Building a National Data Strategy: key considerations

Category: Consultation responses

15 July 2019

Read ADR UK’s response to the National Data Strategy call for evidence.

ADR UK appreciates the need for and welcomes the creation of a National Data Strategy. Rather than engaging in piecemeal efforts to improve data within government, the Strategy hopes to advance a collective vision across government departments and services.

These improvements to data infrastructure within government could have a spill-over effect, enhancing the use of data across the economy as a whole, setting the country on track to meet the 2017 Industrial Strategy’s goal of transforming the UK into a world-leader in data and AI.

However, the UK has a long way to go to realise this ambition. The National Data Strategy call for evidence presented an important opportunity to gather information from the organisations best placed to understand the condition of data infrastructure and management in the UK. ADR UK’s response outlined our key concerns and provided recommendations for addressing the issue of better use of data in government, including:

1. Greater commitment to better use of data

The foundational issue for ADR UK is the need for greater and wider appreciation of the necessity to improve data use within government, particularly for the purpose of research. Although there is some acknowledgement that improvements in data infrastructure and management will benefit society as a whole, there is an overall lack of commitment towards this goal.

The need to overhaul the government’s handling of data has long been clear, but has fallen by the wayside. Investment in data infrastructure must move up the agendas of politicians and the public; the far-reaching benefits of improving data use across departments and sectors must be promoted, and the harm stemming from the ‘missed use’ of data emphasised.

2. Clearer governance structures

To maintain the necessary commitment to improving the UK’s data infrastructure, creating overarching governance structures that coordinate and carry out improvements is key. Leadership that spearheads and advocates for this change is needed to drive it forward in a systematic, enduring fashion. In addition, prominent figures and leaders must openly enthuse about the benefits of data; this will prove crucial if we are to gather momentum.

The climate surrounding the use of data within government plays a critical role in the willingness of leaders in the field to openly advocate for change. Public attitudes towards collection, management and access to data vary, but there has been an undeniable increase in awareness of the scope of personal data held by organisations, within both the private and public sectors. It is essential that government leads on enforcing the ethical and trustworthy use of data, and work to increase public trust. Addressing and improving the wider context of public opinion towards data in government will empower politicians and civil servants to act on data infrastructure.

3. Administrative data for research

The opportunities that linked administrative data has for improving our understanding of the patterns and trends that influence life in the UK is a key driver for better use of government data. Administrative data is currently a largely untapped resource, but ADR UK is working to harness its huge potential by creating linked datasets across different departments and authorities. By enabling accredited researchers to use this data to provide important insights into our society, policymakers can make important decisions based on the best evidence possible.

Government departments should take advantage of existing investments like ADR UK, to reap the benefits of the work that is already being done to improve the sharing and analysis of data, and to support the development of an essential infrastructure for administrative data research.

Read ADR UK’s full response to the National Data Strategy call for evidence.

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