How to understand the value of public sector data

value of data

In association with Hewlett Packard Enterprise

While the public sector has always generated huge volumes of data, government organisations haven’t always been well positioned to use it to drive value for citizens.

But in 2024, Government DDaT leaders are tasked with harnessing that potential to unlock operational improvements, uncover new insights and support decision-making. A starting point for many is understanding what the value of that data is to the organisation and, in turn, end users.

Research by the Open Data Institute has suggested that public-sector data sharing can help generate social and economic benefits worth between 0.1% and 1.5% of GDP in the case of public-sector data alone, and between 1% and 2.5% of GDP when public-sector and private-sector data are combined.

According to Pauline Yau, Public Sector Director at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the value of public sector data should be assessed differently compared to other sectors. “Data value is not a financial value in the public sector - it's about being able to deliver better services and predict what services are going to be needed by UK citizens.”

The need to think differently about public sector data value is echoed by Professor Mark Parsons from the University of Edinburgh. “There's a different type of data value that Government has. Government really is wanting to use our data in order to improve the services that they can provide. In many ways the public sector is only now beginning to recognize the value of that data -  it's not a monetary value it's societal value.” 

Shifting thinking on the role of data

For Matt Armstrong-Barnes, Chief Technology Officer AI at HPE, the popular analogy of data being the new oil can help organisations reimagine the possibilities of data-driven transformation.

“If you want to find new wells of data, it takes planning, it takes exploration, you've got to get people to it, you've got to find it, you've got to build rigs, you've got a drill to it in most instances. And when you find it, it's in a different shape, a different depth, a different volume to some other data you found somewhere else. But of course once you've got it out, you need to build refineries because you need to take it from this raw format into something that we can use.

“Where it breaks down, in terms of data being like oil, is because it's replicable. You could argue there's an infinite amount of it so we're not talking about finite resources. If you harness it in the right kind of way, it's coming in at such a volume on a daily basis, you can work out how you can build these refineries to take an almost unlimited amount of data and, in theory, turn it into an unlimited amount of value.”

Building trust and understanding around data

With Government agencies collecting and handling so much citizen data, there is an imperative to be clear and transparent. 

For Russell Macdonald, Chief Technologist at HPE, the public sector has to continue to work on building trust with citizens and tell the right story around how it uses data. “I think there's a challenge for the public sector because when we think about data value, people immediately think of economic value, so that puts the public sector on the back foot in terms of public expectation. 

“There's more of an education required to say value in its broadest terms can mean societal value, social value and being able to improve services, improve the community, improve the country you live in. That has value for everybody in terms of better quality of life, easier interaction with public services and the ability to plan for the future.”

This article is based on insights from Episode 1 of  the documentary series House of Data. To watch the series, click on the banner below.

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