Chief Digital Officer for London Theo Blackwell sets out City Halls take on how Whitehall finally needs to develop common approach across government departments to data, dealing with current challenges like public trust, poor data-sharing, and the public utilities.
Earlier this year the Department of Culture Media & Sport issued a ‘call for evidence’ for a proposed National Data Strategy. London’s City Hall responded highlighting to Whitehall some of the opportunities and challenges when the real work gets underway.
As the strategic authority for London, we strongly support the principle of a national data strategy to improve data-sharing with local and devolved government and make recommendations on how that might be progressed.
As a regular user and interface with government data, we are also are well placed to give a perspective on Whitehall’s use of data across the departments and agencies we regularly work with.
London & data
London arguably differs to other cities in terms of its scale and the range of its partnership working with many more parties than other cities in the UK. The GLA sits within a complex data environment on account of its relationship with central government; 32 boroughs and the City of London; London-wide public services (including Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police and other emergency services); research institutions and wider civil society.
The GLA’s use of data revolves around strategic analysis and performance management where we need timely access to detailed extracts of individual records for policy purposes.
Through the London Datastore, the GLA has developed greater expertise in open data, data-sharing and use of personal data over last decade. The Datastore is a free and open data-sharing portal where anyone can access data relating to the capital. It was set up and is managed by the GLA to make London’s data more accessible. Established in 2010, in was winner of the Open Data Instiute Open Data Publisher Award in 2015 and now contains of 3,000 files, receiving up to 70,000 visitors per month. In addition to data for download, it hosts two blogs and over 300 webpages, providing commentary, interpretation, guidance, tools and data visualisations.
The Datastore also enables the GLA to make complex issues more visible to policy makers, the public (e.g. Schools Atlas, Digital Connectivity Map, Cultural Infrastructure Map) or for specific users (Infrastructure Mapping Application).
Data and trustworthiness
City and local government are custodians of large amounts of data and personal information. It is important that the public trust us both to secure their data and when we share data. We believe it is part of our city leadership role to provide transparency and assurance to the public and other users about how their data is held and used.
A commitment to open data is a necessary first step. The Greater London Authority is a recognised leader in open data, with the London Datastore and Transport for London’s Unified API enabling significant innovation in policy development as well as civic benefit through apps like Citymapper.
Increasingly the scope of city and local government — and the advance of smart technologies — enables the pooling of personal data, which goes beyond open data, raising questions about how we store and share ‘non-open’ data. This requires us to develop new structures, processes and engagement to provide appropriate assurance.
Data-sharing across the city
Using the technology behind the Lancashire & Cumbria Information Sharing Gateway, the London City Data Analytics Programme is building a document repository into which any existing data sharing agreement can be uploaded for view by partners and the public, and the documents can be easily searched and retrieved. Stage 2 of the initiative will then be to agree a set of data sharing templates that comply with all information governance principles. These templates would be ‘pre-approved’ as acceptable for use in any data sharing arrangement.
The GLA is currently developing the next iteration of the Datastore — beyond open data — as a central register for key London datasets and to provide secure access to wider datasets.
The advent of 5G and the Internet of Things introduces a challenge around large volumes of live data (e.g. around citizen movement), but mobile data is already here. Following a pilot in 2016, TfL tracks mobile signals as people complete their journeys. The data leads directly to improvements in how the tube runs and operates, by giving the transport body a much more detailed insight into customer behaviour than has previously been available.
The GLA worked with the ODI to pilot a data trust. In March the ODI has published their findings on how London can create and manage city data trusts. They scoped how a data trust pilot would work with our Sharing Cities teams working in City Hall and the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
To what extent are people concerned about how data about them is used, stored and shared?
We believe there is a public expectation for transparency and assurance to users about how their data is held and used by public authorities.
While data-sharing between public bodies is seen as important to improve public services, there is work to do to reassure residents that this can be done safely and securely when sharing data is appropriate.
