The UK government is increasingly in the business of managing data. Across its many agencies, the government collects, stores and processes a vast amount of data. It makes some of this publicly available through the data.gov.uk repository of some 50,000 open data sets1. But, as the government would be first to admit, there remains a huge amount of untapped potential in the way the government uses data.
The National Data Strategy
This is something the government is trying to set right through its National Data Strategy. One of the Strategy Missions in this plan centres on transforming the use of data in the public sector to drive efficiency and improve public services. What the government proposes is radically different from the past: a joined-up, whole-government approach led by a Government Chief Data Officer (CDO) from the centre in partnership with public sector agencies.
The government’s plans represent something big: a once in a generation move to redefine public services. As the UK looks to recover from COVID-19 and map a new role for itself outside the EU, it has the chance to create better public services, built on the foundations of trust, privacy and transparency, where data moves more freely between agencies and can be put to a broader range of beneficial use cases.
However, if this opportunity is to be seized in full, what’s required is a detailed and comprehensive supporting plan. What would this look like?
A new model for public sector data use
The starting point should be to create core common data capabilities, standards and approaches that support new forms of collaboration between public, private and third sector organisations.
One way to achieve this goal would be to implement a “hub and spoke” model for public sector data sharing and analytics. The “hub” in this instance relates to centralised data functions, while the “spokes” refer to the capabilities of autonomous government bodies.
In our proposed model, agencies retain control of their Data & Analytics and Operations capabilities, which continue to grow across the public sector. However, these autonomous “spokes” are connected to each other and empowered via two centralised "hubs:"
- Data & Analytics hub. This hub would enable the government to set the direction of travel for public sector bodies as they pursue their autonomous, but consistent, data strategies and execution. It would be accountable for raising the overall level of capability as well as interventions targeted in key areas such as intelligent automation. It would also ensure delivery of high-end cross-government analytics services.
- Operations hub. This hub would deliver central steering and assurance of data governance, management, and architecture. It would also provide shared data services where it makes sense for agencies to share such services (digital identity services, payments and collections, etc.) using a data master (i.e. a single, shared repository of basic citizen data that all agencies can use).
The model could look something like this:
The proposed hubs would play a vital role in improving the quality of government data through centralised data management and quality control, while also improving access to data and better use of data through interoperability and standards setting.
Culture change and citizen empowerment
However, structural change is just one element of a successful transformation. To achieve its aims, the government’s new model for data will need to be supported by wholesale cultural change. It is similar to the shift in thinking that we’re seeing many enterprises undertake today and something Accenture has talked about previously. Organisations are moving from a world where operations are technology-led, to one where they are data-led, and that requires new ways of thinking as well as new skills.
Finally, it is worth remembering that even with the best data model in the world, the best interoperability standards and the buy-in of every government department, the transformation of public services through data will only be achieved if citizens trust what’s being proposed. It is therefore vital that ethics and public trust are addressed as a priority.
One way this could be approached would be to create a mechanism through which individuals are empowered to take control of their own data in standard formats. Rather than the government controlling data access this system would allow citizens to control which government agencies can and can’t use their data for specific use cases. A citizen-owned master data source, such as Solid Pods, could be a key enabler in this regard. Solid enables people to store their data securely in decentralised stores called Pods, which are essentially personal web servers for data.
The key now is to build a new approach to data from the ground up, one that makes it easier for agencies to focus on their core job of putting data to use helping people, rather than managing and governing that data and ensuring interoperability with other agencies.
Data and analytics transformation could be the catalyst for innovation and deliver tangible value to citizens. Accenture’s public sector experience, combined with deep expertise in creating data led organisations, could help achieve this impact for departments and the public. Connect with Mark and Ray on LinkedIn to discuss the opportunities further.