So the UK now has a National Data Strategy which seems to be experiencing successive phases of consultation – something we welcome as the topic is developing quite fast. There is an opportunity for interested parties to keep on contributing to the strategy, and this should keep it fresh and evolving.
Perhaps the first and biggest thing to say about this, is that we even have a data strategy. This isn’t something we have always had, and so its very existence is a big step forward. The recognition that data has a big part to play in society and culture as well as the economy is welcome: due to the technical nature of the topic, too often data is used to optimise rather than transform.
One thing which is always worth asking about a strategy, especially in the public sector, is what will be the effect of it? So far the focus is mainly on government and its own data handling with some steps into the wild lands of how other people will produce, handle, exploit and share data. This is a sensible approach as this topic is probably too big for a single document (or even brain) to cope with, and because that is more squarely in the locus of control of the authors. But the basics here are sound: better data quality, a focus on improving skills, a push for better availability of key data, and a recognition of our responsibilities and ethics around the use of data are all things we can get behind.
In our work at The Data Place we are always pushing for more participation in decisions around the use of data, and a recognition that it never exists as a purely abstract thing.
We like to remind people that there is always a data subject, a link to real world events, a human or environmental story behind the data; too often people handling data (especially with larger data sets) miss out on the benefits of involving a broader group of people in its collection, processing and use.
We are pleased to see some aspects of these topics reflected in the skills, availability and responsibility pillars of the strategy – but we’re also still digesting it as well. Others have blogged about some fundamentals around the strategy – Rachel Coldicutt’s angle on inequality in data handling is particularly important.
The current round of consultations is open until the 2nd December and you can contribute here. It’s not perfect, of course, and there is a lot of work to do. We’re looking forward to getting stuck into the learning conversations as they progress. Let us know (link to contact form) what you think.