Administrative “big” data and unequal access to public services

Administrative “big” data and unequal access to public services

This project brings research on unequal access to public services into the digital age.

It examines how citizens interact with local service providers and how accurately these interactions represent local needs. It also explores how authorities respond through the provision of additional services or resources and amendments to policies or practices. It will focus on a range of urban services that are not often the focus of research: basic environmental and maintenance provision in neighbourhoods – so-called place-keeping services. Initially, the work will be focused on a case study local authority in Scotland.

The project takes advantage of the fact that over the last decade local authorities have started using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to record service requests. With place-keeping services, local authorities have historically relied on regular inspection to target services e.g. roads inspections to identify defects; environmental wardens reporting litter traps or fly-tipped waste. As local authority budgets have been cut, it is often the case that such routine inspections have reduced. Local authorities are now increasingly relying on citizens reporting problems, using “311”-type telephone reporting services and web forms. This change in service delivery has led to a concern that socio-economically advantaged citizens will be better placed to ‘capture’ these services as they are more likely to be able to use the systems to request them.

Aims and Objectives

The project aims to work with a Scottish local authority to:

  • Assess the differences between rates of citizen-reported environmental problems in different neighbourhoods, as measured by indices of multiple deprivation, and the extent of actual problems;
  • Explore the barriers to linking administrative data on reports from citizens recorded in Customer Relationship Management systems and job allocation systems recording the completion of a task;
  • Consider how can these data be critically interpreted and used to close the gap in outcomes between deprived and less-deprived neighbourhoods.


Tackling inequalities in service provision and promoting social justice are key concerns for local authorities. They recognise that these services are highly valued by citizens and there is a need for evidence to deliver better outcomes for neighbourhoods. A parallel project led by team member Peter Matthews, University of Stirling, is working with the Improvement Service for Local Government in Scotland, providing a pathway for impact to a wider group of local authorities.


Lead: Professor Annette Hastings
Team: Dr Peter Matthews, Dr Yang Wang

Latest Outputs

Jointly funded by