Implementing Data Governance in Local Government, interview with Ellie Fitzpatrick of Leeds City Council

In this interview, Ellie Fitzpatrick, Senior Data Governance Officer for Leeds City Council explains how their data governance initiatives are moving forward and delivering real value.

In this interview, Ellie Fitzpatrick, Senior Data Governance Officer for Leeds City Council explains how their data governance initiatives are moving forward and delivering real value.

Implementing Data Governance in Local Government

with Ellie Fitzpatrick, Leeds City Council

We’re kicking off a series of interviews focusing on prominent data quality and data governance practitioners in the government sector and how they and their colleagues are improving the quality of data and services within their organisation.

In this interview, Ellie Fitzpatrick, Senior Data Governance Officer for Leeds City Council explains how their initiatives are moving forward and delivering real value.

Data Quality Pro: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Ellie, how are you involved with Data Quality and Data Governance?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: I’m the Senior Data Governance Officer for Leeds City Council and in relation to data quality my role has responsibility for developing a strategic and coordinated approach to data quality management for the organisation.

It is a corporate role and there is little involvement with specific data quality issues, which is something that I miss, but on the plus side I can approach data quality from a sustainable improvement perspective rather than fire-fighting the same issues all the time.

Data Quality Pro: What was the main driver for the project?

Ellie Fitzpatrick:Initially the main driver for the data quality project was to support the business intelligence programme which was initiated when the Council’s Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) Team was established nearly five years ago.

Data Quality Pro: What are the objectives for the IKM team and how does data quality management contribute?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: The Information and Knowledge Management team was established to bring consistency to the way that the council manages its information and to ensure that as an organisation we obtain maximum value from our information. The agenda has four strands of work:

  • Business Intelligence
  • Document and Records Management
  • Collaboration and Learning
  • Information Governance

Data quality management was identified as a key part of the business intelligence programme to ensure that the data used was fit for purpose so as not to undermine the intelligence produced. But data quality is an issue that permeates so many of the council’s objectives and the focus of the role has widened to support the many business functions.

A very high level overview of how I focus my efforts is provided by the following:

  • Demonstrating the importance and obtaining support for data quality management above and beyond what is already ongoing on a day to day basis
  • Developing and implementing a consistent council wide approach to data quality management – addressing technical, process and people issues
  • Communicating the aim of the project to everyone in the organisation – gaining and maintaining their support
  • Promoting the use of master data sources and developing standards and metadata to enable easier sharing and integration of data

Data Quality Pro: What are some of the day-to-day challenges facing you personally?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: The Council provides numerous and varied services all of which generate and require data for successful delivery and management.

The challenges in data quality management are less to do with the volume of data but more the type of services we deliver and the impact this has on data requirements, data collection and management. Additionally financial and time constraints add another challenge to data quality management.

For me, working corporately without any day to day involvement with particular systems or datasets but being asked to provide assurances about data quality is challenging. But senior management are providing support for a more consistent approach to data quality management across the organisation and with this support I am working to develop and implement a data quality management framework, focusing on the organisations business critical systems (of which we have a number!).

Data Quality Pro: How do you see things improving once the data quality framework is in place?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: In theory, once implemented the framework will ensure that risks posed by inadequate data quality are recorded, and from this information data quality standards and requirements will be used to drive monitoring and improvement activities.

Addressing the root causes of the data quality issues is another battle but at least we will have a better understanding of the data quality issues and the impact on the organisation.

I see the implementation of this framework as an important step for the organisation and currently a large percentage of my time is focusing on this approach.

Thankfully the framework hasn’t been developed from scratch; the Tribal Data Quality Management Framework for local authorities is being used as a blueprint. Also there is a lot of good practice already in existence and this will be incorporated into the framework and shared. In fact we are not starting from scratch with any of this as there is a lot of work ongoing to manage and improve our data but the framework will bring some rigour and consistency to ongoing activities.

Data Quality Pro: Other councils are no doubt attempting to resolve similar issues. Are there any initiatives (either formally or informally) to share lessons learned, techniques, experiences, resources etc.?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: There is a data quality strand on the Communities of Practice website operated by Local Government Improvement and Development and there are some useful discussions and good practice applicable to the public sector on there. Additionally there is the Data Connects Group, comprising of local authorities in London, who produce some useful material, for example they led the development of the aforementioned Data Quality Management Framework with Tribal and have produced some handy information on quantifying some of the costs associated with typical data quality issues.

Involvement with these forums is predominantly from local authorities and I think it would be useful to have more involvement from the NHS, other public services and the Universities.

I am also a bit concerned that the dismantling of the Audit Commission will reduce the focus on data quality in the public sector and consequently reduce participation in these groups and forums. The Audit Commission’s assessment of data quality management procedures has helped to raise the profile and drive the business case for improvement. Also there has been considerable involvement and interest in data quality management from colleagues in performance management roles and the concern for me is that without the requirements set out by the Audit Commission that attention and resources will be directed elsewhere. That said, the need for data quality management is just as necessary from a statutory reporting perspective especially if you consider the implications of the data transparency agenda and the requirements that it is placing on local authorities.

