Being trusted with data

Being ‘trusted with data’ is something we talk about a lot. It is, of course, what we’d like to happen to the Co-op. To help us reach that point, we’ve done some work to define what it means to us and we’ve just begun to look at how we’re going to develop our ideas in 3 areas.

We spoke to lots of groups within the Co-op including our Digital Advisory Board before deciding that we believe being trusted with data is made up of 3 things. These are:

  1. Integrity.
  2. Transparency.
  3. Meaningful consent.

Image shows a triangle with 'Co-op: trusted with data' in the centre and the each of the 3 corners has one of the following words in it: 'integrity', 'transparency' and 'meaningful consent'.

Here’s how we’re developing these 3 areas.

Being transparent with how we’re using data

We want to build the right set of tools and technology to manage and link our data across the Co-op. We’re calling the concept our ‘data layer’, and we’re using ‘layer’ rather than ‘hub’ because we think our approach should be consistent and integrated across the Co-op, as opposed to being centralised. Most importantly, like Mike said at the Co-op AGM 2016, we’re committed to becoming transparent with how we use our data.

To do this we want to understand more about which processes, habits, culture and tools we should adopt to meet our members’ data needs. Our first step to building a data layer is to start a discovery using a multidisciplinary team and user research-lead approach to find out:

  • what we need to do to be trusted with data
  • which expectations can we set or stretch
  • how can we communicate with them on the topic of data
  • how a data layer looks in terms of engineering and data management and what opportunities that offers

We’ve just kicked off this piece of work so we’ll talk more about this later in the year.

Data integrity

Data integrity is about about making sure that data is correct, well-managed and secure. Our Head of Data Governance and Integrity, Ian Thomas will tackle this in 2 ways:

  1. By helping us think about data standards, usage and regulatory requirements as part of everything we do. Ian’s already working directly with our Membership team to simplify how we handle member data. This will make it easier to be transparent around how we hold it. We’re also working closely with Rob Bowley and the engineering team on information security.
  2. By working towards consistent standards and approaches to our data across the Co-op with the wider data governance community. We believe that by co-operating with our colleagues we can share good practice and improve our governance.

Consent to use and share data

The third area we’re looking at is consent for us to use and share data. This is a topic that organisations don’t like talking about if they don’t have a position of transparency. We’re going to start the conversation with our members about data consent because we think that speaking to them will help us do the right things with data and will help us gain their trust.

Initially we’ll use our Member Voice surveys to start asking questions about data consent, and we’ll be speaking about it at our AGM. We’re also holding an event called Shaping our Co-op: Data Trust and Transparency Event to get feedback from our members on trust and consent. In combination with the data layer research we aim to get a comprehensive view of what we need to build in order to be truly trusted with data.

We’ve just begun these important pieces of work and we’ll keep talking about them.

Rob McKendrick
Head of Data Engineering

Championing a better way of doing data

Blue background with white text that says 'championing a better way of doing data.'

We want to bring the Co-op difference to data. That means going beyond what is simply required by law, and instead infusing the way we collect and handle data with the Co-op’s values.

Practically, we want the Co-op’s data to be: correct and up to date; secure; available to those who need it within the Group and easy to find, understand, connect and augment. That will help us make decisions based on data. We’ll arrive at better decisions more quickly because the information we need will be easy to find and use. It will also help us spot new opportunities across the business, quickly, creating new opportunities because we are joining the dots. We’ll also be able to build better relationships with our partners because data that is well-maintained and with consistent standards can act as common language between us and them.

So, how do we get there? Well, we all have a role. We’ll need to set common standards and provide tools and ways of working needed: data principles.

As importantly, we need to create a culture at the Co-op that isn’t complacent about data and problems with data, but instead fixes those issues at source. We should think and care about how data is used once it is created. Everybody has a role to play in data. Thinking about data and asking how to use it and why will become a habit.

Some of this isn’t new and many people at the Co-op have been doing good work for a long time. Helping and supporting those people to continue to do their jobs is important. That’s why we’ve been convening and meeting with Data Leaders, and why we’re including colleagues from data teams across the business to work out what values we want to hold our data to from now on.

