21 February, 2017
8:00 am - 12:40 pm

John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Service and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office

Big Data in government: challenges and opportunities

Reform held its first Big Data conference on 21 February 2017, kindly hosted by BT. The event addressed some of the major issues surrounding public trust and attitudes towards the Government’s collection, use and storage of data. This served as a theoretical basis for the other two panels which explored the specific challenges and opportunities offered by Big Data in health and policing.

Keynote speech

In his keynote speech, John Manzoni highlighted the great potential offered by Big Data and analytics, both for the economy and for the delivery of better and more efficient public services. He also addressed some of the challenges faced by government to translate this potential into clear insights and actions. One of the fundamental challenges is that of public trust and ‘buy-in’. The Government needs to engage more with citizens, explain the benefits of data-sharing and communicate about the safeguards in place to prevent security breaches. John Manzoni said that the Digital Economy Bill would provide the right basis for increased data-sharing across government departments. In addition, he also emphasised the need to increase data literacy and data-science skills within government.

  Panel one: “Big Data and the knotty issue of public trust and attitudes”

  • Hetan Shah, Executive Director, The Royal Statistical Society
  • Laura Citron, Managing Director, Government and Public Sector Practice, WPP
  • Dr Mark Thompson, Group Strategy Director, Methods and Senior Lecturer in Information Systems, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
  • Pete Cummings, Director, Partners and Government EMEA, Adobe

The first panel, held in partnership with Adobe, addressed the broader ethical questions around public trust, consent, purpose of data collection and usage. Hetan Shah spoke about trustworthiness as a tool to tackle the existing “data-trust deficit” faced by both public and private institutions. Laura Citron argued that the way the state communicates and frames the debate about data ownership, privacy and data-sharing policies is crucial to get public buy-in. Mark Thompson described the public’s behaviour as paradoxical: people are happy to share private information with social-media companies, yet feel less inclined to share personal information with the government. He also contended that the Data Protection Act, in its current form, makes civil servants reluctant to create data-sharing pathway between departments. Pete Cummings argued that the government should learn from the private sector and tailor the ‘citizen experience’ of government to people’s individual service needs and preferences.   Hetan Shah Laura Citron Mark Thompson

Pete Cummings Panel two: “Big Data in healthcare”

  • Daniel Ray, Data Science Director, NHS Digital
  • Dr Lydia Drumright, University Lecturer in Clinical Informatics, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Nasrin Hafezparast, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Outcomes Based Healthcare
  • Jeremy Atkins, Big Data Consulting Sales manager, EMEA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

The second panel, held in partnership with Hewlett Packard Entreprise, explored the challenges and opportunities offered by Big Data in healthcare. Daniel Ray said that NHS data should be joined-up to reduce inefficiencies and deliver better services and outcomes for citizens. He also spoke about the shift in the doctor-patient relationship, when patients were given access to their records which made patients more engaged in the management their health. Dr Lydia Drumright emphasised the importance of the social contract between people and healthcare institutions. It should dictate which data is shared and how to increase public trust and engagement. Dr Nasrin Hafezparast argued that no cases are ever ‘textbook’ and that machine-learning algorithms could help inform doctors’ daily decisions, increase diagnostic accuracy and encourage a greater focus on prevention. Jeremy Atkins described the continuous data collected through 'Internet of Things' devices, such as Fitbits, as an incredibly rich and yet untapped source of information about people’s health and fitness.

Panel three: “Big Data in criminal justice”

  • Andy Hill, Detective Chief Superintendent, West Midlands Police
  • Dr Peter Langmead-Jones, Head of Better Inspection, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC)
  • James Slessor, Managing Director, Global Public Safety, Accenture

The third panel, held in partnership with Accenture, focused on the opportunities and challenges offered by the use of Big Data in policing.  Andy Hill spoke about the importance of algorithmic transparency and accountability to increase both public and frontline officer buy-in. It is not enough to present the insights derived by these complex algorithms; efforts must be made to explain how the insights were created and what type of data underlies them. Dr Peter Langmead-Jones gave multiple engaging examples of uses of data from unconventional sources, such as radio frequencies, to understand police-force deployment. James Slessor spoke about the need for real-time data analysis to have user-friendly interfaces to increase their usage amongst frontline officers. He also argued that there needs to be a greater push for evidence-based policing.

Andy Hill Dr Peter Langmead-Jones James Slessor

This conference was kindly supported by: