The National Data Strategy: An Overview

Taso Advisory
Nov Tue, 2020
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INTRODUCTION

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently carrying out a consultation on its National Data Strategy. The strategy was published as part of London Tech Week in September 2020, and outlines the Government’s data policy framework for the coming decade. DCMS are now seeking responses to the document from the wider public. Submissions are open until 2 December 2020.

CONTEXT

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for DCMS at the time, announced the UK Government’s intention to develop a National Data Strategy in June 2018. DCMS then launched an open call for evidence to inform the strategy in June 2019. The Government also ran a series of stakeholder engagements and roundtables throughout 2019. The outcomes of these engagements, as well as the responses to the call for evidence, have informed the strategy.

It should be noted that the publication of the National Data Strategy follows a statement made by the Prime Minister in July 2020 that the responsibility for Government use of data would be transferred from DCMS to the Cabinet Office. This is part of this Government’s data drive. DCMS will, however, retain responsibility for data policy for the economy and society.

WHAT IS IN THE NATIONAL DATA STRATEGY?

The overarching aim of the National Data Strategy is to “drive the collective vision that will support the UK to build a world-leading data economy.” The document is underpinned by the idea that “unlocking the value of data is key to driving growth both within the digital sector and across the economy.” The contents of the strategy are organised under four pillars, relating to various aspects of data collection and usage. These pillars are:

  1. Data foundations — ensuring that data is “fit for purpose”, interoperable, and reusable. This pillar relates to promoting better formatting and standardisation of data across different sectors and industries.
  2. Data skills — ensuring that people at all levels of society are equipped with the skills required to understand, use and interpret data. 
  3. Data availability — improving sharing of and access to data amongst different sets of actors in the private, public and third sector.
  4. Responsible data — ensuring that data is used “in a way that is lawful, secure, fair and ethical.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The strategy focuses extensively on the potential for data to unlock economic productivity and growth for businesses, consumers and government activity. It outlines a variety of opportunities in boosting trade, supporting new jobs, increasing and improving research output, and driving better policy and public service provision. The strategy also sets out a number of actions the Government will take in an effort to realise these opportunities. 

DATA SHARING

A clear takeaway from the strategy is the Government’s belief in the economic potential in having data that is more accessible, and therefore ready to be put to more and better uses. The document establishes the Government’s intention to foster an environment where data can be more readily shared amongst actors and across different sectors of the economy. 

  • The Government plans (in broad terms) to address barriers to data sharing. More specifically, the strategy mentions the Government’s intention to “drive use of the Digital Economy Act (2017) powers.”
  • It also sets out plans to introduce primary legislation to boost participation in Smart Data initiatives. The Government says these initiatives will enable consumers to acquire and use data that firms hold about them to find better tariffs in telecoms, energy and pensions services. 

This indicates that Government policy on data going forward may focus on making data held by private companies, for instance, more readily available to both consumers and other organisations. 

  • The strategy notes that such barriers exist between national borders, too, and states the Government’s aim to address barriers to data sharing internationally. In relation to the UK’s exit from the EU, the strategy states the Government’s commitment to seeking a “positive adequacy decision from the EU … before the end of the transition period.” This is looking increasingly unlikely. 

DATA LITERACY

The strategy acknowledges that a significant issue in effectively leveraging data capabilities is a lack of adequate training in the workforce to do so.

  • The strategy outlines the Government’s intention to promote the study of data science in universities through dedicated modules on the subject as well as “integrating data skills into other subject areas”, and the need to “expand the supply of advanced data skills across research engineers and professionals to help maximise R&D investments.”
  • It also mentions the Government’s commitment to improving data skills across the public sector — most notably by “training 500 analysts in data science by 2021 through the data science campus at the ONS.”

DATA ETHICS

The strategy also notes the importance of gaining the public’s trust on data collection and use in an effective data regime more broadly. In this respect, the strategy prioritises a “pro-growth data rights regime.” 

More concretely, the strategy mentions the Government’s intention to “explore appropriate and effective mechanisms to deliver more transparency on the use of algorithms in assisting decision making within the public sector” (see our blog post on the DCMS Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Misinformation’s inquiry into data ethics for more on ongoing policy debates on algorithmic transparency).

NEXT STEPS

It is important to note that the strategy does not present the Government’s final view on data strategy and policy, and that DCMS is seeking submissions from the wider public on what the document has set out. The purpose of the consultation is to “sense-check” the proposed actions outlined in the strategy, and gather feedback on whether the strategy “meets its overarching objective of unlocking the power of data across the UK.” 

Responses to the consultation will further inform the development of the Government’s policies and actions on data. As such, there is wide scope for corporate engagement in this area to raise any concerns over the National Data Strategy, to provide the Government with further evidence on how data is important to business and trade, and inform the Government’s overall policy in this highly important and quickly developing policy area.

Taso Advisory supports clients with the political, policy, and regulatory challenges they face, and helps them to design and deliver credible responses to mitigate risks and seize opportunities. We make complex challenges simple, give actionable advice, and support in delivery. You can find out more about what we do and who we work with.

For a confidential discussion about how we can support your public policy and public affairs work in relation to the National Data Strategy and other issues, please get in touch by emailing [email protected] or by calling +44 (0) 20 3488 4489.

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