The government needs a department for data

Whitehall siloes should be broken by creating a centralised body to collate and oversee the use of data, believes Johan Hogsander of Transform


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This year marks seven years since Martha Lane Fox’s call to arms to the UK government, crying out for a digital revolution across government services. Lane Fox was chiefly credited for the marriage between government and a digitally minded approach, and some great work has been done so far.

Yet, like many marriages, it feels as though we’ve hit a seven-year itch. Baroness Lane Fox’s initial call for “revolution not evolution” has given way to comparative inertia. Surely it is now time to renew vows?

We need a department for data

Although data seems to be the biggest buzzword in both the public and private sector currently, there is no denying that it has become much more useful, valuable, and necessary to the UK government in the last two elections alone. Yet whilst the government has access to a wealth of data, it needs to be structuring, sharing and making decisions based on it, as opposed to just storing it.

Data can no longer remain a sub-responsibility for the minister of state for digital – we need a department dedicated to it, responsible for joining up the siloed pools of data, transforming the way government departments interact with each other and citizens. 

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Departments in government are each treasure troves of data in their own right, yet currently we are not seeing them working together to share information in a beneficial way. In order to get the most out of this data, it should be accessible from a central location, where it can be analysed and put to use as one complete picture.    

This then means that data and digital can be used to actually make policy decisions, rather than being consulted for the sake of it. If decisions are truly driven by customers’ needs and insights, they will be far more valuable in the long term.

Another major obstacle the government faces is the use of legacy systems, which are embedded into the way the government operates. These can vary hugely, meaning that a different data model can be used from one department to the next. A dedicated team could regulate how data is shared and processed across the board, ensuring one united approach across teams.

A department for data should be in place to set a digital gold standard that the rest of the government needs to adhere to – expanding on the current work of the Government Digital Service – setting internal regulations and carrying out assessments to ensure that data is being most effectively utilised, regardless of the department’s function.

Additionally, with an increased emphasis on data protection heralded by the implementation of GDPR later this year, a department for data will need to place digital privacy and data protection high on the agenda. Centralising the information means that a singular set of security systems and checks can be applied to all government data.



Sam Trendall

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