The National Audit Office have released today a report on data transparency. I think they have slightly misunderstood the nature of transparency when it comes to discuss local government (see page 28 onwards). It highlights the good work authorities have done in releasing raw data, but criticises them for not releasing performance data in a standardised format. It supports the work of the LGA in developing LG inform as a vital tool for those who wish to voluntarily benchmark performance data, but hints that, in the name of transparency, they would like the voluntary aspect dropped. They argue there is a “tension between local bodies developing their own measures of performance and user satisfaction, and the demands of the public and local performance managers for comparability.”
I would personally argue that while it is important for local authorities to be transparent in showing the research evidence they have used locally to make decisions, and evaluating the impact, transparency does not mean the data has to be comparable. Research should focus on informing local decisions and draw in national benchmarks only where relevant. It is the researcher that adds the context and value to the data, and therefore the decision, not the benchmarks themselves. The risk of too rigid a set of national indicators is that they are used to explain away poor performance rather than drive service improvements, especially if they do not relate to council’s priorities and are instead a tick box to be transparent. They can take resources to gather the right data away from researchers.
The National Audit Office therefore has to be careful not to be distracted by the technical aspects and focus instead on why government and others want the sector to be more transparent. They should show how an open and transparent understanding of data can improve the decision making process of a council by responding to local needs.
Further discussion is on LGC.