Comment Blog 21 November, 2023

Placing data at the heart of government

Sue Bateman
Chief Data Officer, Central Digital and Data Office

Data is being seen as either a cure-all or something to be feared.  

In reality, it is an enabler to our shared ambitions for a brilliant civil service, wider public sector, and UK economy. It is critical for us all to become comfortable with talking about and using data to drive change. 

I have had the privilege of working on a number of key government data and digital transformation programmes over the past decade, including the G8 Open Data Charter, the startup programme to introduce data science into government, data sharing under the Digital Economy Act, and more recently, the cross-government Data Marketplace. 

I have found that the key to success is focusing on finding practical and deliverable solutions to what can often feel like very abstract or complex challenges.  

Recent high-profile conversations on AI and generative AI have put a spotlight on technology and security. My fellow data colleagues inside and outside government are making the point that data is just as important – and that data quality, management, governance, ethics and transparency come to the fore as enablers for AI applications. 

So, the big questions are: how do we fully recognise data as a significant enabler for our ambitions? How do we integrate conversations about data into our general business and service delivery? And how do we do so in a way that builds trust and confidence? 

There are many ways we can address this, but there are three areas I want to highlight:  

  • Leadership and advocacy: leaders who can understand and advocate for innovative but responsible uses of data and who sit at the executive decision-making level.  
  • Investment in our strategic assets: assets held by organisations that could be used more effectively across government to reduce duplication, error and waste, benefitting citizens and taxpayers.  
  • Openness and collaboration: critical to trust and confidence is the way we engage, communicate and work in partnership with groups and individuals on how we are using data and deploying AI.  

We have already made great strides, but we have a way to go – and we will only achieve our vision if we see it as a collective challenge.  

This article was published in Reform's brochure for the 'Future government: data-driven, citizen-centric' conference, which you can view here: Future government: data-driven, citizen-centric.