results intuitively and in real time.
Further developments and modifi cations to the Bridge followed our successful bids for £20,000 as part of the LGA and NHS Digital social care digital innovation programme. This allowed us to present our second prototype at the National Tech Severn event in July 2018, attended by ministers, MPs, directors and chief executives from the public and private sectors, all of whom had the opportunity to use the Bridge.
With further funding from NHS Digital and the LGA announced in November 2018 we could install the Bridge permanently at the council for accelerated development.
The procurement paradox
The greatest barrier to innovation has been the procurement paradox.
Project work can loosely fall into four categories. Councils can run something that exists, grow something that exists, transform something that exists, or innovate by creating something new.
The procurement process involves several fundamental questions. How much will it cost? How much will it save? How long will it take to implement? And what are the challenges, barriers, or risks?
Unlike running, growing or transforming projects, innovation projects struggle to answer these questions without first doing the project. The paradox is that you cannot to procure an innovation project without answering the questions, which can only be answered by completing the project.
Within a week of the award we ran another event with colleagues from the LGA, NHS Digital, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, Public Health England, Adass and some of our most innovative local enterprise colleagues, all gathered to discover the predictive benefi ts of data visualisation.
The Bridge layers thermal mapping data with social care data to map areas of invisible demand. With this insight it is possible to put early preventative measures in place to negate the need of costly intervention to help people stay independent in their own homes.
Using existing data, such as demo graphics, gross value added and other socioeconomic information, the Bridge visualises the economic impact of a commissioning decision across an area. It has been hailed as a game changer both locally and nationally, encouraging new ways of thinking about the wider impacts of decisions.
By helping to direct us in a new way in interacting with data, the tool helps us turn data into insight, shaping the future of how the public sector provides services to local communities. Its ability to visualise data and promote engagement and comprehension is inspiring and we are excited in leading the way in this innovative way of predictive analysis.
The next phase of our project will implement the Bridge at Shropshire Council, concluding in March. Following this the team will expand the capabilities of the Bridge and incorporate more datasets.
Andy Begley, executive director of social care and housing, Shropshire Council