Data and the Co-op values

To help us think about this, we’ve started to look at how Co-operative values like self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and equity might manifest in data.

We’ve come up with a Data Principles alpha to help colleagues working with data at the Co-op. The principles are based on workshops we’ve had with colleagues, and we’re going to be running more user research sessions to make sure that they are relevant and helpful for colleagues at every level. We’ve done a few versions of data principles, and based on colleague feedback on previous iterations we’re sharing what we’ve learnt publicly.

Important themes

1. Data is part of everything

The data function does not work in isolation. Everyone does their bit to collect and create  good data, which can be used as the basis for making decisions. We are focused on what Co-op members and customers want and need, and respond to that quickly. Colleagues have the necessary tools to do so, and are trained in how to use data and to spot opportunities.

2. Clarity is for everyone

We will communicate how we use and collect data in a way that both specialists and non-specialists can understand. We’ll use consistent terms and standards that are externally recognisable, as well as use plain English to help members meaningfully consent to how the Co-op uses their data.

3. One version of the truth

Major data sets will have a designated owner and steward, who is in charge of keeping them updated, accurate and complete according to defined goals. All significant data sets will be listed and visible to all staff in a Central Data Catalogue, rather than relying on local duplicate, or inconsistent versions.

4. Co-operating safely

We will use data across the business where appropriate and ethical. We encourage co-operating about data, safely and securely, working together for mutual benefit.

We’re still testing these and we’re keen to hear colleague, customer and member thoughts on them. If you have feedback on these principles, leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

Local causes and location

Charlotte King recently talked about the changes that we’ve made to make it easier for our members to select a local cause to support with their 1%. I’ve been looking at those local causes, what type they are and where they are in the United Kingdom.

Image showing the spread of local causes being helped by Co-op Members

This image is a scatter plot of those local causes that our Co-op Members are supporting when they buy products and services from us. 

This shows the relationship between the people who live in the UK and the Co-op. The Co-op is supporting local causes right across the nation so where there’s a community, there’s likely to be a good cause that our members are supporting.

What do the colours represent?

When a local cause applies to receive support, they’re asked to classify themselves into a category like ‘Health’ or ‘Environment’ and the colours above are distinct for each category.

I’d love to give you an interactive map where you can explore the data for yourselves but I can’t do that today so instead, I’ve done some exploring for you. 

This scatter plot below just has the categories Health (yellow) and Community Development (purple).

Image showing the spread of local causes being helped by Co-op Members

Both types are widely spread but something I noticed was that there seems to be a split between the urban centres of Greater London and Northern England. London appears to be more densely covered by Health causes whereas places like Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Leeds, Tyneside are more balanced with Community Development causes.

Here’s another plot, this time with Social Inclusion (black) and Young People (blue).

Image showing the spread of local causes being helped by Co-op Members

Social Inclusion causes seem relatively concentrated in certain areas of the country. These tend to be the main cities. Causes within the category of Young People are both numerous and well spread, there seems to be a nation wide concern for causes that will help the next generation. 

Don’t forget we’re looking for the next round of good causes to support in May 2017, the closing date for applications is 16th December.

Alex Waters
Data Science.

Data Leaders

At our AGM we committed to making the Co-op trusted with data. We’ve set up Data Leaders to be the authority in keeping the data we hold on our members secure. They met for the first time last week.

What do Data Leaders do?

We’ll come together as a group to set the standards and principles for how we operate and treat data. Any decisions that we make will be communicated clearly and acted upon by all areas of Co-op. The group will investigate and discover any issues, share and resolve them quickly. We’ll make sure that we’re visible, making sure we lead the way forward for data protection and handling.

Who are the Data Leaders?

We’ve asked people from Digital to our Legal business, Human Resources to Food and every department in between. We’ve a broad range of experience and expertise in the group, and everyone is encouraged to bring any issues they have to our fortnightly meetings.

How can I find out what’s being discussed?

We’ll discuss and make decisions at meetings; minutes and any decisions will be published openly.

