Government guidelines aim to tackle ‘frictions and barriers’ in departmental data-sharing

Written by Sam Trendall on 27 May 2022 in News
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New governance framework sets out to help solve ‘non-technical’ challenges

Credit: Mohamed Hassan/Pxhere   Image has been remixed

The government has published new guidelines that aim to address the cultural and operational challenges that stymie the sharing of data between departments.

The Data Sharing Governance Framework was published this week by government’s Central Digital and Data Office. The document, which forms part of the ongoing implementation of the National Data Strategy, aims to “provide principles and actions to reduce or remove common non-technical frictions and barriers, now and over time”.

“In the same way that clear and common technical standards are fundamental to the way data is represented, recorded, described, stored, shared and accessed, clear and common governance standards are needed to deliver data to the right place at the right time,” the guidance said. “Working in silos, different levels of data maturity and solving problems in isolation has contributed to inconsistencies and misalignment in our data sharing governance. This framework is an opportunity to take stock and change direction.”

The guidelines set out five core principles, each of which aims to specific challenge that the CDDO has identified as a roadblock to better sharing and use of data by government. 

The principles are:

  • Commit to leadership and accountability for data sharing
  • Make it easy to start data sharing
  • Maximise the value of the data you hold
  • Support responsible data sharing
  • Make your data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable

The first of these principles encourages senior leaders from outside the data profession to “understand the strategic importance of data sharing by asking two questions: do you have enough information to make good decisions and deliver good services? [And] does your organisation have data that could assist other people in government to make good decisions and deliver good services?”.

The framework sets out a number of actions senior managers should then take, foremost of which is to “make data sharing a strategic priority in your organisation, [by] considering sharing your organisation’s own data as well as acquisition of cross-government data”.

Leaders should also spearhead the creation of “an organisational data-sharing policy or plan, setting out how you will implement this framework and progress greater government-wide alignment of our data-sharing governance”.

The guidance also encourages participation in the ONS Data Masterclass for senior leaders, as well as greater cooperation with the government Data Standards Authority that sits within CDDO.


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To support the principle of making it easy to being sharing data, organisations are advised that creating a single point of contact to which requests for data or other related queries can be sent can “save time for other people and help maintain control and oversight of data sharing in your organisation”.

Agencies wishing to “maximise the value of the data [they] hold” should make it easier for people both within and without their organisation to understand the data concerned, the framework advised.

To do so, data-management professionals are urged “keep an inventory of the data you hold and establish clear lines of accountability… [and] standardise and coordinate how your department maintains your data inventory”.

Once such a record has been created, departments are urged to help other agencies discover its contents by turning it into a “data catalogue” that is “readable by both humans and machines… [and] contains information about data which is useful for both technical and non-technical users”.

To best adopt the principle of responsible data sharing, organisations are first advised to make sure they have a full understanding of data-protection law. 

To then ensure compliance, the framework says that government bodies “should consult data-protection specialists when [they] first start to consider accessing or acquiring personal data”. Clearly identifying the legal basis on which personal data is shared or accessed will enable smoother and more transparent exchanges between departments, the guidance adds.

Agencies are also encouraged to work more collaboratively with one another on data-protection impact assessments.

The key to making data “findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable” is to adopt the common standards recommended by the Data Standards Authority, the document recommends.

Throughout the framework are various examples of best practice identified by CDDO, and the document concludes with a run-through of 33 recommended actions that can be taken by senior leaders, data requesters, data-management specialists, and data-sharing practitioners.

In a foreword to the framework, Heather Wheeler – the Cabinet Office minister responsible for CDDO and the Government Digital Service – said that, to deliver on the aims of the National Data Strategy, government is “working to address the technical challenges posed by legacy systems and embed consistent data standards”. 

“There are also non-technical barriers to sharing data in the public sector that we must collectively work together to overcome,” she added. “The non-technical barriers to efficient data sharing in government arise where public sector bodies have not set data sharing as a strategic priority. It is compounded by a lack of alignment between organisations in data sharing systems and processes and when we have different approaches to navigating the complexities of legal and ethical compliance.

“Across the public sector, we have significant expertise and dedicated professionals committed to managing data sharing governance and related decision-making. This framework is an important step forward in bringing that expertise together and working in partnership to align data sharing governance systems, processes and approaches.”

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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