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September 9, 2020

“Pro-Tech”, “Pro-Growth” National Data Strategy Finally Lands: What You Need to Know

Gov't vows "specific commitments to prevent the use of unjustified data localisation measures"

By CBR Staff Writer

The government today published its long-awaited National Data Strategy — pledging to hire a new Government Chief Data Officer to oversee the Government Digital Service (GDS), remove barriers to cross-border data flows, and overhaul legacy IT systems.

“When I became Digital Secretary, I vowed to be unashamedly pro-tech. This has to begin with data” says Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), introducing the 30,000-word National Data Strategy today.

The report comes six months after the UK was found to have slumped in global open data rankings; sitting in the bottom half of the OECD’s annual list.

Ministers are promising to introduce primary legislation “to improve our ability to mandate participation in Smart Data initiatives and provide a legislative footing for all initiatives.” Quite what form this will take remains an open question,.and the National Data Strategy is accompanied by a further consultation, closing December 2.

See also: Government Data Strategy Still a Shambles, Public Accounts Committee Report

The paper takes particular aim at “measures that require the use of local computing facilities as a condition for conducting business in that country, [which] can be a barrier to innovation, market access, and trade.” The government said it will seek provisions in talks with trade partners (including with the US, EU, Japan) that include “specific commitments to prevent the use of unjustified data localisation measures.”

(As tech policy expert Heather Burns noted on Twitter, was also “screamed out from these pages was the near-total absence of the UK’s data protection regulator. They are discussed briefly in psasing like a guest at their own wedding”).

It also sees the government promise to work in partnership with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) and other leading organisations in the field of data and AI ethics to “pilot approaches to algorithmic transparency this year, and consider what would be needed to roll them out across the public sector” as it seeks to ramp up the use of Artificial Intelligence across government. (Backed by a “national engagement campaign on the societal benefits of the use of government data”).

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Westminster, meanwhile, will train 500 analysts data science across the public sector by 2021 through the Data Science Campus at the ONS, the Government Analysis Function, and the GDS, the government pledged today, saying that it had identified “five concrete and significant opportunities for data to positively transform the UK.

National Data Strategy: Five Pillars

It broke these five concrete opportunities down as follows.

  1. Boosting productivity and trade
  2. Supporting new businesses and jobs
  3. Increasing the speed, efficiency and scope of scientific research
  4. Driving better delivery of policy and public services
  5. Creating a fairer society for all

Pointing to a recent Imperial study that indicated that, of the 117 NHS trusts using electronic health recording systems, 92 of them were using at least 21 different medical records systems, making it harder to coordinate and effectively share information, the National Data Strategy pledges that the government will launch a major programme of work to tackle “cultural and coordination” barriers to data sharing.

There will be hardware and software overhauls too, it suggests, promising to “commit to resolving the long-running problems of legacy IT and broader data infrastructure”. (Cynics, yes, you’ve heard this one before. The head of steam behind the proposals and government openess to cloud suggests, possibly, that this time may be different).

These will include:

  • “Creating a central team of experts able to ensure a consistent interpretation of the legal regime around data sharing
  • “Launching the Data Quality Framework
  • “Creating a Data Maturity Model for government
  • “Building a data management community of good practice
  • “Learning and setting best practice and guidance through a series of flagship demonstration – or ‘lighthouse’ – projects

At the heart of government itself, HMG will look to develop an “Integrated Data Platform for government” meanwhile. The National Data Strategy describes this as a “a safe, secure and trusted infrastructure for government’s own data: “It will be a digital collaborative environment that will support government in unlocking the potential of linked data, building up data standards, tools and approaches that enable policymakers to draw on the most up-to-date evidence and analysis to support policy development, improving public services and improving people’s lives.”

Is this likely to be some form of cloud-based government-wide datalake?

The National Data Strategy isn’t clear, but hints that “The advent of new technologies models (e.g. Cloud, edge, secure) are making it increasingly feasible to allow multi-party access to data in secure and privacy-enhancing ways, for example through secure research environments, or through attribute exchange models.”

Regardless, Amazon was among those welcoming the report, with Darren Hardman, AWS’s MD for the UK and Ireland saying: “Making more effective use of data and cloud computing is key to the UK’s long-term economic growth and the continual improvement of our public services. We welcome the launch of this consultation on the new National Data Strategy, which will be instrumental in ensuring the UK remains one of the world’s leading digital nations.”

A sister publication, the Government Office for Science’s The Future of Citizen Data Systems report meanwhile examines different approaches to the governance, control and use of citizen data across the world and aims to provide an evidence base to support the National Data Strategy.

Computer Business Review is keen to hear views – euphoric, concerned, or just cautiously optimistic – on the National Data Strategy and consultation paper. Send your thoughts to our editor Ed Targett. 

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