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Foreign Office sets up Country Register



Creation of central list of country names to mark first stage in wider Government programme for creation of data registers

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is setting up a definitive list of country names as the first step in the Government's programme to create unified data registers for use throughout Whitehall.

The move was announced at yesterday's Sprint 16 event in London, where Alison Daniels, digital transformation lead at the FCO, said the register is intended as a replacement for the different country datasets produced by departments including the Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development.

Daniels said the different departmental lists do not even contain the same number of countries, which highlights some of the problems with Whitehall's existing data structures. The new Country Register will have 195 and can be seen as “produced by a trusted source and is up to date”, and be easier to share than the current approved country and territory names data on GOV.UK.

She said: “You can download the register in a format that is easy to use and keep up to date changes. It's an embodiment of an ecosystem on the web, what a really good data system looks like.”

Service usage

An FCO Digital blog says the department leads on geographical names policy and that country names were identified as a good candidate for one of the first registers, as they are used in a range of government digital services, including some provided by the FCO such as emergency travel documents and consular services.

Creation of the register has drawn on international standards, notably ISO 3166 for country codes, and UK policy towards countries in which there are disputes.

It has three sections:

  • A 'country' register to include current states and a selection of historical states.
  • 'Territories' to include overseas territories of other countries, crown dependencies and other places the UK does not recognise as states.
  • A UK register to include the constituent countries of the UK and its overseas territories.

Daniels added that the FCO is to produce a Territories Register next and that there will be others to come.

Mission critical

The initiative was one of those highlighted by Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock in his speech at the event, saying it would help to provide mission critical data for all departments and agencies.

“You need to make sure that data is good quality, and you need canonical registers, so that you set up the data once, offer it to other government services, and keep it up to date at source,” he said, adding: “It is at the heart of our project to have canonical registers, in which we have up to date data, hold it securely, and have one organisation responsible.”

It is part of the broader effort, led by the Cabinet Office, to create a more efficient data infrastructure for central government.

“We need to ensure that when we have the datasets they are as open as possible, but when we choose for them to be restricted that is what happens,” Hancock said.

Paul Maltby, director of data at the Government Digital Service, told the audience that there are three workstreams to its programme. One is to improve the data infrastructure for Whitehall by improving its quality and reducing duplication, an area for which the creation of registers will be a crucial element.

The second is to make better use of the data currently held by departments and agencies, partly through improving its quality and building data skills. The third is to make sure that policy and the legislative frameworks are fit for purpose.

“We need to separate the data layer from the service layer,” Maltby said. “We need to change the mindset so we talk about data provided as a service.”

Image by Kskhh,CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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