The Shakespeare Review of Public Sector Information

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Time to reflect on an interesting morning, the morning of 15 May at Policy Exchange in London where Stephan Shakespeare, Chair of the Data Strategy Board and CEO of YouGov, launched The Shakespeare Review of Public Sector Information, an independent review into how the public sector can open up and make better use of data.

Connected Liverpool was present, and witnessed the first ‘big step’ towards a nation wide big data strategy. Besides Shakespeare, Rohan Silva (Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister), Professor Sir Allan Bradley (Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, Kymab), Joe Cohen (Founder and Chairman, Seatwave), John Gibson (Senior Advisor, Number 10), Jonathan Raper (Founder and Director, Placr) and Mary Turner (CEO, AlertMe.com) were also present and part of a panel-discussion to discuss “how the UK can win the next phase of digital evolution?”. Overall, an impressive bunch we would not mind having lunch with.

Picking up on ‘the next phase of digital evolution’, what do they really mean? In short, Phase 1 of the Digital Evolution was about connectivity, bringing together people, organisations and businesses in new ways that increased communications, the channels to information, and the efficiency of operations. Clearly, this refers to the market that America dominated with its innovative and entrepreneurial culture. Google, Ebay, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter and of course Apple are all examples of big winners that clearly dominated the first phase of this evolution. Companies that ‘shaped our lives’ (to some extent) and are all located on the West Coast of America.

But, as Stephan Shakespeare described it, it is now time for the UK to step up and be a leader in Phase 2 of the Digital Evolution, a phase that provides equal potential in the capacity to process and learn from data. Data allows us to adapt and improve public services and businesses and enhance our whole way of life, bringing economic growth, wide-ranging social benefits and improvements in how government operates and judges.

Public Sector Information (PSI) provides the very foundation of this. Britain enjoys significant advantages to become a winner in this space because of the size and coherence of our public sector (think of the size and data of our NHS) combined with government’s strong commitment to develop a visionary open data policy.

So why bother? At the bottom-line of all of this is economic growth. Mastering this digital phase will launch Britain from a low-growth economy to a high growth nation. Public Sector Information is key to achieve this but its potential success is interlinked with the important role of our government to create the infrastructure that enables this. As the Independent Review sates, “Consider the role of government: it exists to decide the rules by which people can act, and to administer them: how much, by what method, and from whom to take resources; and how to re-allocate them. Doing it well enables national success; doing it badly means national failure. Ensuring that the process of government is optimised for progress, and does not corrupt into an obstacle to progress, requires continuous data and the continuous analysis of data.”

As Sir Terry Leahy once stated: “to run an enterprise without data is like driving by night with no headlights”. Additionally, Rohan Silva (Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister) explained that this is what government often does: “It has a strong institutional tendency to proceed by hunch, or prejudice, or by the easy option.” In other words, the new world of data is good for government, good for business, and above all good for citizens as we can use data such as education and health, tax and spending, work and productivity etc. to make informed decisions and to consequently, optimise our quality of life and economic growth.

So what is it that Stephan Shakespeare actually recommended? Here we go…..:

  1. Recognise in all we do that PSI, and the raw data that creates it, was derived from citizens, by their own authority, was paid for by them, and is therefore owned by them. It is not owned by employees of the government.
  2. Have a clear, visible, auditable plan for publishing data as quickly as possible, defined both by bottom-up market demand and by top-down strategic thinking, overcoming institutional and technical obstacles with a twin-track process which combines speed to market with improvement of quality: 1) an ’early even if imperfect’ track that is very broad and very aggressively driven, and 2) a ‘National Core Reference Data’ high-quality track which begins immediately but narrowly.
  3. Drive the implementation of the plan through a single channel more clearly-defined than the current multiplicity of boards, committees and organisations that are distributed both within and beyond departments and wider public sector bodies. It should be highly visible and accessible to influence from the data-community through open feedback mechanisms.
  4. Invest in building capability for this new infrastructure. It is not enough to gather and
    publish data; it must be made useful. We lack data-scientists both within and outside of government, and not enough is being done in our education system at school and
    undergraduate level to foster statistical competence.
  5. Ensure public trust in the confidentiality of individual case data without slowing the pace of maximising its economic and social value. Privacy is of the utmost importance, and so is citizen benefit.

These principles ought to be adopted by the government when it will start to create a detailed nationwide Data Strategy. Even though no time frame was given for the production of this strategy, Stephan Shakespeare’s recommended principles seem both straightforward and essential. It is now up to the government to push this agenda forward and to do it quickly so Britain’s opportunity to become a ‘first-mover’ will not be wasted….

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