Picture of Catherine Brien Data Science Director at the Co-op
Catherine Brien, Data Science Director

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

Our response to the Digital Economy Bill

Last week I gave oral evidence to the Digital Economy Bill Scrutiny committee in the House of Commons. It was a joint session with Jeni Tennison CEO of the Open Data Institute (ODI) and a member of our Digital Advisory Board.

You can watch the full session on Parliament Live or read Hansard.

We support the sentiment behind the Bill, there’s much to applaud in it. But it’s really important that Government embodies the principles of open access to public data, with strong and transparent operational processes in place. This is a commercial issue because of the extra friction of duplicate and inconsistent public data. For us it’s also a member data issue, in terms of access, privacy and trust.

We need registers to do this. Sharing of data between different areas within Government has the potential to worsen the current situation.

I talked about radical transparency at our AGM. We should all be able to see where and how Government shares data.

We’ll continue to monitor the progress of this Bill in the weeks and months ahead.

Mike Bracken

Chief Digital Officer

Hello to Alex Waters

I’m Alex and I recently joined the Data Science team.

Picture of Alex Waters

I first joined the Co-op on its Graduate Programme three years ago and have focused on data pretty much from the start. I’ve worked across different areas of the Co-op and each area taught me lots about data collecting, structuring, analysing, presenting and really importantly – using data for user focused decision making.

I want to make it much easier for colleagues to understand what data is telling them, helping them focus on the things that can make a real difference. At the moment I’m working with the team at Co-op Electrical to do exactly this.

I’m excited to be part of the team working to make the Co-op trusted with data.

Look out for more updates from myself and all the data science team shortly.

Alex Waters
Data product consultant

The Co-op’s response to the Government consultation on Land Registry – a follow up

At the Co-op, we’re passionate about how we use data for the good of our members, and believe that, more broadly, the UK economy stands to benefit from new services that are built on data.

That’s why in May we published our concerns about the Government’s proposals to move Land Registry operations to the private sector. We weren’t alone, with 65 MPs from all sides of the House of Commons joining David Lammy in urging the government to reconsider its plans.

So it’s a good signal that there was no mention of plans in the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill that went before the Commons at the end of last week.

Let’s hope that the government has listened to all those who share our view that a commitment to open data has the potential to stimulate growth, ingenuity and innovation which are vital to the Co-op’s Rebuild and the future success of the 21st century British economy.

It’s important to us that our members voices are heard in policy debates, and that’s why we’re working on a way to make that easier in the future.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Our active members

In an earlier post, and at our AGM this year, we talked about our commitment to providing clear data to our members. As part of that commitment, we want to share with you some information on our membership base.

As a co-op we have a different way of doing business. We are owned by our members, millions of people who trade with us. Our members range from those who have been with us for many years to those who have only recently joined. Some members actively trade across all our businesses, some shop with just one and some members who have traded in the past no longer do so for one reason or another.

We believe a healthy co-op thrives on engaged members who trade with us and can become involved in the co-op democracy, as owners.

How many members are actively trading with the Co-op?

Active members

We describe active members as people who regularly trade with any of our core businesses within the last 12 months.

Our core businesses are:

Food

Electrical

Funeralcare

General Insurance

Legal Services

In total, there are 3.4m active members.

We split active members into two groups – those who are currently trading and those who are not currently trading.

Active – currently trading

Active members who are currently trading will have shopped or swiped their card with the:

  • Food business within the last 3 months
  • Electrical business within the last 6 months
  • Funeralcare, Legal Services or General Insurance business within the last 12 months

There are 2.6m active members who are currently trading.

Active – not currently trading

Active members who are not currently trading will have shopped or swiped their card with the:

  • Food business within the last 4-12 months
  • Electrical business within the last 7-12 months

There are 0.8m active members who are not currently trading.

What about The Co-op Bank?

Members who have a product, service or account with the Co-operative Bank also shop with our Co-op.

There are 1.1m members with a banking product with activity in the last 12 months but who do not also trade with our core businesses.

