Defra publishes nine principles for ‘better data that’s better used’

Principles call for data that is open, well-maintained, easy to find and simple to use

Open data is a crucial part of Defra’s plans – Photo credit: Flickr, Justin Grimes, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published a beta version of its nine principles for how its teams will work with data as part of its efforts to improve its used of information and open data.

The aim is for the principles to be embedded in Defra’s digital transformation projects and to make it simple for all Defra’s agencies to use data, as well as making it easier for customers and suppliers to work with the department and its agencies.

They apply to data of all sizes, types, formats and structures and call on people to standardise their data and to make it usable and easy to find.

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Up until now, Defra’s different organisations have approached the same tasks in different ways, which Andrew Newman, manager of the data management and policy team at Defra, said increased costs and reduced agility.

“To address these challenges and ensure we work in one way, we are building a single data framework, including a single set of data principles, for the Defra group,” he wrote in a blogpost.

“When writing our data principles, our number one driver was that everyone in Defra group uses some sort of data everyday – and therefore the principles needed to be applicable to everyone and all their data.”

The principles, which were established in consultation with four Defra boards and various users, are based in part on reviews of other data and information principles, including those from the Ministry of Justice, The National Archives and the Cabinet Office.

The first of the beta principles, which will all be iterated and improved, is to understand data needs, calling on civil servants to carry out research and develop a “deep knowledge and understanding” of the aim of the data, what information is needed and who will use it.

The principles then call for the data to have an owner from the most relevant business area and for a standard to be developed that will allow users to understand the data’s structure, quality and potential uses.

Data teams must make sure they understand and maintain the quality of their data, and share the data as widely as possible, with the principles noting that Defra group’s data “is “open by design”.

It must also be easy for users to find, easy for them to use – the principles say it should be available in common formats and, if feasible, as linked data – and properly protected and compliant with relevant data policies.

Finally, the data teams are told to build a community around the data that includes the owner, data managers and users, as well as ensuring they seek, and act on, feedback they get on the data.

Newman said that the principles had already been included in the data packs sent out to potential suppliers for the department’s new UnITy procurement programme, and that the team was working with test managers to understand how they can be tested as part of ICT test and development processes.

The move is part of continued efforts by the department to improve access to, and use of, its data. Last summer, Defra announced that it had exceeded its self-imposed target of making 8,000 datasets open by more than 3,000, and in November it launched a portal for bringing together plant health data.


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