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Think global, act local: highlights from our spring 2021 policy plans

Wed Feb 17, 2021
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The events of 2020 placed extraordinary pressure on people and organisations, and on decision-makers across the public sector, the private sector, and civil society. In this rapidly shifting landscape data and data policy have never been so important. We’ve been considering our public policy priorities for 2021 – where we think there is most need for expertise and insight to help shape data policy, and where we can best contribute. But we’re also keen for a wider range of people and organisations to know about our work and to have the opportunity to contribute to it. So we’re sharing the highlights from our plans for spring 2021 here. If you’d like to know more about any of these activities, or are interested in partnering with us on them, we’d love to hear from you.

What to look out for: topics and themes

In autumn 2020, the UK National Data Strategy (NDS) framework was launched for consultation. As part of our consultation response, our Vice President and Chief Strategy Adviser, Jeni Tennison, published a trio of draft long-reads – on data to support policymaking, the future of data protection in the UK, and data for the wider economywith some reflections for Data & Policy on the challenges of doing large-scale and long-term data strategies when so many of the surrounding parameters are in flux. We’re opening 2021 with activities that build on these ideas and recommendations exploring how they can be implemented in practice by key agents in the data domain.

We’ve also identified some themes or areas that we think will be core to our policy work throughout 2021.

These are:

  • data for pandemic responses (including post-pandemic recovery);
  • data sharing for the data economy (including global supply chains, international data flows, and trade after Brexit);
  • the health domain (including cross-sector collaboration and innovation across the public sector, the private sector, and civil society); and
  • data in the public sector (including digital public services and the use of digital technologies, such as algorithms, in the public sector).

We expect these themes to emerge in different ways across our national and international policy activities.

Think global: our international highlights

In the next few months, we’ll be thinking about how we can most effectively contribute to the G7 Summit, which will be hosted by the UK on 11–13 June 2021. What might be on the agenda for data and digital technologies? And what are the opportunities for an open, trustworthy data ecosystem to help deliver some of the goals of the summit?

In 2019-2020, we ran a research project on Open Cities, examining innovations in city technology in Europe, and an advisory project to create a Data and Public Services Toolkit for local authorities and devolved administrations in the UK. In January, we brought these workstreams together in our Data-Enabled Cities project and are now seeding an international peer network of city stakeholders for knowledge sharing and developing good practice.

Finally, we’re working with the World Bank to look at ways the models we identified in our Data Institutions programme can be applied in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – and how the development of data institutions in LMICs can expand and enrich our understanding of the field.

Act local: our UK highlights

With the Better Regulation Executive, we’ll be exploring the role of regulators in influencing the data ecosystem of their sectors, and how this role can be executed to support responsible innovation with data and data flows for cross-border and cross-sector trade and collaboration. We think this role for regulators will be increasingly important as the UK economy adapts to Brexit and calls to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19.

We’ll also be looking at experimentation in data use and data policy in local data ecosystems – such as cities, regions, or federal structures like devolved administrations. How can data policymakers work with new kinds of evidence for evaluation? And how can data users innovate with new kinds of evaluation? We’ll explore these questions, and more, looking at how local data ecosystems might provide answers and inspiration.

Finally, we’ll be engaging with the UK’s new Inclusive Data Taskforce, and its public consultation on how the UK’s official statistics can better reflect the experiences of everyone in our society.

We’re doing some of this work on inclusive data in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute and The Centre for Public Data. This work included hosting an ‘Inclusive data roundtable’ in March 2021, which brought together representatives from government, academia, funders, civil society and community organisations.

Sharing expertise: our evidence for policymakers

Alongside these highlights, we’ll be continuing to make sure that our evidence base of research and analysis can inform policymakers in the UK, and globally, on data and digital technologies.

In the last few weeks, we provided our evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on AI in the session ‘Data Governance in the Post-Brexit Era: Is the National Data Strategy ambitious enough?’, as well as submitting our feedback to the European Commission (EC)’s proposed European Data Governance Act – a landmark piece of legislation that is part of its broader data strategy for a data single market.

We also submitted a consultation response to Ofcom’s proposed plan of work 2021/22: ‘Making communications work for everyone’, including our recommendation that Ofcom should review the cost and governance of the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF), as an aspect of critical national infrastructure, and highlighting our support for Ofcom’s commitments to proposals on Open Communications and regulating online harms.

And we’re planning to submit a response to the Cabinet Office Green Paper, ‘Transforming Public Procurement’, to highlight the opportunity for Government procurement to incorporate open data as part of national data infrastructure, and as an opportunity for the public sector to demonstrate leadership in the data ecosystem that will influence private sector decisions and approaches.

Next steps

This is just an outline of some of the activities that we have planned. As these workstreams develop, we’ll continue to share our progress and findings, so do stay tuned. You can contact the team on or on Twitter @ODHIQ.