Datactics: The National Data Strategy: Potential challenges and how to overcome them

On the back of the National Data Strategy’s advice for harnessing public data, this blog considers potential barriers and how to overcome them, from Data Quality to Data Accessibility.  

The National Data Strategy, announced in September 2020, outlines the government’s ‘wider ambition for a thriving, fast-growing digital sector in the UK, underpinned by public trust’. Its mission is clear-promote the use of data, based on the recognition that it is one of the UK’s most valuable strategic assets in delivering public benefits. The government has taken a consultative approach to operationalising the strategy through on-going stakeholder discussion, with further reforms announced last week. As a result, the following key themes emerged as pillars of effective data use: Foundations, Skills, Availability and Responsibility. Whilst they are critical first steps in harnessing public data, the NDS recognises that there are some very real challenges involved in achieving these goals.  

Quality, Availability and Access 

One of the main pillars discussed in the NDS is Data Availability, addressing the need for greater access to reliable and accurate data. The response to the pandemic illustrated efficient data sharing in practice, with the creation of the Shielded Patient List being just one example. However, it’s perhaps easier said than done, particularly in light of evidence that a culture of risk aversion exists around public data sharing. Overcoming the data accessibility barrier is not an intractable problem, but striking the balance between greater access to data, without compromising on data protection, is a complex field. 

Emphasised under the Data Foundations pillar is the importance of data quality in maximising public benefit. For data to become actionable intelligence, it need it needs to be clean, consistent and accurate, but this isn’t necessarily guaranteed when harnessing public data. Common to open datasets, which contain information that is manually entered and self-reported, is the issue of data quality. Misspellings or missing data can compromise the accuracy of datasets such as Companies House, causing potential downstream problems for citizens and regulators.  

Technology for change  

Let’s consider how these barriers can be addressed, starting with greater collaboration between people, processes and products. A recent survey by UK Cloud found that 97% of public sector respondents are open to exploring the use of technology. However, only 52% felt they had access to the necessary resources and a further 48% expressed concerns over security when adopting new technologies. This is where the National Data Strategy Forum plays a key role in facilitating discussions around new and emerging technologies and hopefully will ease concerns around security, particularly for organisations who rely on legacy systems. Partnering with industry specialists who can offer next-generation solutions and secure implementation can reduce anxieties around data accessibility as a starting point. Access to data-driven technologies with enhanced infrastructure can allow for secure cloud implementation and encryption, reducing the risk of valuable data ending up in the wrong hands. Similarly, technologies which can automate data quality checks and improve data outputs can drive efficient downstream benefits for citizens and public services alike. 

 Small Steps to a Smarter State 

Change isn’t expected overnight, but introducing conversations around data quality and accessibility seem like a good place to start as we usher in the next decade. Given the collaborative nature of the National Data Strategy, it is crucial to continue conversations around data improvement in order to unlock the power of public data. Identifying vendors and partners who have expertise in public sector data are worth getting to know, in order to tap into the opportunities that technology can bring. Start small, but make a start!


This Guest Blog was written by Roisin Floyd, Research Associate and Writer, Datactics. Datactics is an award winning provider of data quality and matching software based in Belfast. To learn more about this author, please visit their LinkedIN page.

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