Guest blog: Unlocking Data, part one

25 Aug 2015, 9:05 am

by Helen Nicol, Knowledge, Capability, Digital and Communities Lead, Public Service Transformation Network; Gesche Schmid, Programme Manager for Data and Transparency at the Local Government Association; and David Brewer, Personal Data & Trust Innovation Lab Lead at Digital Catapult.

This blog is the first in a new series that we will republish from the Public Service Transformation Network website on how the public sector can unlock the full potential of data. Topics will include how the public sector needs to build data science capability to make available data work for them, standards, open data and personal data.

iStock_000005894153SmallSpurred by a new generation of digital technologies, there is growing recognition in the public sector of the rich value of data as a resource to save money and target stretched resources where they are needed most.

The drive to make data more available and transparent means the public are now able to see far more information on what councils spend, and to make judgements on the value for money and effectiveness of that spending.

While releasing data in its raw form makes it accessible and reusable, the value of data as an enabler for change, innovation and the improvement of services has not yet been fully realised.

In Small Pieces Loosely Joined, published earlier this year, the Policy Exchange indicated that digital transformation could lead to substantial productivity improvements and that there is significant scope to support local transformation through the development of basic standards and proven best practice.

“In terms of improving services, what really matters is how local authorities collect, use, process, analyse and share data”, says the report.

Evidence suggests that good quality data can be readily used, for example, in understanding spending, improving procurement, realising the value of property assets, improving customer insight, business prospects and service management. It also helps data consumers to understand data and to make connections for wider re-use by linking to other sources.

The possibilities which arise from the effective use of good quality data are endless. This is also the case with the effective sharing of personal data, one of the greatest challenges faced in reforming services.

Alan Mitchell, Strategy Director at research and analyst company Ctrl-Shift explains, “It’s been an accident of history that has led organisations to collect and manage data about their customers. The effect of this accident is to disperse information about ‘me’ across hundreds of separate, isolated data silos, each one run by a different organisation. This is crazy.”

He advocates personal data stores based on the premise that “the more empowered individuals are with control over their own data the more willing and able they will be to contribute as active information sharing partners. This is the only way to realise the economic and social potential of the digital age.”

The Policy Exchange also sees the benefits of individuals having control over their own data, advising that “The public sector should commit to compatibility with personal data stores, based on open standards”, and “Except in cases of extreme sensitivity, citizens should have access to the data that the public sector holds about them.”

The Public Service Transformation Network has been exploring the concept of ‘unlocking data’ to understand the benefits and opportunities for improving public services, working with a group including DCLG Local Digital Programme, Local Government Association, Digital Catapult, Cabinet Office, Information Sharing Centre of Excellence, Future Cities Catapult, New Economy and the British Computer Society,

These discussions have produced valuable insights which we will continue to share in this series of blogs.

Note: This article was originally published on the Public Service Transformation Network website here