Data governance is at the heart of a pronouncement coming from the Royal Society and the British Academy, which are launching an inquiry into this emerging digital minefield in Whitehall.
Given the sheer amount of data now coming into government and further increases likely due to changes in tax and more digital engagement it’s clearly imperative that the authorities get their proverbial houses into some sort of order.
The report is expected to focus on negotiations on context-based negotiations in using public data.
Data governance and silos
One major difficulty will be the current silo’d nature of data, in both the public and private sectors. Streamlining and unifying a data set so that it complies with a particular set of rules is feasible if not simple when there is one technology underpinning it. This is not the case in government, where the information has grown over time and is dependent on different IT implementations undertaken at different times.
Add to this that the importance of IT in the equation has been understood only recently and you can see why at least one former senior person within the DWP is calling for the re-insourcing of computing projects. How realistic this is as an aim with the skills shortage being severe is an open question.
The Royal Society and British Academy have the task of setting out a methodology for data sharing in the public sector. The organisations appear to have accepted that there is already too much data out there to put together an overall guideline so the aim will be to put together a framework by which negotiations can take place when public body A needs information from public body B.
The organisations will find a number of obstacles in their way. Only recently an initiative by which the National Health Service was going to lift information from GP records to inform healthcare was scrapped because of consent issues.