The municipality’s analytical journey

Using data and analytical insight to develop welfare services

Odense – one of Denmark’s largest municipalities – is working toward becoming more analytical, and fact and evidence based. The idea is to integrate analytical thinking on pretty much every level and to use data to drive innovation within welfare programs. 

“Our ambition is to use analyses, data and evidence to support the long-term transformation of the municipality,” says Sarah Gaarde, Finance and Analysis Manager in Denmark’s third largest municipality. 

Odense combines governing with experiments and new solutions. Under the header “new reality – new welfare,” the municipality aims for a comprehensive new way of approaching citizen welfare.

“The politicians and the administration are well aware that we need to find new ways of doing things,” says Gaarde. “The financial framework is tighter after the financial crisis and it does not look like it’s going to expand. We need to innovate the way we deliver welfare services, so our programs are experienced as better by the citizens, even though the cost is reduced.”

Gaarde backs VIA – Værdi Igennem Analyse, or Value Through Analysis – a special program to integrate analytics and fact into all levels of administration and all institutions. Gaarde sees the initiative in the context of big data. “Maybe it is image material or handwritten notes or something completely different that holds the biggest potential within a given area for the analytical municipality of the future,” explains Gaarde, noting the importance of new data sources.

Big changes

“We view this as a big and fundamental change,” says Gaarde, who is a trained economist and has been responsible for the municipality budget process for several years. “That’s why we have chosen to start the project with a long line of interviews of managers and employees. We haven’t tied ourselves down to any set goals or mandates from the offset. First, we want to investigate the state of things and the possibilities within the municipality. We want to see whether managers could get used to requesting facts, now that we have them or are able to find them through analysis.” 

Odense has joined forces with consultants from SAS and is collecting large amounts of data in a SAS data warehouse in preparation for the project. Up to 400 separate IT systems are in use within the municipality administration and supply data for the data warehouse. The basic condition for this analytical journey is that all this data – and much more – can be used and requested to a much wider extent.

Data mining for prevention

“We have experienced a few really good analytic success stories,” says Gaarde. “For example, it turns out that it is very valuable to use data mining within health care for optimizing prevention efforts. 

“But at the same time there are several areas where we don’t use our data and thus make decisions without this dimension.”

One area where the municipality is picking up the pace is in the heavily problematic residential area of Vollsmose. This part of the city has suffered crime, social issues and problems with integration. Against tradition, Odense has chosen to break down the organizational divisions and has established a cross-divisional unit that investigates how to achieve the best results for helping 100 concerned families and 500 people in Vollsmose. In this case, the access to analytics is crucial.

Analytic evolution

“Right now we are investigating where and how we can take the next step and get to a higher analytical level,” says Gaarde. “I see this as an evolution and there is no doubt in my mind that we have a lot to gain. But at the same time, it is of critical importance that this is not done by decrees and decisions made at the top. We have enough culture and tradition to find new ways of working together and we will do that in this area as well.”

According to Gaarde, it is not the data nor the software tools for analyzing data that create the barriers. “Out there – in the first line of welfare improvement – there is a long-standing tradition of service, and extensive professional insights held by educators, teachers and health care staff. You cannot just change this by crossing it out, and you shouldn’t. To me it is about using data and analytical insight to develop welfare services. That requires managers and employees who understand the possibilities and who gain positive experiences by using analyses,” she says.

In the same way, Odense municipality has strong and long-standing traditions for making well-founded decisions. For that reason, the next step in the municipality’s analytic journey will most definitely include some cultural changes. 

Odense has started a general training program for managers and employees about handling change, which is designed to facilitate innovation and inspire new ways of solving challenges. The municipality’s new reality – new welfare vision is about ensuring welfare through new methods that are effective and cost less. The analytic evolution fits perfectly into this scenario.


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