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Government aims to upgrade data infrastructure



Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock has laid out the next steps in a ‘data revolution’ for the public sector


The government is aiming to modernise its data infrastructure with more standardisation and an economy of application programme interfaces (APIs), according to the minister in charge of the minister who oversees IT strategy.

Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock outlined the plans at the Open Data Institute (ODI) Summit as part of a wider programme for what he described as the “data revolution” in government.

The move is the latest in the long term strategy of making more government data available for re-use by public service providers and businesses, and improving its quality to support policy-making.Hancock said this reflects data’s value as a mineable commodity from which value can be extracted, the infrastructure of the digital economy and a new form of property.

“The more decentralised the ownership of the data, the more democratised the power,” he told the conference.

Improvements and APIs

He said the modernisation of the data infrastructure should involve improvements in standardising and managing data, moving away from government’s reliance on bulk data to create an economy of APIs. This would provide the scope for others to use and “mash” the data to provide new services.

A priority in this will be to build data services around the needs of users rather than Whitehall, and to follow the “dog food” principle of an organisation using its own product.

“In short, one of the best ways to make sure our open data is of high quality is if we use it in our day-to-day operations,” he said. “So we’ll be looking much more closely at how data flows into government; how it’s collected, how it links together, who uses it and how it’s made available for wider use.”

He said the National Information Infrastructure – the management framework for strategically important data developed with the ODI – provides a foundation for this along with the platforms being developed by the Government Digital Service.

The second element of the programme is to build up the Civil Service’s data capability, training more analysts and making more policymakers and operational managers aware of the potential of the data to which they have access. This will involve a programme of lunchtime code clubs to encourage civil servants to learn how to use data more effectively.

“This isn’t about turning everyone into a data scientist,” Hancock said. “It’s about making sure that departments are intelligent consumers of their own data.”

Leaders' group

Other measures include setting up a new Data Leaders Network for central government, which will review legislation on data sharing, and a steering group including prominent figures such as Sir Nigel Shadbolt from the ODI, Mark Thompson of Judge Business School, who has been an adviser to government on digital issues, and Dame Fiona Caldicott, former chair of the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care.

There will also be a renewed emphasis on ensuring that data is accurate and uncorrupted in order to build trust, and to give data a central role in the third Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, which is designed to encourage collaborative policymaking.

The Cabinet Office has also asked the ODI to take the lead in the dialogue with businesses and innovators on open data.

Hancock added that significant progress has already been made in some areas, notably the development of performance metrics for 800 transactions between the public and government, which is available on the GOV.UK performance platform.


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