“Better data is key, not just to better government, but also for a better society.”
A consortium of civil society groups has called on the British government to urgently improve how it approaches the use and provision of data, saying in a hard-hitting joint letter that “without major and sustained effort, the UK risks falling behind other countries over the next decade and never being able to catch up.”
The letter suggests that the upcoming governmental spending review be paired with the forthcoming National Data Strategy, so the government can set out long-term plans on how it will radically modernise its approach to public data.
It was signed by the Institute for Government, Full Fact, Nesta, the Open Data Institute, the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Royal Statistical Society and the Policy Institute at King’s College London.
The letter was published as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) closed a call for evidence on its proposed National Data Strategy, which will be published in 2020.
It comes as the National Audit Office (NAO) found in a recent review that “despite years of effort and many well-documented failures, government has lacked clear and sustained strategic leadership on data.”
“Stop Choosing Ignorance”
Government needs to be led “from the top down” the letter says.
The groups add: “The National Data Strategy must deliver transformative, not incremental change. It will need to be a long-term project, with a vision for at least the next ten years and practical steps for turning that ambition into a reality… The UK risks falling behind for decades to come if it does not take this opportunity.”
It adds: “Government must stop choosing ignorance by failing to invest in the data that would help it better understand its own operations, the effectiveness of its policies, the quality of public services and key facts about its population and the economy.”
Not First Time Government Data Under the Microscope
The NAO’s June report that found only one government department saw data as a “strategic asset.”
While it found that five departments did have a data strategy in place, the level of technical detail was in varying conditions and many departments did not have the funding to implement their strategies even if they wanted to.
Issues around the collection of data were also of deep concern to the NAO: it found that as departments had no standardised format for data input and collection. The audit office identified “more than 20 ways of identifying individuals and businesses across 10 departments and agencies, with no standard format for recording data such as name, address and date of birth.”
Will Moy, director at Full Fact’s commented in an email statement that: “Better data is key, not just to better government, but also for a better society. It can help people across the country hold government to account, give them confidence that they are using trustworthy services and allow them to make decisions that can improve their lives.”