Data Quality Pro: Do you think a community of data quality managers and practitioners within your sector would be beneficial?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: I think it would be great to have a community of data quality managers and practitioners where the responsibilities of those involved are specifically data quality management and improvement. It would be really useful to have that focus and expertise brought together. In addition to sharing lessons learned from a working environment it would be beneficial to have a forum to discuss how public sector organisations can use and apply some of the material and resources available on websites such as Data Quality Pro.

Additionally where you have specialised roles brought together there is an opportunity to broaden the scope of the debate to issues such as master data management and how this is approached within the wider public sector.

Data Quality Pro: What about your background, can you explain how you got involved in the profession?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: Following a stint working in an environment where the impact of poor data quality had such a negative effect on efficiency, I decided to move into the information management field and to do this completed a masters qualification in Information Systems.

Amongst other things this gave me an introduction to systems analysis and database design. For a number of years I applied and improved my knowledge and experience in data management and business improvement roles which gave me the experience to move into the developmental, strategic role I’m in now.

Joining the IKM team was great as it was a green field development role, in a very small team so the opportunity was there to be involved with the wider IKM agenda undertaking research, developing strategy, establishing business cases, as well as managing the change aspect of it.

Data Quality Pro: Aside from yourself, how is the council resourcing data quality management across its various functions?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: There are some roles with specific responsibility for data quality but typically it is addressed by those involved with system administration, performance management and service improvement. It does sometimes depend on the knowledge and inclination of the individual in the role but we have some very knowledgeable and interested individuals which is great.

The IKM team is responsible for delivering the Council’s Information Governance Framework which includes data quality assurance but also focuses on security, information sharing, compliance and records management. To support implementation of the framework an Information Governance Management Board has been established and reporting into the Board are four sub-groups; Records Management, Data Protection/ Freedom of Information, Information Assurance and Data Quality. Data quality is an issue that has a home within either of those sub-groups so there is support there and members of the sub-groups share key messages with their business areas to support colleagues on the Data Quality Group. Also to support the successful implementation of the information governance framework, a number of existing roles are being formalised as that of Local Information Officers and although not purely data quality roles, they will support the work of all the sub-groups and act as contacts across services and functions.

I lead the Data Quality Group and this group will direct the implementation of the Data Quality Management framework. But as is usually the case the sub-groups are not a dedicated resource and colleagues have other pressures and responsibilities so given the size of the organisation it will be challenging.

Data Quality Pro: Obviously you work for a non-profit, public sector organisation, that is no doubt experiencing the impact of the recent government spending cuts. How have you been able to successfully demonstrate the justification for effective data quality to senior management? Have the cuts made it easier or harder for you to sustain progress?

Ellie Fitzpatrick: Senior management are still supportive of a more consistent approach to data quality management despite the pressure on resources. There wasn’t much of a budget anyway so it’s not as if our progress will be halted because our financial resources have disappeared.

As is true of any organisation, regardless of sector, senior management respond to the level of risk involved. Obviously with the services that we deliver, we have lots of risks that are not financial and so it isn’t always about demonstrating financial savings but about demonstrating how the issues that are causing the risk could be addressed though improved data quality management.

Identifying financial savings is a very good way of obtaining support but is difficult to do. Even the argument about how much time is saved if colleagues are not dealing with data issues doesn’t always have an impact as it is often the case that initially more resources are needed to implement change than will be saved through improved data quality. But in the current climate there are already projects underway where financial savings have been identified and 99% of the time there will be a data quality issue in there somewhere, so it’s about making sure that data quality improvement becomes part of the project.

It’s also very important to share successes from elsewhere in the organisation as I think these are the best arguments for data quality management that you can have. In Leeds there are really good examples of colleagues who have made changes which have had a really positive impact on data quality and have also made life easier for those working with the data. It’s just making sure that success stories are known about and disseminated to others.

A further argument, which is more stick than carrot, are legislative requirements such as the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act and now the Data Transparency Agenda. In terms of the Data Transparency agenda there don’t seem to be any clear guidelines yet on the extent of what and when local authorities will be required to publish data but it has been specified that data should be published as quickly as possible and that quality should not act as a barrier to the timeliness of publication so a right first time approach is becoming even more important.

Ellie Fitzpatrick, Data Governance practitioner

Ellie Fitzpatrick, Data Governance practitioner

Ellie Fitzpatrick

Ellie is the Senior Data Governance Officer for Leeds City Council (UK) specialising in data governance, data quality management and master data management.

Her involvement in information management started ten years ago when she completed a Masters qualification in Information Systems at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Since then she has held positions in database administration, data management and service improvement leading to her joining Leeds City Council in 2006 where she has been involved in the development of the Council’s Information and Knowledge Management agenda with specific responsibility for data governance.

Image rights: cc Leeds City Corn Exchange, Paul Stevenson