Councils could make more effective use of their data if they ensure the people working on data protection also play a part in exploitation of that information, Geoff Connell, head of information management at Norfolk County Council, has said.
Geoff Connell was discussing data protection as part of an interview about his new role at Norfolk County Council – Photo credit: Socitm
Speaking to PublicTechnology about his role at Norfolk, which he took up in August, Connell – who is also president of IT professionals association Socitm – said that one of the greatest successes since he started at the council had been a marked improvement in data protection and information management.
Part of this, he said, was down to having the data protection function sitting with the data exploitation area, which brings the two major aspects of data management in local government – using it to greatest effect and yet protecting the people it belongs to – closer together.
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Connell likened the principle to the idea that a bad lawyer will tell you simply what you can’t do, while a good one will ask what you are trying to achieve and then help you do that within the bounds of the law.
“The reality is, you need someone who can think in the art of the possible – ‘What can we do with this data to be more effective, more efficient, to reduce costs and improve services?’ – but you also need someone to look at it and say, ‘We can’t do that, but we can do that, and we need explicit consent for that’,” Connell said.
“I would encourage everyone to do that – to always have their data protection people on exploitation as well as locking the data down.”
Connell said that Norfolk was focused on using data more effectively as part of its efforts to target its “increasingly scarce resources much more effectively”, which had prompted it to boost its expertise in data protection – as this is often a barrier to councils making the best use of their data.
“We’re taking it really seriously as an organisation,” he said. “As a county council, one of main things we do is handling social care data vulnerable adults and children, and we have a duty to handle it responsibly, as well as using it effectively.”
He stressed that a “critical part” of the organisation’s capability to do this was to make sure that the whole council was aware of its duties and responsibilities, as well as areas of best practice and of improvement.
Elsewhere in the interview, which will appear in PublicTechnology in full next week, Connell said that he expected that councils would soon start making more use of the cloud, and revealed some of his plans for Norfolk over the next year.