National Data Strategy

After years of promises, the UK Government has finally announced the launch of a ‘framework’ National Data Strategy.

The aim of the strategy is to “drive the UK in building a world-leading data economy while ensuring public trust in data use” and the government has set out five missions for this work:

  • 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

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has now kicked off a 12-week consultation period.

Last year, the Open Knowledge Foundation submitted our thoughts to help shape the National Data Strategy and also signed a joint letter with other UK think tanks, civil and learned societies calling for urgent action from government to overhaul its use of data. 

In our evidence, we called for a focus on teaching data skills to the British public so we are glad to see a focus on data skills in the strategy where the government notes that “everyone needs some level of data literacy in order to operate successfully in increasingly data–rich environments”.

We said that the UK has a golden opportunity to lead by example and boost its economy, but must invest in skills to make this a reality. Without training and knowledge, large numbers of UK workers will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future.

So while there are funding commitments and assigned actions to recruit expert innovation fellows and 500 data science analysts into government, we hope to see future funding set aside to improve data literacy and data skills for all, not just public sector experts.

As we noted in 2019, “learning data skills can prove hugely beneficial to individuals seeking employment in a wide range of fields including the public sector, government, media and voluntary sector” so getting this right will be crucial if the government hopes to make the better use of data part of its plan for building a stronger economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also welcome the strategy’s focus on “fixing the plumbing” and ensuring that data is fit for purpose and standardised. As noted in our 2019 submission, there is often a “huge amount of work required to clean up data in order to make it usable before insights or stories can be gleaned from it” so further efforts to improve data quality and standardisation are sorely needed.

On the availability of data and open data, it is encouraging to see a recognition of issues relating to the government’s consistency in open data publication with a promise to review and better measure the impact of existing processes and published data.

Our mission is a fair, free and open future so we also welcome the acknowledgement in the strategy of the overarching importance of harnessing data for the purpose of creating a fairer society for all.

The consultation on the National Data Strategy is now open and runs for the next 12 weeks to 2nd December 2020. 

We will be examining the ‘framework’ strategy documents further and look forward to engaging more with the process of refining and improving the strategy.

The UK must not miss this opportunity to be at the forefront of a global future that is fair, free and open.