Made Tech Blog

AI might be the new toy, but data governance is key

At a recent Government Transformation Magazine event, supported by Made Tech, senior civil servants from across Whitehall gathered to look at some of the challenges around data governance and AI integration. The conversation didn’t shy away from exposing the difficulties, but attendees also suggested ways to tackle them.

Getting citizen buy-in

The first challenge highlighted was the difficulty to convince the public of the benefits of using their personal data to improve government services. Without citizen support, many initiatives fail. For example, in a project aiming to share health information between ambulance services and A&E to improve care outcomes, the government asked people if they could “share their data with a third party.” Unsurprisingly, to such a vague request, most said no.

One solution is to clearly articulate the benefits and offer options. As David Wilde, co-founder of GovX, suggests, “if citizens are willing to provide their identity, services will be faster. Alternatively, they can choose a slower service without sharing personal data.” This approach worked during the COVID-19 pandemic when people quickly adopted the NHS app because they understood the trade-off between sharing personal data and resuming normal activities. 

To transform public services, we need to educate citizens about data sharing and obtain their informed consent, so we can unlock significant improvements in service design.

Effective data governance 

Poor data management was then identified by the attendees as another big problem, especially when there’s no unified approach. Effective data governance is critical for making the most of federated data sets, yet there are many situations where this is failing.

One civil servant gave a specific example: “There’s no correlation in data governance between how the police, the Ministry of Justice, and the prisons operate. The criminal justice system is trying to make progress but there’s a long way to go.” One big challenge is the lack of a common language for data quality across different organisations. Each department uses its own terminology and data practices, and centralised repositories, while intended to unify data, can actually threaten interoperability.

Data contracts – formal agreements that define how data is to be shared, processed, and governed across different systems – are emerging as a promising solution. By bringing better alignment and clarity, data contracts can provide the integration that’s needed for robust federated data governance.

Get leaders to lead

Next on the list to debate was how to raise the profile of data. Getting senior leaders to prioritise data management is tricky. Despite its importance in digital transformation, data governance often gets overlooked. “Data governance is boring, but it’s essential for everything we want to achieve,” said one attendee. It needs a marketing ‘rebrand’.

The upcoming election is a chance to change these priorities. “Digital transformation speeds up during crises like Brexit and COVID-19. We need leaders to move from being reactive to having a clear strategy,” said one participant. Bringing data governance into public discussions and promoting its importance could drive major changes.

AI – the new toy

Last , but not least, everyone agreed that good data management should come before AI in order to get the best results. One civil servant said, “we need to focus on the fundamentals of data before looking at the new toy”.

There was also scepticism about AI’s practical use. “I mostly see AI supporting people, not replacing them,” one attendee noted. Jim Stamp, Head of Data at Made Tech stated that understanding and declaring the quality of data is crucial for both AI advancement and data sharing between departments. This focus on data quality has brought renewed attention to the need for better data management.

Event takeaways

The discussion at the event showed that to truly leverage the data that exists relies on the government getting citizen support, managing the data well, securing leadership commitment, and judiciously using AI. By showing citizens the benefits of sharing their data, and improving data practices, government departments will be able to greatly improve the services they deliver.

To find out more about Made Tech’s data and AI capabilities visit our web page or read our recent blog by Jim Stamp on federated governance.

About the Author

Made Tech icon

Made Tech Team

Blog posts from the team at Made Tech