Defra plans to use its ‘rich’ datasets to save UK money on bovine TB and floods

Written by Rebecca Hill on 9 November 2016 in News
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The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Data Programme is to focus on bovine TB, earth observation and flood data as it moves towards making more of the data it holds.

Defra wants to make better use of environment data to manage floods - Photo credit: Flickr, Keith WilliamsCC BY 2.0

The Data Programme board has chosen three proof-of-concept projects as part of its wider vision: to “have better data, better used”.

According to Catherine Wright, director of data, knowledge and innovation at the Environment Agency, the latest board meeting agreed that it will structure its approach to data around three ‘As’.

These are the management of group data assets, facilitating access to the data and data science and analytics. On the last element of data science, Wright said that the team had commissioned work to scope and coordinate activity across the team.

She stressed that Defra’s datasets are “incredibly rich”, ranging from species data to environment quality information, as well as having access to vast quantities of real-time data.


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“The technology revolution is a data revolution, and our challenge is to harness that data, enabling us to work more effectively with communities and customers to support innovation in the UK economy,” Wright said in a blogpost discussing the meeting, which took place last month.

The challenge, she said, was delivering the department’s vision for better use of data, and would require “focus and effort from us all”.

Defra has already made some progress towards this goal – during the summer it announced that it had exceeded its self-imposed target of making 8,000 datasets open by June 2016 by more than 3,000.

Wright revealed the next steps of the department’s work in her blogpost, saying that the team had committed to working in an agile way and to demonstrate its work rather than talking about it.

In addition, Wright said that the focus of the board would be to “steer and coordindate” to help the Defra group “get better at working with data”.

Data projects will be chosen based on business need, she said.

“When prioritising our activities we will make decisions based on delivery of a transformed service, the opportunity to make cash savings and transformation to the UK.”

Initially, the team’s three proof-of-concept projects will on improving use of data on bovine TB to tackle the spread of the disease, make better use of real-time information to mitigate flood risk and manage Earth Observation data from satellites.

“This data has the potential to marry-up land use and water quality, rural payments spot-checks, wildlife and ecosystem management, and in plant and animal health and risk to food security,” Wright said.

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