Collecting effective waste data

Written by: Jamie Warmington, Simone Aplin, Dr Adam Read | Published:
The value of good waste data can't be underestimated, say Ricardo Energy & Environment

Jamie Warmington, Simone Aplin and Dr Adam Read from Ricardo Energy & Environment weigh in on whether we are collecting waste data effectively.

In the context of the ever decreasing public sector purse, the topic of waste data is becoming a problem that Ricardo Energy & Environment and the 60 representatives from local Authorities attending our recent webinar, believe needs to be tackled head on.

The question of waste data and particularly its effective collation, management and analysis is an increasingly important subject for both Local Authority service operators, the UK Government and a range of third party advisors such as ourselves who are trying to help authorities to make robust decisions on service changes and performance benchmarking etc. We know that local authorities are collecting more data today than ever before, and that ”good” waste data can add significant value to the operations undertaken by authorities and lead to greater efficiencies and ultimately cost savings. But are local authorities collecting the right data and is it being used to its full potential?

The challenge facing local government and their service providers is that “good” waste data takes time and resources to collect, and even more to compile and analyse, and therefore is seen as an additional cost for councils. This stems from the traditional use of paper based weighbridge tickets, multiple and disparate Excel based (all relying on manual input) databases and multiple data owners, all of which leads to a very time and resource intensive process.

But it’s important to also note that good waste data is potentially one of your greatest assets. When looking at improving the efficiency of service delivery or deciding where cuts can be made with minimal impact on performance, good data is the key to identifying what’s working well and, just as importantly, what isn’t. At present local authority resources are focused on collecting data rather that analysing and using that data, and that needs to change.

What do Local Authorities tell us?

To explore this thinking further, during our recent webinar, we used a number of polls, asking delegates to report on their situation to better understand how waste data is currently being used. From these polls it was clear that the majority of respondents (77%) spent 60% or more of their time collating and managing the data and less than 40% analysing it. When they were asked how data is currently collected, only 15% of respondents were using an integrated waste data management system, whilst of the remaining 85% who didn’t 42% were thinking about it as a viable future investment.

This tells us that there is a current keen interest in the effectiveness and efficiency of data collection from local authority, which is not surprising. From our own experience and feedback from users of integrated systems, they have many and varied potential benefits including:

  • Reducing the time required for collation, verification and management of data: implementing an integrated system or at least moving towards better, more joined up data management can save up 80% of officer time in manual data input and manipulation.
  • Freeing up more time for analysing data and evaluating performance: having saved significant time collating data, greater value added activities can be undertaken in terms of analysing the data to perform critical evidence based evaluation of communications campaigns or service changes for example.
  • More accurate, consistent and timely data: using automated approaches can also lead to more uniform data with inbuilt verification to not only get output information more quickly, but also improve the quality and accuracy of this data in reporting.
  • The ability to assess the impact of service changes or communication campaigns and build the business cases for future change.
  • Getting waste officers back out of the office: reducing manual data collation doesn’t only give more time for analysis, but also gives the opportunity for teams to get back in the field to understand local service delivery on the ground and tying this back to performance, communications and what’s being seen in the numbers.

This isn’t to say that an integrated waste data system is a golden bullet, there are many authorities out there with apt and well managed data without the requirement for fully integrated systems. In fact, an integrated system is quite often just the final and biggest step in the direction of automated data collation which in itself has many risks and challenges, some of these being:

  • The significant investment required to purchase and implement software, including the training of officers: in a time of shrinking budgets additional investment in data solutions is difficult to find approval for, requiring a robust business case for investment.
  • Compatibility with third parties contracted for collection or disposal: waste can pass through multiple hands and commercial entities, and getting all of these to buy in and talk to each other can be difficult, so where a single contractor is responsible for receiving and treating waste this is easier.
  • Flexibility in a system structure: the software and systems need be flexible and adaptable in their connections and reporting frameworks.
  • Software is only half of the solution: I.T solutions still need to be combined with detailed understanding of waste management and in particular the local context.

Why is it all important?

At Ricardo Energy and Environment, we are prolific users of waste data and in many respects get to look from the outside in on local authority service performance. In doing so we recognise the value in collecting the most accurate, timely and granular data possible to help us support everything from options appraisals, service reviews, value for money assessments, market assessments or procurement activities.

Far from reducing in importance with reducing budgets, we see the increasing value of good data to support evidenced based decisions in times increasingly difficult service delivery. In these times making the most of every pound of investment in your service is important, so understanding your local provision has never been more important.

Ask yourself a simple question, for example, could I get the same impact for a £15,000 annual budget for targeted communications versus the usual district wide £100,000 budget? Only with properly designed implementation, planned delivery and “good data” to evaluate will you ever be able to prove that this is the case. This full cycle of robust service evaluation is what we and all local governments should be striving for going forward.

So if you are managing services in house, are evaluating potential future service changes, or are simply undertaking contracts management “good data” is the only suitable data to ensure you are getting value for money and associated high performance. So embrace the opportunities and examine the potential systems and solutions that the market can offer.

If you would any further support around your waste data or any of the above service’s please contact Simone, or alternatively we will be at RWM from September 12-14 providing direct support via an hour’s free consultancy to discuss individual’s issues or concerns.

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