Skip to the content

Data federation to underpin Manchester devo



Programme director of GM-Connect says it wants to link up silos and take confident approach to information sharing

GM-Connect is aiming to build a federated data system to support the devolved administration of Manchester, its programme director has told local digital leaders.

Eric Applewhite outlined the plan at the Digital Authority Forum, staged by UKAuthority and The MJ, describing how information sharing will be crucial to the activities of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GCMA) as it takes on more responsibilities.

“We are betting a lot on data federation,” he said. “One way to kill GM Connect would be to bust into the system and tell everybody ‘Stop what you’re doing we’re going to build something centrally instead’.”

As a result, the organisation is planning to join up, rather than knock down, the organisational silos within which the information currently sits. Details of this are yet to be finalised, but Applewhite outlined the priorities of GM Connect, which was set up as a data sharing authority for the GMCA at the beginning of the year.

Trust and brokering

He described it as a brand for trust and information brokering, and said its role is to provide the data to show whether the new authority fulfils its promise, and to enable information sharing between the boroughs, healthcare organisations and other public authorities across the city.

The latter is going to play an important part in supporting the functioning of the combined authority, and Applewhite said it needs to be confident about the justification for doing so.

“We’re starting with a premise of a duty to share that is equal to the duty to protect,” he said. “I think there’s currently an imbalance in the system, with myth, fear, heaviness and a concern we might violate someone’s privacy, and it creates a disincentive to think about how information sharing might help them.”

He added: “Our process will be use case led and focus on the economic and human value that will be generated by information sharing. Will need to invest in capability to do it.

“We’ll ask that question first, and if the answer is ‘yes’ we’ve created a policy and legal function to walk that information sharing path that comes back to what we believe the benefit will be.”

One of the priorities is to aim for 30-35 quick wins to show the value of information sharing and keep the leaders of the different authorities engaged. This will be accompanied by work on data classification, schema, architecture and the development of APIs to facilitate the easy flow of information, and to ensure that organisations have a common view of a subject.


There is also likely to be a centralisation of some data functions, beginning with those relevant to children’s services, even though the individual authorities will continue to deliver the services.

Applewhite said that his experience of working on similar programmes in New York City showed that it needs a newly created central authority to take responsibility. If it is delegated to one of the existing groups it tends to lead to in-fighting and complaints that it is not neutral, and undermines the effort to build up the required trust.

He added that GM-Connect will provide assistance for its partner organisations in areas such as producing privacy impact assessments and providing assurance that any information sharing is appropriate and within the law.

Picture by Daniel Nisbet, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Register For Alerts

Keep informed - Get the latest news about the use of technology, digital & data for the public good in your inbox from UKAuthority.