Starting Manchester City Council’s Digital Asset Mapping journey

August 2023

We worked with Manchester City Council (MCC) to consider and make recommendations on how a digital asset mapping initiative might:

  • increase digital inclusivity across the city
  • act as best practice for streamlining data management, and
  • integrate with the City’s sustainability goals.

The result of this work is published in a report for MCC, which the council will be able to build on as it progresses the initiative. For this project, we were delighted to work with our collaborator, Julia Thomson.

We focused on fibre optic broadband cabling as the digital asset. We gathered input from MCC partners to understand how a digital asset mapping initiative might fit within a complex system of existing initiatives. We listened to a broad range of Manchester stakeholders to draw-out where there is an unmet need for data that describes digital exclusion and fibre cabling availability. From this work, we collated multiple, specific ‘problem statements’ that MCC can prioritise and design a solution for.

We identified three potential problem statements for a digital asset mapping initiative to target:

  1. How might MCC narrow the digital divide by measuring and mapping under-connected populations and analysing potential barriers to get them connected?
  2. How might MCC minimise the cost and disruption associated with installing fibre cabling?
  3. How might MCC maximise its return on investment for highway improvement – by coupling fibre roll-out with more improvement schemes?

During that digital asset mapping initiative we provided guidance to MCC on ways to manage sensitive data. We explored how trusted research environments (TREs) and privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) might become useful tools to unlock commercially sensitive data, or evaluate how initiatives to expand broadband access are performing. We used principals from data trusts to guide MCC in developing data-sharing agreements, making sure those agreements were transparent and supported enforceable measures to prioritise the interests of Mancunians.

In addition to our user research and technical advice, we identified several funding pathways for MCC to explore, in order to make this initiative financially achievable and sustainable.

This is an important project because it represents an opportunity for MCC to tactically link its social priorities, like digital inclusion, with its ambition to be a ‘world class’ digital city. We were excited for the opportunity to describe how modern data management tools and governance structures can be used to challenge the assumption that sensitive data is synonymous with closed, private data. The digital asset mapping initiative may allow for MCC to trial new approaches to data governance, or new technologies to enable greater sharing of sensitive data responsibly.

We learned that Manchester has a motivated, ambitious collection of stakeholders, who see the benefits of collaborating on a digital asset mapping initiative to improve the city. Manchester is open to new ways of thinking, when it comes to how it might transparently collect, govern, and share data. However, the early nature of this project means that the priority use case, and primary user group, has not been selected.

In the next phase of this work, MCC will select a specific problem statement, explore the value of solving that problem, and develop a funding strategy for taking this initiative further. We are very much looking forward to seeing where Manchester takes this work.

Are you developing a data management initiative? If you want to explore how sensitive data can be used and shared securely – we would like to speak with you. Send us an email: hello@diagonal.works