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Tim Pitts: Understanding community is central to people and place

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Up and down the country, the essence of what place is and how people identify themselves within their community varies, mirroring varying levels of engagement with and reliance on the public sector.

But tapping into the place and ‘community’ will be critical in managing demand for public services, as need continues to increase and budgets shrink.

Because of the differing nature of place, there is no single answer to engaging communities: each will require a different approach. What cannot be escaped is the fundamental need to understand the place and communities within it, in detail.

This will require a much richer set of aggregated data from internal and external sources than is currently available to create actionable insight. The prize is one worth going after.

For example, when it comes to tackling loneliness there are many in the community who would be happy to be part of the answer, but they need a mechanism to be connected. Merging council data with external data is relatively simple, mapping those who are lonely with volunteers.

Taking this further, this data could also be used to let people live at home longer than they otherwise would, by introducing internet of things technology at a time in their life when they can cope with the change alongside volunteers. At one county where we looked at this, a 10% shift in home living would have saved over £5m a year in residential care costs alone.

Similarly, by having a better understanding of at risk families you can take preventative measures to support them and reduce the number of looked after children. By better understanding your communities you can target families with a specific profile, using personalised messaging to find foster carers rather than using costly agencies.

When we analysed this, a simple shift of 20% of placements in-house would save one authority over £3m a year in fees. Barking & Dagenham LBC’s insight hub is making great strides in this area, tackling common challenges such as homelessness.

Communities will have a hugely important role to play in the ‘place’ agenda. But cultivating and engaging them effectively will require a much better understanding of them.

Tim Pitts, managing partner, Agilisys

Column sponsored and supplied by Agilisys

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