Innovation - manifesto

Image credit: ODI

Mapping data in the UK government: innovation

Fri Aug 20, 2021
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In September 2020, the UK government published the draft framework National Data Strategy (NDS) for public consultation, updating it in May 2021 in response to the views and evidence received.

Our new policy project explores Mission 3 of the NDS: ‘transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services’. We believe that government succeeding in this mission enables Mission 1 – unlocking the value of data cross the economy – to be accomplished. This allows the overall ambition of the NDS, to ‘help organisations of every kind succeed – across the public, private and third sectors’, to be achieved. Through transforming its own use of data, government can set an example for others and show how its own data practices can enable data flows and data use across sectors.

As part of our project, we’re mapping the different teams responsible for data across the UK government and public sector landscape, and the data-related initiatives they’re undertaking. We’ll be examining them against the six components of a trusted and trustworthy data ecosystem that we outline in our manifesto: infrastructure, capability, innovation, equity, ethics, and engagement.

Our previous blogposts for this project have looked at infrastructure and capability.

You can read more about the project here and see our mapping so far here.

Innovation for impact

This week’s blogpost focuses on data innovation. As we say in the ODI manifesto

Data must inspire and fuel innovation. It can enable businesses, startups, governments, individuals and communities to create products and services, fuelling economic growth and productivity.

Opening and sharing data outside an organisation means that a wider range of organisations have the opportunity to innovate with data or participate in data innovation, rather than just the larger organisation which already holds a significant amount of data. The benefits of this have been clearly shown in the Data Pitch programme, where ODI was one of the partners.

Innovation unlocks social as well as economic value, as new services can support social goods (such as the ODI’s work with Open Active) and help address some of the biggest challenges of our time (we’re working with Open Climate Fix to explore how open data and open source software can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions). And while greater access to data is necessary for innovation, it is not sufficient on its own: practical support (including incubators, challenge funds and competitions, capital investment, open source tools and innovation-friendly policy changes) is needed to create incentives, incentivise risk-taking, and overcome barriers to participation from diverse backgrounds.

In our response to the NDS consultation, we recommended that government should pay more attention to civil society as data innovators, that publication of more open and shared data would allow innovation from a wider range of innovators, and noted the need to consider helping to build relevant skills to provide equal opportunities to people from different backgrounds and ensuring trust in data and data flows to enable greater innovation.

Data innovation in government

Government’s own innovation with data is vital to innovation in the wider economy. Through innovations in the way it uses data in making policy or in delivering public services, it sends a signal that can influence how others think about data use, provides opportunities for suppliers from other sectors, and produces resources which may be of wider benefit. 

Recent initiatives on this front include the 2018 ’Technology innovation in government survey’ which focused on the existing landscape of emerging technology use in government (including ‘data driven concepts’ and technologies like artificial intelligence and the internet of things). This was subsequently followed by the 2019 Government Technology Innovation Strategy, which set out how government should use such technologies to improve public services. The Future Policy Network brings together various teams from across government who bring innovation into policy-making. Analysis and Insight, a Cabinet Office unit, is tasked with a watching brief on public sector innovation globally. Other relevant initiatives include the Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund ‘to address cross-cutting issues in a way that improves outcomes and ensures value for money’, which included a focus on innovation with data, and the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. And the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, founded in 2018 as part of the UK’s push to be at the forefront of ethical innovation globally, publishes much of its research and advice to the government on how to maximise the benefits of new technology in ethical ways.

Innovation with public sector data

The government is also a major national steward of data. The extent to which government innovates with the data it stewards therefore shapes the level of innovation possible in the wider economy. This includes the data it makes open or otherwise available to businesses, civil society organisations and others to build new products and services, and its support for the creation of ecosystems where data is more widely shared.

Examples of this include its work on Smart Data, highlighted by the NDS and the government’s UK Innovation Strategy. A new cross-government smart data working group aims to support initiatives across different sectors. And the recent Declaration on Government Reform (which includes an action to ‘ensure all data is as open as possible to public and third parties’) and Mackintosh Report (which provides a strategy ‘to get greater value from public sector knowledge assets’ including data) are just the latest efforts to make more data available. One of the Geospatial Commission’s roles is to fuel innovation in the use of geospatial data, and earlier landmark reports, such as the Power of Information review (2007) and taskforce report (2009), and ‘Shakespeare review of public sector information’ (2013), covered the potential for wider innovation based on public sector information being made available more widely

Supporting wider innovation

There are also government initiatives which may support NDS Mission 1, unlocking the value of data across the economy, more directly. This may be through a political focus and shaping the policy environment. For example, the Office for Artificial Intelligence (AI) is tasked with helping to drive the ‘responsible and innovative’ uptake of AI technologies in the UK. The Digital Markets Unit, part of the Competition and Markets Authority, aims to promote competition and innovation in digital markets while protecting the consumer. And if many of these initiatives have a policy focus, there are also those with more of an operational one, such as Innovate UK, the ‘UK’s innovation agency’. It is part of UK Research and Innovation, and supports businesses ‘to develop and realise the potential of new ideas’. One of the priority areas in its delivery plan is AI and the data economy.

Other countries and international organisations are also addressing innovation in initiatives the UK government could learn from. For example, the European Commission has innovation as one of the pillars of the European Data Strategy (and says ‘businesses will have more data available to innovate as a result’ of it), and the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation surveys the landscape and aims to ‘turn the new into the normal and provide trusted advice’.

Get involved

We’d love you to help us map relevant UK public sector teams and initiatives, as well as relevant examples from other sectors or other countries. Our mapping document is open to comments and contributions so that we can crowdsource to help us fill out the gaps, and to get your perspectives on government data initiatives. It is open for comment until Friday 17 September 2021 (extended from 10 September). You can also email [email protected] or submit via our anonymous Google Form.

Alongside our broader engagement with the UK National Data Strategy, some of the ODI’s wider portfolio of work in this area includes: