During the COVID-19 crisis, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) have collaborated to provide vital support services to those in need, demonstrating the value of partnerships. Progress was made in the first months of the pandemic as VCS and councils put data at the centre of the emergency response. These organisations now need to plan for how to address the longer term impacts of COVID-19 on local communities.

Working with Camden Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, LOTI and the Greater London Authority, we looked at how to overcome data sharing challenges as they continue to provide residents with the right support.


As a remote multidisciplinary team, we ran interviews, desk research and workshops with staff from both councils and local VCS organisations. This research ranged from one person groups through to national organisations. We carefully designed a project approach that could deliver valuable findings in tight timelines, whilst maintaining respect for people's context as they navigated the ongoing pandemic.

Our research focused on exploring how two different regions approached the shared need for effective local data exchange. Exploring their collective reflections helped us identify common themes informed by a range of different perspectives and contexts.

We summarised three opportunity areas taken from emerging themes common to both regions.

Shared understanding from data

Creating the conditions for more direct connections and meaningful relationships between data experts and VCS staff could create new possibilities for data sharing and use in a way technology alone can’t. Through collaboration, councils and the VCS can interpret data together, not simply share it with one another.

Reframe what data can be

Move beyond using data to delegate tasks and share referrals, making space to collectively explore how combining quantitative and qualitative information can be used to answer complex questions. Providing clear explanations about how data is used to make decisions as part of the COVID-19 response can create the opportunity for the VCS to improve processes.

Scale small solutions for big gains

Identifying data sharing processes and solutions which could save time or lower the difficulty of recurring tasks. Rather than pursuing wholescale new systems and technology.

Community insights projects

Our opportunity areas provided the basis for us to develop ideas for a potential solution with VCS and council staff. The concept of Community Insights Projects was selected from several ideas by the project stakeholders for its potential to advance data sharing in the next phase of the COVID-19 response.

Community insights projects are founded on the idea that by purposefully creating the conditions for VCS and councils to come together and think creatively about shared problems, they can make progress against all three opportunity areas:

  • forging new relationships between staff who can turn data into impact
  • reframing the way data is used and exploring new ways to release it
  • working through real projects to swiftly create new insights and value to benefit residents


Benefits for the VCS will include new, practical knowledge about the communities they serve to help improve the support they offer. A council’s understanding of how VCS organisations operate will grow, showing the value they provide to the region. The VCS will also have a direct voice in shaping emerging policy decisions and responses and help in gathering evidence to identify opportunities which can be used to secure new funding.

For local authorities, Community Insights Projects will allow them to make more effective use of taxpayer money by understanding what’s happening in the region to inform responses to COVID-19. Councils will also be able to improve the effectiveness of existing relationships with the VCS and partners, building on the success of the last six months to take collaboration and sharing to a new level by actively taking more of an enabling role.

Next steps

Camden Council and VCS organisations, supported by the London Office of Technology (LOTI) and Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHCLG) are running the first Community Insights Projects as part of their 2021 COVID-19 response to develop insights on the issue of Food Poverty.

This team are using, testing and evaluating elements of the openly published user guide. This guide was co-created with stakeholders during our work to help provide practical step-by-step advice for anyone who is interested in running their own Community Insight Projects.

The user guide along with project information and ongoing progress updates can all be found on the LOTI project webpage.

Get in touch

We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

Contact us