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Government aims to strengthen ‘data foundations’ of public sector


Mark Say Managing Editor

The Government has set out a programme of work to strengthen the ‘data foundations’ of the public sector as part of its new National Data Strategy.

Data in Scrabble pieces

Published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the document includes a series of measures aimed at improving data quality, developing more standards and improving productivity and accountability.

Its section on data foundations for the public sector includes an aim to encourage the use and re-use of data, including a programme of work to deal with the cultural and co-ordination barriers. This involves creating a data maturity model for government, building a community of good practice, creating a central team of experts to ensure a consistent interpretation of the legal regime, and launching a data quality framework.

Other relevant steps include developing an integrated data platform as a secure infrastructure for government data.

The document describes this as “a digital collaborative environment that will support government in unlocking the potential of linked data, building up data standards, tools and approaches that enable policymakers to draw on the most up-to-date evidence and analysis to support policy development, improving public services”.

Alongside this there are plans to create an audit of data inventories and provide support for local government in exploiting data.

Standards and assurance

Efforts to strengthen standards and assurance will build on the setting up of the Data Standards Authority by developing and validating a set of data principles for use across government, providing clarity on where the authority will mandate standards, and using a parallel controls process for APIs and the Technology Code of Practice.

There will also be efforts to improve data governance while challenging risk aversion and data hoarding with a whole-government approach under central oversight, with the prime role going to a chief data officer for government. The appointee will be supported by a cross-departmental governance mechanism with the authority to enforce standards, and a drive to align governance structure.

One of the requirements will be that central government departments include data management in their single departmental plans.

The broad sweep of the strategy – which also covers the use of data in the wider economy – takes takes in ensuring data is fit for purpose, steps to include data is appropriately accessible and to build trust in its use and the development of skills.

It comes with plans to provide government with 500 new data scientists through a training programme for analysts, efforts to recruit more leaders with data and digital skills and a programme of data fellowships in central government.

Coronavirus experience

“Our experience responding to the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that when we treat data as a strategic asset and improve coordination between organisations, the delivery of services can be more agile, more innovative, more effective and more cost-effective,” the report says.

“Indeed, it has underlined the need for the public sector to move away from a culture of risk aversion towards a joined-up approach, where the presumption is that, with appropriate safeguards, data should be shared to drive better outcomes.”

DCMS is now running a further consultation on the strategy over the next 12 weeks, with plans to respond in early 2021.

Image by justgrimes, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr

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