DCMS blog

The National Data Strategy

Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and government, while building public confidence in its use.

As head of the National Data Strategy team I was incredibly excited to be speaking at the Westminster eForum on May 14. It presented a great opportunity to speak to policy experts and other interested parties about the government’s ambitious plan to harness the power of data to improve the lives of people, benefit the economy and allow the government to continue delivering better public services.

I really believe that for the National Data Strategy to succeed, it needs to be as open and collaborative as possible – so I approached my speech at the eForum in the spirit of open policy making.

One thing that struck me most about the other speeches at the Westminster eForum was the emphasis placed on public trust and the need to ensure that people have a role in shaping data policy. This is why people form the first of our three pillars that shape our thinking on the Strategy: People, Economy and Government.

In short, the National Data Strategy has the exciting brief to harness the public good that data can help us achieve, with people and the places they live as our focus point. And I think the best way to get there is to hear as many voices as possible to ensure the National Data Strategy is fit for purpose. And what better place to begin than opening up the floor to the Westminster eForum itself!

I can confirm I was not disappointed by the level of engagement and interest that audience members had around the National Data Strategy’s work to date. All were enthusiastic and reaffirmed our belief that the Strategy presents an enormous opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in the way data is used. While the thoughts and comments were overwhelming positive, a number of issues were raised that gave me food for thought.

Firstly, we need to think about what exactly a National Data Strategy can be and what it can achieve. Certain speakers were drawing the debate towards data governance; towards mandating – ‘this is how you do data’. While undoubtedly necessary for government to continue getting its data house in order, the opportunity for a National Data Strategy feels far broader and bigger. Further, we need to beware of today’s solutions: this Strategy needs to be adaptive and malleable to keep pace with the ever changing data landscape.

Indeed, another point raised was that as government we have to take a step back and think more broadly in terms of wider public need and what needs to be done to allow the power of data to be unlocked for all elements of society and the economy. Government will always have a much broader brief than companies, which usually seek to address much narrower strategic needs.

For example, another member of the audience asked about data standards – and what I tried to reflect in my answer was the way government approaches data standards and its own data use, is very different to what government is doing to drive how other people and the wider economy use data. We have to decide what government’s role is, and how individual departments like DCMS, can affect change. So the topic of standards has many layers and is an interesting, multifaceted topic that will need to be explored as the National Data Strategy develops.

Another issue that arose throughout the day was that people are using similar words to mean different things. Through the National Data Strategy process, we will need to reflect on what we mean by certain things, to contribute towards creating a ‘common language’ that will help engage as many people as possible so that any strategy is addressing the needs of society. One easy way to start encouraging people to engage with this topic is to make the language that surrounds it more accessible and easy to understand.

I could go on as there were plenty of interesting questions and speeches that could form countless blog posts. For now though, I hope to have provided a small insight into the work that the National Data Strategy will be doing over the coming year. It was a real privilege to be able to let everyone know about it at the Westminster eForum – I hope to back very soon!