Sharing the benefits: How to use data effectively in the public sector

Report by Sarah Timmis, Luke Heselwood and Eleonora Harwich (for Reform UK): “This report demonstrates the potential of data sharing to transform the delivery of public services and improve outcomes for citizens. It explores how government can overcome various challenges to ‘get data right’ and enable better use of personal data within and between public-sector organisations.

Ambition meets reality

Government is set on using data more effectively to help deliver better public services. Better use of data can improve the design, efficiency and outcomes of services. For example, sharing data digitally between GPs and hospitals can enable early identification of patients most at risk of hospital admission, which has reduced admissions by up to 30 per cent in Somerset. Bristol’s Homeless Health Service allows access to medical, psychiatric, social and prison data, helping to provide a clearer picture of the complex issues facing the city’s homeless population. However, government has not yet created a clear data infrastructure, which would allow data to be shared across multiple public services, meaning efforts on the ground have not always delivered results.

The data: sticking points

Several technical challenges must be overcome to create the right data infrastructure. Individual pieces of data must be presented in standard formats to enable sharing within and across services. Data quality can be improved at the point of data collection, through better monitoring of data quality and standards within public-sector organisations and through data-curation-processes. Personal data also needs to be presented in a given format so linking data is possible in certain instances to identify individuals. Interoperability issues and legacy systems act as significant barriers to data linking. The London Metropolitan Police alone use 750 different systems, many of which are incompatible. Technical solutions, such as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can be overlaid on top of legacy systems to improve interoperability and enable data sharing. However, this is only possible with the right standards and a solid new data model. To encourage competition and improve interoperability in the longer term, procurement rules should make interoperability a prerequisite for competing companies, allowing customers to integrate their choices of the most appropriate products from different vendors.

Building trustworthiness

The ability to share data at scale through the internet has brought new threats to the security and privacy of personal information that amplifies the need for trust between government and citizens and across government departments. Currently, just 9 per cent of people feel that the Government has their best interests at heart when data sharing, and only 15 per cent are confident that government organisations would deal well with a cyber-attack. Considering attitudes towards data sharing are time and context dependent, better engagement with citizens and clearer explanations of when and why data is used can help build confidence. Auditability is also key to help people and organisations track how data is used to ensure every interaction with personal data is auditable, transparent and secure. …(More)”.