The UK's Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood has called for higher public sector use of data to drive:

  • better service delivery for citizens
  • better delivery on policy objectives
  • efficiency and savings
  • effective targeting of services.

This blog shares insights from two more agencies who are answering this call – the Government Office of Science (GOS) and The National Archives.

The UK's Government Chief Scientific Advisor Mark Wolpert reports to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary. He is supported by 80 staff in the GOS and a network of Chief Scientific Advisors in every agency. GOS runs research projects to support cross government policy and programmes of work, undertakes short ‘Blackett reviews’ on current topics (e.g. the Internet of things, aerial and maritime drones, blockchain technology) and has a series of teams that look at thematic issues: health, climate change, education, innovation. Their role is to ‘stick our oar on wherever we like’ – as an independent commentator that is expected to be a strong voice on key issues of the day.

GOS currently has a strong focus on enabling departments to be data driven in the delivery of their policy aims. I spoke with Jo Dally (Head of Innovation) about their work in this area in their offices at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Skills right next door to Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Jo told me that Mark and the team have been holding a series of high level round table meetings with each department's permanent secretary (chief executive) and board on data and policy. In these meetings, they aim to ‘demonstrate the art of the possible’ and then to catalyse project ideas from each department's current policy challenges and data holdings. One finding is that Data Science is hard for leaders to understand, so use ‘show and tell’ through case studies and demonstrations.

GOS then creates ‘accelerator projects’ working with analysts in agencies who have the capacity to become data scientists and a hacker mentality. Funding enables them to get the tools and capability development they need to develop something of use for their data.

Their work on data gained momentum over the last two years. They found the most effective tactic to drive departments to change is to go in at the top, but also connect directly with cool, enthusiastic analysts at the bottom by running an open competition a couple of times each year that people can apply for. GOS also connects departments with innovative startups that can do better data analysis in their area than their own staff.

 Jo Dalley and Evelyn

Jo Dally and Evelyn

Government information policy

Working backwards, The National Archives was the first agency I met with on my arrival in the UK. I met with Carol Tullo (Director of Information Policy and Services), Malcom Todd (Head of Information Policy), Marcia Jackson (Head of Information Management) and Margaret Vos (Guidance Editor). Their teams give guidance to government agencies on information management policy and practice in areas including cyber security, information security, copyright, publishing and access to office information.

I was particularly interested in the relationship between open data and the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI), which is much younger than our Official Information Act 1982 and passed in the age of the Internet. The EU also has a Directive on Public Sector Information that requires active release of public domain information for reuse to promote transparency, accountability and growth.

On the day I visited, they were in the midst of frenzied work on the passage of new regulations on the Re-use of Public Sector Information. They told me a little about the complex legislative environment for information in the UK, which has a further level of complexity from New Zealand due to the EU. The Public Sector Information Regulations are required by EU policy, and are up for review every five years. The biggest change this year is that cultural sector agencies have been brought into scope (public libraries, museums, galleries, archives). The National Archives is creating three guides to support the regulations, including one for users (in part to manage their expectations, as not every piece of information accessible under FOI is reusable):

  • Guidance for public sector bodies
  • Guidance for the cultural sector
  • Guidance for reusers.
The National Archives

The National Archives

Data security poster

Data security poster