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General Election affects National Data Strategy

A series of workshops, including the public’s involvement to guide the plan’s vision, have been postponed

The upcoming UK General Election has caused the postponement of all future events to guide the government’s vision for the National Data Strategy (NDS).

As part of the work around the NDS, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had planned a series of “Vision workshops” to develop the long-term vision around the strategy.

The workshops, intended to involve the public in discussions around what will be the role of data in society within the next 10 years, had been planned to take place in Yorkshire, Wales and Hampshire this month.

The postponed workshops would have included three-hour interactive sessions led by Policy Lab, a team that includes social scientists and policy-makers, which operates within the Cabinet Office.

At such events, Policy Lab uses tools and techniques to facilitate the vision creation based on participants’ values, experience and day-to-day interaction with data. A single workshop has been held so far, in Newcastle in October 2019.

Addressing public trust about use of data by the government is one of the points made in a National Audit Office report about the shortcomings that need to be addressed to make the NDS work.

The NAO report noted that increasing citizen awareness around the need to keep data secure is making departments more hesitant to look for legal ways to explore the potential of data, despite legislation and DCMS support for departments on how to use the Digital Economy Act to support public services.

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Recommendations outlined in the report include using the upcoming data strategy to address the factors hindering improved use of data, including public trust. Advice from the NAO included devising a plan to articulate how the government intends to use data and how that approach can provide benefits.

Other government projects have sparked controversy around public trust, such as the Government Digital Service’s plan to analyse web traffic alongside other user data to offer more joined-up services.

There are concerns that personal data gathered through the Gov.uk portal could be used to target political messaging at citizens. However, senior directors at the GDS have insisted there is “nothing sinister” about the plan.

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