We’ve recently been working with a number of government departments to help them turn their lists into registers.
Back in July we started working with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on a local authority register. Having progressed through the backlog and discovery phases on the road to creating a register, we have released the alpha version of the register of local authorities in England.
Getting to alpha is the result of some brilliant collaboration between DCLG and GDS. We can now share the register for feedback and reflect on all of the progress we’ve made so far.
Local authority data is important
Previously we’ve emphasised the importance of registers as the foundations of products and services. Only the other day Councillor Theo Blackwell wrote a blog post about the digital transformation underway at Camden Council, in which he highlights the value of good, clean data to enable local authorities to run public services effectively.
Local authorities are responsible for managing and delivering a range of services to their communities, such as the provision of health, housing and social services, local road maintenance, and running public libraries.
An authoritative list of local authorities underpins all of this. A number of existing services, such as checking your rubbish collection day and paying your council tax, segment data according to local authority or signpost users to the relevant part of their local authority’s website when provided with their address.
We know that service teams and other consumers of registers need to be able to trust the data they contain. It’s vital to the creation process that every potential register is owned and maintained by a custodian. For the local authority England register this was Stephen McAllister at DCLG.
The role of the custodian
It’s essential that custodians have domain expertise and valuable experience of working with the information to be contained in their register. However, a key requirement for custodians is their direct role in the value stream of the data that makes up a particular register as dictated by legislation or integral to their recognised public task. This aligned perfectly to Stephen McAllister’s role at DCLG.
These criteria mean that custodians are best placed to define and shape their registers in 2 important ways: modelling the information in the register based on a realistic understanding of its current state and having the authority to work feedback from users back into the value stream of the register data.
The shape of the data
Firstly, registers should be modelled to capture the information as it exists and is understood in the ‘real world’, rather than seeking to promote a desired end state or conforming to misconceptions.
For example, in his role as custodian, Stephen McAllister recognised that the name used to refer to a local authority in official documents and legislation is not what people call it on a day-to-day basis.
An end user is certainly more likely to refer to ‘Wakefield’ than ‘Wakefield Metropolitan District Council’ so the register contains both a ‘name’ and an ‘official-name’ field which can be used by services to link the colloquial version displayed to users to the name required for official purposes.
Similarly, as with the country register, we included start and end dates for local authorities to allow services to specify the correct information for a particular time period. For example, a service which visualises change over time in the turnout for local elections may need to reference local authorities which have since been merged.
A separate local authority type register was created to allow for systemic changes to local government without the need for a bulk update of the entries for individual local authorities.
Closing the feedback loop
Early on in the process DCLG confirmed that they’re responsible for maintaining the relationship with local authorities in England only. Therefore, rather than attempt to manage a register of information about the local authorities that fall outside of DCLG’s remit, Stephen McAllister need only look to own a register of English local authorities.
Working with a custodian clarified the need for UK local authorities to be categorised into four registers, with Stephen responsible for England and GDS beginning to work with the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly on registers containing information about their respective local authorities.
This means that when feedback comes in on the content of the local authority England register, Stephen can act upon it accordingly because he owns, and can adapt, both the data within the register and the process around the collection and maintenance of that information. So if in months' or years' time there is valuable feedback from users of the register requesting some additional information which falls within DCLG’s remit, as the custodian Stephen can ensure that the relevant process is updated to capture this information in the register.
The GDS registers team support this by ensuring that the registers a custodian owns only contain information they are empowered to collect and maintain. A register shouldn’t contain anything that a custodian can’t ensure the accuracy of, but it can and should link to relevant information from other registers.
Next steps for the register
While we’re obviously celebrating getting the local authority England register into alpha, we’re not going to rest on our laurels. Registers are valuable in themselves as canonical data sources, but it’s only when a register enters beta that teams from inside and outside government can have the confidence to incorporate them into their products and services. These teams can then make full use of the API to use a live feed of the data, so that any updates to the registers are incorporated automatically.
Since the local authority England register is being hosted on the registers platform we know it meets the requirement to conform to the technical spec. That means only two steps remain to getting this particular register into beta. The first is ensuring that it meets the operational standard which exists to build rigour into the updating and maintenance of the register - so it can continue to serve as the authoritative, trustworthy source of information on local authorities in England. The second step is reviewing and incorporating any appropriate feedback from alpha, which is where you come in.
We need you
One of the best things about getting a register into alpha is that we can share it to get feedback. When looking at the register, you’ll notice there’s a link to provide feedback in the header and this will be directed to the appropriate person:
- Any feedback on the accuracy, clarity and structure of the information contained in the register will go to the custodian for consideration.
- Any thoughts you have on the registers platform as a whole will be fed back to GDS.