Summarising the numbers

Total active members shopping with our core businesses – 3.4m

Active members currently trading – 2.6m

Active members not currently trading – 0.8m

Total members shopping with our core businesses and/or with the Co-op Bank in the last 12 months – 4.5m

Why this data is important

The data we hold on membership helps us to work out who is eligible to engage in our democratic processes. Democracy is at the heart of our Co-op as a member-owned society.

We want people to get involved and to vote at our annual general meeting (AGM). You can find out more about membership on the Co-op website.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Kevin Humphries joins CoopDigital

Hi, I’m Catherine and I’ve been at CoopDigital since July, learning more about how our Co-op understands its data. As Mike said at the AGM earlier this year, our ambition is to be trusted with our members’ data, by only using their data for good. But, we need to earn that trust.

We’ll say more about our vision in future blog posts as our work develops. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kevin Humphries to the team, who joins us to help shape our approach to data.

Kevin Humphries joins CoopDigital

Kevin was the first chief architect for HM Government where he established a central Government architecture function and has previously been a lead technologist in retail, financial services and utilities sectors. As part of his work here at the Co-op, Kevin will design our overall data architecture as well as setting the standards that we will use to manage our data.

His initial objectives are to:

  • Create a clear vision for how we manage our data across the Co-op
  • Outline a clear plan for how to achieve our vision

Kevin will start by speaking with colleagues across the business to understand where we are today, in terms of how our data is used and managed. We’ll keep you updated through this blog.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

Paperless billing – out of sight, out of mind

I’m Sophy, a content designer at CoopDigital. My team builds digital products that test our core proposition, that Co-op is an organisation that people can trust with their personal data. My job, in collaboration with design, development and user research, is to come up with the words that appear in those products. We’re currently working on Paperfree, a mobile app that helps people get on top of their paperwork. In the last couple of weeks we’ve uncovered a new, unmet, user need.

Most of the companies that sell us necessities like water, gas and television offer paperless billing in some form or another. These companies email us from time to time, urging us to log on and take a look at our latest bill. But how many of us actually do this?

It’s easy to lose track; paying by standing order and opting for paperless billing means that bills just get paid, out of sight and out of mind. Which can be good – you’re no longer knee-deep in paper. But you’re out of touch with your spending and the information you need is buried behind many different login screens. Oh, and companies tend to delete bills that are more than a year old.

As part of our user research on Paperfree, we spoke to people who are very good at being paperless. By doing things like regularly downloading utility bills from their online accounts, they are in control – not just of their documents, such as bills and statements, but also of the information in those documents. They can track their spending over a longer periods of time and make better decisions about their finances.

It’s worthwhile, but hard work. And arguably not much of an improvement on getting paper copies of bills in the post.

We immediately recognised a problem, and an opportunity to fix it. Our group of people with advanced paperless skills go to a lot of effort to understand their long-term spending behaviour. Other people will log on and take a look at their bills when prompted. But they are looking at this information in isolation, without the bigger picture of their spending across different suppliers and sectors. And a lot of us simply don’t bother at all.

So we’ve started trying to solve this problem. We’re still working to our core purpose around trust and personal data, but with a new focus.

This is how it we think it could work: you enter the login details for your (for example) water supplier billing website within the app. The app then logs in to your account for you and downloads all your old bills. We also want it to automatically go and get any new bills as they come in. Repeat this process for all your other suppliers, and you have something that takes care of downloading your bills for you so that you can see them all in one place. You’re more likely to engage with your bills. You don’t have to keep logging in to lots of different accounts. You decide when you want to delete your old bills, rather than having this decision made for you.

Image of the Paperless Team

In the last few days we’ve built a rough prototype that we can test on real people.  As a team we’re used to not getting attached to things – working in the pioneering end of product development at Co-op, we know that this idea may not see the light of day – and that’s OK. We work quickly and cheaply, so if a concept doesn’t take hold, we can move onto solving the next problem without tears.

For now, however, we’re very excited by this new focus. It complements the work we’ve done on Paperfree so far, and supports our core purpose (proving that Co-op can be trusted with personal data). It’s also really easy to explain – a good indicator of it being useful. We’ve set ourselves the goal of releasing a simple version in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we’d like to hear about your experiences of paperless billing sites – share your thoughts in the comments.

Sophy Colbert