This week, Faculty and its partner Kainos have partnered to respond to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s request for opinions on its coming National Data Strategy. You can read our response in full here.
Faculty and Kainos have worked together on a number of government engagements, and we found we shared many of the same ideas when it came to data transformation, so we thought we would team up for this consultation.
Data has always been central to the effective operation and governance of the economy and society, but it has rarely been treated as a discrete topic of interest to policymakers, businesses, and the wider public. Yet this summer, as one isolated example, there were crowds on a British street shouting “Death to the Algorithm” over A-Level exam results.
Digitisation is now moving the conversation on data from the edges of politics and the economy to the centre. The UK’s National Data Strategy is a timely effort to focus and direct reform. The way we shop, the way we work, the way we relax are all more dependent on digital technologies.
Data is the lifeblood of digitisation. And while paper processes are being transformed, the ability to collect, store, move, share, and combine data through digitised processes creates new opportunities – for good and for ill.
This year, Kainos and Faculty have worked closely with the Government through COVID-19, both individually and in partnership.
Faculty helped the NHS to more accurately allocate beds, oxygen, and PPE to the hospitals that need them most, as well as more precisely forecast the likely development of COVID-19 in local areas through the NHS Early Warning System. The firm also helped the Government to gain access to rapid reporting of the condition in particular sectors of the economy to enable agile policy-making, such as the furlough scheme.
However, data has also been used to enable actions and activities that have been more concerning, both in the UK and internationally.
While Faculty and Kainos are technology companies, we believe the use of data should always be rooted in moral purpose, not merely technological potential.
This National Data Strategy consultation can provide the UK with the opportunity to adjust and clarify rights and responsibilities around data, assure the trustworthiness and legitimacy of data use, and earn a high return on its investment in our national data infrastructure.
This “Data Transformation” called for by the National Data Strategy will extend the Digital Transformation revolution initiated by the UK government in 2010 – and the gains are potentially bigger. Providing clear guidelines and protections around the use of data will both protect citizens and allow the UK to use data to its full potential. If we get these reforms right, we will not only increase productivity, create jobs, and improve public services, the UK will also lead the world in having done so.
We believe that Government can bring about “Data transformation” through six key actions:
1. Government strongly leading by example for all UK sectors, not just defining policy.
UK Government led digital transformation with the Government Digital Service’s focus on delivery. As a result, the public sector became an exemplar for the private sector. This is needed again to transform how government departments share their data to drive the data economy. Government will set precedent through a set of exemplar services to identify and remove blockers for the data economy.
2. Government simplifying legislation on data security and privacy.
Data security legislation and data privacy legislation is often used as a reason why data is not, and cannot, be shared more widely. Instead, it is the purpose to which data is being put that should govern permission, not merely a process such as a Privacy Impact Assessment. Government needs to examine legislation and the interpretation of legislation such as the Data Protection Act to make it much clearer and less risky for organisations to choose to share data where appropriate.
3. Government developing standards and certified tooling, not just guidance.
Data interoperability should be centrally defined and mandated, so that technology doesn’t impede anyone using data where it is legitimate and beneficial. Data sharing is a difficult problem to solve, but it needs broad consensus to succeed. Government can drive towards this consensus by leading and funding the development of new data standards, technology standards and certification of market platforms and tools.
4. Government funding to help SMEs and startups innovate.
UK Government can stimulate a new ecosystem of SMEs and startups by increasing funding for programmes like Innovate UK and improving the existing efforts by the Department for Trade and Investment to support scaling of these organisations overseas. This should include programmes to support digital skills in organisations.
5. Government introducing data science to the school curriculum.
Data is central to our economy and the delivery of digital services,yet it is not introduced as an academic subject until higher education. Instead, it should be introduced to the school curriculum to make knowledge widespread and help grow skills for the future.
6. Government introducing legislation to increase competition in sectors other than Open Banking.
Government can stimulate innovation and increase competition by introducing legislation that requires organisations to share consumer data with third-parties, given consumer consent. Open Banking has started this for bank accounts and similar measures could revolutionise, for example the Retail sector helping to level the playing field for smaller local retailers.
What comes next for the National Data Strategy?
If done right, the new strategy won’t just reflect ‘the opportunities and challenges of our new hyper-digital world’; we expect that it will protect the public, catalyse national productivity, improve public services, and assist our collective recovery from the ravages of COVID-19.