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Helping the public sector share data more effectively

It says local data-sharing agreements can provide an infrastructural and standards template for larger-scale data-sharing agreements

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The public sector needs a new infrastructure for sharing data
The public sector needs a new infrastructure for sharing data

Public-sector organisations should offer synthetic datasets, which they can share with others so that requests for data adhere to the right data standards in each organisation, says the independent UK think-tank, Reform, in a new report.

 

Sharing the benefits: how to use data effectively in the public sector demonstrates the potential of data sharing to transform the delivery of public services and improve outcomes for citizens. Reform explores how government can overcome various challenges to "get data right" and enable better use of personal data within and between public sector organisations.

 

“Local data-sharing agreements can provide an infrastructural and standards template for larger-scale data-sharing agreements”

 

The report points out that the UK Government is set on using data more effectively to help deliver better public services. For instance, sharing data digitally between GPs and hospitals can enable early identification of patients most at risk of hospital admission. Reform reports that this has reduced admissions by up to 30 per cent in the county of Somerset.

 

It says Government has not yet created a “clear data infrastructure”, which would allow data to be shared across multiple public services, meaning efforts on the ground have not always delivered results.

 

Barriers to data-sharing

 

The report finds that several technical challenges must be overcome to create the right infrastructure. Individual pieces of data must be presented in standard formats to enable sharing within and across services. Personal data also needs to be presented in a given format so linking data is possible in certain instances to identify individuals. Interoperability issues and legacy systems act as significant barriers to data linking.

 

It reports that the London Metropolitan Police alone use 750 different systems, many of which are incompatible. Technical solutions, such as application programming interfaces (APIs) can be overlaid on top of legacy systems to improve interoperability and enable data sharing. However, this is only possible with the right standards and a solid new data model.

 

Building trust

 

According to Reform, currently, just nine per cent of people feel that the Government has their best interests at heart when data sharing, and only 15 per cent are confident that government organisations would deal well with a cyber-attack. It says auditability is key to help people and organisations track how data is used to ensure every interaction with personal data is auditable, transparent and secure.

 

Unravelling legal complexity

 

 

The report highlights how legislation has at times struggled to keep pace with the way in which data is being used. It is, therefore, crucial to provide mediums which demystify legislation for those trying to understand how to use data properly within the legal landscape.

 

There is little doubt that the legal framework around data sharing is complex. The recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), sits on top of pre-existing frameworks which can make it difficult for public-sector organisations to navigate.

 

Creating a new data infrastructure

 

Reform sets out that creating a new data infrastructure for data sharing requires clear leadership and a collaborative approach. It states: “Opportunities are arising to redirect leadership through new structures, such as the Data Advisory Board, and new positions, such as the Chief Data Officer.

 

"Local government can also play an important role in promoting data sharing across the public sector. Local data-sharing agreements can provide an infrastructural and standards template for larger-scale data-sharing agreements. Building on these models can help spread best practice and improve data-sharing standards across the country.”

 

The report puts forward a number of recommendations which includes the following. The full report and recommendations can be downloaded at Sharing the benefits: how to use data effectively in the public sector.

 

  • Public-sector organisations should offer synthetic datasets, which they can share with others so that requests for data adhere to the right data standards in each organisation;
  • Within the Government’s Framework for Data Processing, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should create a Data Quality Assurance Toolkit and ensure that public-sector bodies submit data to be tested;
  • The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport should create a seal of approval, similar to the O’Neil Risk Consulting & Algorithmic Auditing (ORCAA), which indicates that data quality is satisfactory and that biases within datasets have been accounted for;
  • Technology vendors selling to public-sector bodies should ensure that their products are compatible with relevant Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), allowing this technology to overcome interoperability issues and government to change providers with ease
  • Moving forward, it should be mandatory for any system procured within the public sector to adopt open standards, encouraging competition and improving interoperability by avoiding vendor lock-in situations
  • Local government should play an important role in the establishment of data standards and infrastructure. By giving local areas space to try and test data-sharing arrangements, it will help to demonstrate which projects are successful and could be scaled-up regionally and nationally.

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