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Better use of data can improve government delivery of services, says John Manzoni

Civil service chief John Manzoni highlights the potential and need for the government’s use of data to improve public services

Civil service CEO John Manzoni has called on the government to make changes in infrastructure, its approach to data use and improving data science skills.

In a blog post, Manzoni stressed the importance of using data to improve public services, both to understand “what works and what does not” and to change the way the public interacts with government through “new better digital services”.

“The reality is that the whole fabric of government is changing as it becomes digital. More data is capable of flowing around government and between government and users,” he said.

“There’s now the potential to access vast amounts of data and powerful tools to help us analyse and use it.”

These tools means analysis of data will be increasingly built into digital services and power decisions made by “frontline workers”.

He added that although the government has done a lot to improve its digital capability and the use of data through the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Digital Economy Bill, there are still changes that need to be made, including in infrastructure.

The Digital Economy Bill’s stated aim is to make the UK “a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government”, with one of its key commitments focusing on the sharing of publicly held datasets “to improve service delivery while maintaining safeguards on privacy”. 

However, it has been criticised for failing to provide enough detail and scrutiny around its data-sharing commitments.

While Manzoni did not directly comment on the bill, he said the government needs to demonstrate a “trustworthy approach to data” so the public knows what, how and why information on them is being used.

Read more about government and data

“This digital age of data is changing how we live our lives, how we shop, socialise and consume media. The scale of some data in government can be extremely large (weather data, for example),” he said.

“However, in practice, much of the innovation in public services and data will come through applying new machine learning tools and techniques to the existing data that can be queried and transported around our systems in more modern ways.”

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