This article is part of our Essential Guide: Essential Guide: Digital transformation in the public sector

Government publishes long-promised national data strategy

The government has published a national data strategy aimed at fostering innovation and increasing economic growth. It will also appoint 10 data fellows each year to work in the orbit of Number 10, and create 500 analyst jobs by 2021

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced a national data strategy, long in the gestation, that will provide 500 data analyst jobs in the public sector and offer 10 fellowships in Downing Street.

There will also be a £2.6m project to “address barriers to data sharing and support innovation in the detection of online harms”.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published guidance for the strategy in July 2019 – when Theresa May was still prime minister.

The strategy announced today is still a work in progress. To help shape the final document, the government has launched a “consultation to help shape the core principles of the strategy, our ambitions for the use of data across the economy and policy proposals”, said the DCMS in a statement.

The strategy includes plans to introduce primary legislation to increase participation in what are being called “smart data initiatives”. These are said to be aimed at giving people the ability to use their own data to find better tariffs for telecoms, energy and pensions.

It also restates the long-standing intention to appoint a government chief data officer “to lead a whole-government approach to transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services”.

The 10 Innovation Fellowships will offer the successful candidates the chance to work with the new No. 10 Data Science team as well as Government Digital Service (GDS) people.

The government announced in July the creation of a new analytical unit at Number 10, 10ds, aimed at driving change across Whitehall using data science. The advert for the head of that unit has now been withdrawn.

The first cohort of fellows will start in April 2021. The fellowships will be awarded for 12 to 24 months.

The 500 analysts will be trained, by 2021, through the Data Science Campus at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Government Analysis Function, and the Government Digital Service.

In support of the strategy, and ahead of his speech at London Tech Week’s Global Leaders Innovation Summit, Dowden said: “Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic – freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth.”

The £2.6m project, conflated with the data strategy, and referred to in the department’s press statement, about combating online harms will “model how improved systems for classification and sharing of data could support a competitive commercial market in tools able to detect online harms such as cyber bullying, harassment or suicide ideation”.

Jeni Tennison, vice-president at the Open Data Institute said in support of the strategy consultation: “People and organisations of all kinds are facing big challenges over the next few years. Data can help us all to navigate them, increasing our understanding of our changing world and informing the decisions we make.

“Data can also cause harm, for example through over-collection and inappropriate use. At the ODI, we want data to work for everyone, which means ensuring it both gets to the people who need it, and that it is collected, used and shared in trustworthy ways. 

“This National Data Strategy consultation is an important opportunity for us all to explore and influence how data should be used to support the UK’s economy, environment and communities, and we look forward to the debate.”

And Sue Daley, associate director of technology and innovation at TechUK, said, also in support of the consultation: “The consultation on the National Data Strategy announced today is key to finding the right way forward for industry and citizens, and TechUK stands ready to help turn the strategy into a reality. Now is the time to get to work to build and realise the UK’s data-driven future.”

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