Listening to resident perspectives on a proactive support offer in Barking and Dagenham

There is much discussion about how to move to more preventative service models across the UK public sector. To summarise: it’s hard. But the prize is huge, and ultimately, we will have to implement preventative approaches to ensure high-quality and financially sustainable services. 

Our frontline officers work with people at the most difficult times in their lives, helping them through homelessness, debt, and poor health. But what if we could prevent such poor outcomes from happening in the first place? Could we identify people headed towards crisis and intervene early with light-touch preventative services?

Local authorities hold a range of data about their residents which can be used to identify residents at higher risk of poor outcomes. One way to do that is by using advanced statistical techniques like predictive analytics. This is not a new approach, but it’s relatively new terrain for councils. As an innovation team in Barking and Dagenham Council, we are keen to explore its possibilities for improving the lives of our residents. At the same time, it raises new questions around data ethics, which is why we wanted to start by consulting with residents on the topic.


We worked with Care City to conduct qualitative research with residents to understand how the community felt about the Council using data-driven approaches for prevention and how they could go about offering support.


We conducted three focus group discussions with 24 residents, ensuring a spread of residents from across the borough. We outlined scenarios where the Council could potentially predict poor outcomes for residents to bring the concept to life: predicting the likelihood of having a fall, becoming homeless, and becoming frail.


The research produced many interesting findings. Here are a few key insights:

  1. The benefits of data-driven prevention were understood clearly by people. They see it as the council’s duty to offer preventative services and undertake proactive outreach.

“I have no problems with data being used. I strongly believe that you should be proactive rather than reactive. If you can get to the cause before it becomes a problem, it’s cheaper to solve and saves money in the long term.”

  1. People are generally happy for their data to be used to predict issues, provided they can access information about how their data is used and handled. Residents want to be reassured that the council is a responsible custodian of their data.

“The council needs to have clear print – we’re not going to use data for xyz, we store it in this way, and this is what we are going to use it for.”

  1. There isn’t one perfect channel to reach out to people to tell them they are at risk, but we’ve heard that letters are the most trusted. They still have the aura of official-ness and allow people to digest information at their own pace, giving them agency and control.

“I would like a letter to know it [call or visit] is coming.”

  1. There is a difference between what kind of communication people prefer, and what would make them act. People told us they want to be addressed personally and get a sense of urgency whilst also not being scared off. 

“I like the letter except that it’s so generic that I won’t take it too seriously. I would need something in the letter to catch my attention and highlight that it’s for me.” 

  1. The reason identified for reaching out is just one part of the picture. Contacting people provides an opportunity to take a relational approach and understand their needs holistically to develop more sustainable solutions together. 

“Start by asking the person why they are struggling and then offering help, rather than telling them the risk.”

Next steps

There was a consensus from participants in the research that an approach like this is a good idea in principle, provided it is executed well with accountability and transparency from the local authority. The insights highlighted some key design considerations such as being transparent about the use of data and reassuring people that handling their data is taken seriously, offering multiple entry points for talking about prevention and taking an empathic and relational approach when working with residents.

Each of those design considerations would need further thinking depending on the specific use case. We are now working on a few different proactive outreach projects where we are using these guiding principles to design the end-to-end service offer. 

This blog has been written by Saumya Singhal, Senior Service Designer at Barking and Dagenham’s Insight and Innovation Support Team. Project team: Saumya Singhal, Jan Blum, Julie Atkins, Kiran Dhillon.

Service Design

Saumya Singhal
29 February 2024 ·
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