How the public sector can take data use to the next level

Data has become a hot topic in the public sector - but many organisations are barely scratching the surface when it comes to unlocking its full potential. 

In a recent discussion hosted by the Data Orchard, a group of experts discussed why this is and how to take data use to the next level.

Thinking bigger 

Sally Kerr is the Data Transformation Lead in Scottish Government where she is focused on enabling the public sector to maximise its data use, most recently through the Data Maturity Framework - an assessment tool whereby organisations can evaluate and look to improve their use of data.  

In her view, people are not thinking beyond primary use of data. “You have data owners who have created these sets for a particular purpose and it's really hard to get people to push beyond that and think about cross referencing use for example."

Kerr has found through her work with the public sector on its data maturity assessments that: "people don’t understand the value of what they are managing and how it could be maximised at an operational level.”

She added that the culture around data tends to be stronger on security and protection, rather than sharing and openness, which she sees as a major barrier organisations will need to push through in order to fully utilise the power of data. 

Notably, when it comes to unlocking the value of data, Kerr believes that organisations tend to know more than they think - and should tap into that. “When people carry out these data maturity assessments, their results are often coming back higher than project teams expected. It shows that people have skills to share and they need to be given the opportunity to share that.”

Making data more accessible 

Jonathan McDougall, Data Architect at Stirling Council, has seen similar challenges in people failing to grasp the full extent to what data can do.

"People mainly associate data with reporting and sourcing - as opposed to operational data," he notes. In order to change, this he acknowledged that data needs to be made more accessible.

“I’ve started developing  a series of products where additional insights can be built using data that we already have. In terms of skills and peoples ideas, I’ve focused on creating an environment where people have begun to develop more confidence in looking to see what else is out there.  

“If I see good practice or innovation, I’m more than happy to promote that because that level of learning and sharing really starts to cascade and prick people’s interest in what data can do. This generally makes data feel less frightening and much more accessible.”

Sharing knowledge

The panel agreed that sharing resources and experiences is an effective but often underused way to accelerate data maturity within the public sector.

“There is a huge opportunity here for more exchanging of knowledge and sharing techniques and approaches,” Kerr said. 

High quality digital and data skills have been in short supply in the public sector for some time. She noted that the Scottish government has set up a community of practice, alongside its plans to expand data training capabilities, that has established a new, pooled resource of digital and data experts that public sector organisations can call upon to help them transform the way they work.

Alongside supporting the development of communities of data, Kerr said the group has acted as a catalyst for more widespread adoption of data standards and best practices.

Government Data Forum

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