Martha Lane Fox calls on MPs to improve their digital skills

Written by Rebecca Hill on 2 November 2016 in News

Digital advocate Martha Lane Fox has urged MPs and ministers to boost their data literacy as the government’s Digital Economy Bill makes its way through parliament.

Martha Lane Fox is pushing for MPs to become more digitally literate - Photo credit: PA

Lane Fox, who was speaking at a press briefing held at the Open Data Institute’s 2016 summit in London yesterday, said that she wanted to see MPs thinking about digital differently.

In response to a question from PublicTechnology about the Digital Economy Bill – which aims to help government make better use of the data it holds on the public and tackle digital exclusion across the UK – Lane Fox said that her concern was that MPs did not have a good enough grasp of all the issues the bill covers.

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Lane Fox raised work being done by Doteveryone, the charity she founded and chairs to help raise digital literacy and digital inclusion across the UK, to help MPs understand digital.

“We want them to think about digital in a different way – that can be anything from engaging with their constituents more effectively to understanding legislation,” Lane Fox said.

“My perception is that this [digital and data] is not well enough understood in government, and with the people making these decisions, and that’s very important.”

She added that the government would not be able to create the right legislation unless those responsible for that legislation had more data literacy themselves.

“We need an enormous revolution in the way we think about this stuff,” Lane Fox said.

Her comments echoed those made by ODI chairman and computer science professor Nigel Shadbolt earlier in the day at the opening session of the conference, who said advocates needed to reiterate the importance of open data to government.

“We enjoyed a period of quasi-stable government organisations in this country, and a generation of ministers were inculcated on a precept that data was important,” he said. “This needs to be renewed. We need to ask if they remember the open data principles.”

Shadbolt also said that the UK needed to focus on maintaining its wider commitments to open data, warning that the UK was in danger of letting its “national public data infrastructure bimble along, get part-privatised and not be as useful as it could be”.

Meanwhile, Jeni Tennison, the chief executive of the ODI, told the press briefing that there were some positive signs on open data from government – such as the clauses in the Bus Services Bill that will see the opening up of route and timetable data automatically.

However, she added that the Digital Economy Bill’s provisions around data sharing need to build in openness, transparency and accountability - something she also raised when giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee last month.

“What we want to avoid is a situation where people suddenly find out that their data is being passed between government departments, and they think it’s for all these nefarious purposes,” said Tennison.

“What we need is very clear communication about why the sharing of data for these particular purposes is so useful – preferably backed up by some facts and evidence 0 and for this to be in the public domain.”

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