What’s stopping the democratisation of data?

Under the National Data Strategy, data use is rightly seen as a huge opportunity. So why are public sector teams reluctant to share their data with each other? Chasey Davies-Wrigley, principal data engineer at Made Tech discusses how to promote the democratisation of data starting with a new and improved approach to the data maturity assessment.

Posted 10 July 2023 by Christine Horton

The National Data Strategy tells us we must “harness the power of data to improve public services and position the UK as the forerunner of the next wave of innovation”. This goal is echoed in the government’s 2022-25 roadmap for digital and data – “make all ‘critical’ data assets available and in use across government through trusted APIs and platforms.”

The government has shared that it needs to take a more coordinated and centralised approach to fixing its data foundations. The democratisation of data – the ongoing process of enabling everybody in an organisation, whatever their technical know-how to work with data comfortably – aligns with our national data ambitions. If achieved this will without doubt lead to better informed decisions.

“The quality and completeness of our data is a blocker,” “our data is across legacy systems managed by different providers,” and “we’re struggling to keep up with internal and external demands for data,” are just some of the issues we hear when working with public sector teams on their data strategies. How realistic is it to achieve our national goals? And is enough being done to address the need for change?

The traditional journey to data driven processes for many public sector organisations often starts with a data maturity assessment (DMA).

The problem with data maturity assessments

External consultants are often employed to conduct DMAs. Essentially, these are reports that investigate a team’s current use of data and the level of understanding of those using it. Although it’s a standard process, DMAs can leave teams feeling disappointed by the result, which usually tells them they’re ‘immature’ and there’s a long way to go to get to where they need to be. This experience will not be new to many public sector teams and can be frustrating and unhelpful. The very nature of these traditional assessments can create negative attitudes toward data and make people feel like they’re being judged.

What assessments such as these also fail to do is explain how organisations can move along the data maturity scale and get to a place where data is part of their DNA.

Unlock your data’s potential

A data mature organisation is one that’s making the best use of data in everything it does – it’s baked into their culture. So, it’s important we continue to perform these assessments, but it would be much more beneficial to include it in a broader approach that at Made Tech we call a data opportunities discovery.

This approach doesn’t just review people and processes in relation to technology. It also includes the whole organisation’s data strategy and how it aligns to the wider business strategy. This type of discovery will also uncover how you can potentially influence high-level stakeholders to buy into a data strategy – which is something we need more people to champion so teams fully understand its benefits.

A data opportunities discovery will also allow an organisation to look at securely democratising their data. This way different departments can share insights, create a joined-up view of a citizens’ journey and provide more impactful public services.

As well as looking at the past, a discovery also looks to the future. We can find opportunities to improve and define the next steps to achieving an organisation’s goals. Instead of making teams feel judged, it encourages collaboration and inclusion.

The end goal for public sector organisations using data is to make sure services are as efficient as they can be, where time and investment is always allocated correctly. It’s also to use data to help with interventions. A data opportunities discovery should therefore include these important steps:

  1. A focus on people, processes and technology. These must remain front and centre of the discovery process and when planning and implementing new data strategies.

To focus on people in your organisation you must engage with different stakeholders. Look into your organisation’s culture and discover what extent people are open to change. You can also find out how data literate teams are and how many people across an organisation buy into the idea of using data to make decisions.

When looking into processes, focus on what extent they create confidence and trust in your data. How easy is it for your teams to access data, use it and share it across departments? Find out what your data governance looks like – this is not only important to ensure data quality, but it also involves looking into your data security, privacy regulations and even covers areas like what data you keep and how you’re archiving it.

When reviewing your technology, focus on what extent your data platforms help or hinder your business. How modern are both your platforms and your data engineering capabilities?

2. Look at where you are right now and create realistic milestones to get you to where you need to be. Create a roadmap and timeline for your data strategy, plot key milestones and goals. When should they be achieved and who needs to be involved?

3. Throughout your roadmap, highlight opportunities to promote data democratisation.  Afterall, getting your data out of silos and shared safely with those who need it will support better outcomes. This should be thought about at every stage of a user’s data journey.

Alongside meeting compliance and regulatory obligations, maintaining a single version of truth across your organisation is a high priority area that we look at. Improving data quality and processes, establishing guidelines for data governance and making sure data can be easily managed and accessed by all those who need it.

Incorporating a form of a data maturity assessment but viewing it as just one element within a wider data opportunities discovery can promote the democratisation of data. This helps create a centralised and coordinated approach to our public services.

Data is crucial for our public sector organisations to make better, more informed and fairer decisions at a faster pace. Unlock the potential of data and you can build smarter, faster services and achieve better outcomes for society.