This is the Open Data Institute (ODI) response to the UK government’s consultation ‘Data: a new direction’, launched by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in September 2021.


On 9 September 2021, the UK government published ‘Data: a new direction’, its wide-ranging proposals for reforming the UK’s data protection regime. The proposals were accompanied by an economic impact analysis paper offering a rationale for the reforms based on expected impacts, particularly for businesses in the UK.

Now that the UK has left the EU, the government wants to create a pro-growth and trusted data regime that unleashes data’s power across the economy and society, for the benefit of British citizens and businesses. The reforms outlined in the consultation are intended to:

  • Cement the UK’s position as a science superpower, simplifying data use by researchers and developers of AI and other cutting-edge technologies.
  • Build on the unprecedented and life-saving use of data to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Secure the UK’s status as a global hub for the free and responsible flow of personal data – complementing our ambitious agenda for new trade deals and data partnerships with some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
  • Reinforce the responsibility of businesses to keep personal information safe, while empowering them to grow and innovate.
  • Ensure that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) remains a world-leading regulator, enabling people to use data responsibly to achieve economic and social goals.

The ODI’s response

In our response to the consultation, we have drawn on areas where we have relevant evidence and distinctive expertise, such as in data assurance, data institutions, and data literacy; and on the outcomes of three expert roundtables that we convened during the consultation period to inform our thinking.

In our consultation response, we make the following key points:

  • We argue for data reforms to be accompanied by a commitment to developing holistic data skills in organisations and communities, to strengthen trust in data ecosystems and so that more people can benefit from data practices.
  • We critique the government’s economic impact analysis paper for its narrow focus on direct compliance costs to business of data protection, rather on the long term benefits and harms data can deliver for the UK.
  • We argue that economic growth from greater data sharing and data use must also be sustainable, inclusive, and equitable for longer-term trust in data practices.
  • We argue that interventions to strengthen data innovation should also widen participation in data innovation, and improve the distribution of the benefits of data innovation, for longer-term trust in data practices.
  • We argue that the ICO and other regulators should be supported in building capacity in regulatory technology

Key themes that emerged in our expert roundtable discussions included:

  • The importance of transparency and trust – it was also recognised that transparency is necessary but not sufficient, and should be accompanied by accountability and mechanisms for redress.
  • That harms and benefits from data policies and data practices can change over time, and some harms and benefits are collective rather than individual. So a trustworthy data protection regime is one that protects communities as well as individuals, and that gives weight to the medium- and longer-term impacts of current actions.
  • There were questions about whether legislative change was necessary, or whether it was the right kind of intervention needed to secure the benefits of a trusted data protection regime.

You can read more about our engagement with the consultation – including our mapping spreadsheet and explainer of the proposed reforms, and the summaries of our expert roundtables – on our project webpage.

You can also contact the ODI’s Public Policy team at [email protected] or on Twitter @ODIHQ.