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Public sector to get 500 data scientists as part of national strategy


Mark Say Managing Editor

The Government has announced plans to train 500 public sector data analysts as data scientists and as part of its new National Data Strategy.

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The document, published today by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), also includes plans for up to 10 fellowships a year to attract technology specialists to government, a £2.6 million project to address barriers to data sharing, and a reiteration of the intent to appoint a chief government data officer.

The 500 analysts will be trained in data science through the Data Science Campus at the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Government Analysis Function and the Government Digital Service (GDS). The plan will be reviewed in 2021 with a new capacity building strategy aimed at meeting the emerging needs of government up to 2025.

It will be accompanied by efforts to recruit more leaders with data and digital skills across government, review the data training available to civil servants, agree a shared definition and design a career pathway for data expertise in government, and to deliver a range of actions to be outlined in a planned public sector data capability audit.

Along with this will be an effort to review the needs of local government in managing and disseminating data.

People taking up the fellowship will sit within the teams at 10 Downing Street, GDS and a number of departments, working on projects specific to the public sector. The first cohort are expected to step into the roles in April 2021 with the fellowships to run for 12-24 months. Some could be offered senior digital and technology roles in government.

The new government chief data officer will oversee GDS and lead the digital, data and technology function. The announcement comes on top of that from last month on the plan to appoint a new chief digital officer.

Upgrading standards

The data sharing project will involve modelling how improved systems for classification and sharing data could support a competitive commercial market in tools to detect online harms such as cyber bullying, harassment or suicide ideation. Through this programme the Government will review and upgrade the data standards and systems that underpin the monitoring and reporting of online harms such as child sexual abuse, hate speech and self-harm.

A section on the data foundations for the public sector identifies the need to address data quality and technical barriers to its use and re-use, pointing to the problems with technical interoperability and silos. It outlines a number of steps to deal with the issues, including a programme to tackle the cultural and coordination barriers, the development of a set of data principles to be applied across government, setting out a strategy for data standards, and setting up a cross-departmental governance mechanism to enforce the standards.

The strategy is also underpinned by five priority missions:

  • Unlocking the value of data across the economy.
  • Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime.
  • Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.
  • Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies.
  • Championing the international flow of data.


Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic - freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth.

“I am absolutely clear that data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.”

Jeni Tennison, vice president at the Open Data Institute, said: “This National Data Strategy consultation is an important opportunity for us all to explore and influence how data should be used to support the UK’s economy, environment and communities, and we look forward to the debate.”

Image from verkeorg, CC BY-SA 2.0

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