In general, we perceive a willingness by the public to allow data to be shared if it is done so for an acceptable reason and it is clear who data is being shared with and how. This is balanced by a concern that the public sector does not always hold data securely or that ‘bad deals’ may be struck between public bodies and third parties, to the benefit of the third party and not the citizen. Further research should be undertaken with the public in the development of the National Data Strategy to give a clearer picture about these questions.
As holders of significant amounts of personal data, and places where the latest technologies are being piloted and introduced, it is important for city government to adopt a more active role in discussing data ethics with citizens.
The GLA has conducted several engagements with Londoners to assess their views and appetite for data-sharing and sensors:
· In May 2018 (to coincide with the introduction of GDPR) we polled of 1,097 Londoners on their views about data and sensors and conducted an online discussion on data and sensors through Your Commute and Talk London.
· The GLA also surveyed the views of local representatives in London on their views about data-sharing and sensors.
· The GLA currently works with the OneLondon health and social care programme to understand patient expectations around data sharing between the NHS and local government.
· TfL commissioned work on collecting Wifi data on the Underground network in their pilot to inform the full service, launched this year. In developing this TfL considered guidance and engaged Information Commissioners Office (ICO). TfL adopted the ICO’s advice when informing customers that it was collecting WiFi data and the benefits from doing so. TfL updated customers about this activity using in-station posters, press releases, a Metro newspaper article, social media, and a dedicated webpage where they told customers they could opt-out by switching off their WiFi.
How effectively are government and wider public sector collecting, sharing, analysing and storing the data it holds? What does good practice look like? What does bad practice look like?
More consistent approach to data between all the departments and devolved government
In our experience, current data-sharing arrangements and practice between Whitehall and GLA varies significantly (see below). Where there are examples of good practice, there are numerous cases where data sharing is more difficult or the experience across government departments is inconsistent. Where this occurs, it is often a burden on local authorities and the source of frustration.
Examples of Good Practice
· The Department for Education (DfE) have created several important and useful datasets. One example is the National Pupil Database (NPD) which allows the GLA to produce pan-London school rolls projections that in turn inform many £millions of school construction each year. The NPD combines data from a range of different sources to produce a clean consistent dataset, which crucially includes longitudinal information. This allows tracking over time and (for instance) means that flows between primary schools and secondary schools can be understood consistently across London for the first time, as well as tracking education outcomes. Access to individual records is provided through a thorough and transparent application process, and data is supplied to authorised researchers through the ONS Secure Research Service.
· Access to a wider range of detailed personal or corporate data for accredited researchers is available through secure areas for researchers (for instance, Office for National Statistic’s Secure Research Service) and is invaluable for a range of economic and social questions.
· Information Sharing to Tackle Violence is a programme co-ordinated by the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime (MOPAC) and was originally funded through the Home Office Innovation Fund. It allows crime and community safety analysts to measure violent assaults that are presented to London’s 29 Type 1 A&E departments that may not have been reported to the other emergency services. This allows the identification and policing of violent hotspots that are not reported directly to the police. The programme has developed more effective data sharing between Community Safety Partnerships, health and other partners, using a new approach to collating and analysing anonymised ED data to inform community safety strategies and resourcing decisions across partner agencies.
Examples where practice could be improved
· Where central government requests data from local councils and other bodies — but then does not make it available it is often difficult for regional government/combined authorities to request this data as authorities feel that they have already provided it once.
· Access to sufficiently detailed data from DWP benefits and HMRC tax services. The GLA receives access only to aggregated data from each department not individual records. There is a need for access to record level data for strategic analysis to assess the impact of initiatives (e.g. to more detailed DWP data to cost TfL’s vehicle scrappage scheme or Universal Credit on Londoners).
· Better linked data across services i.e. linked National Insurance Number (NINo) data to understand experience of both out-of-work and in-work poverty, among other issues.
· Regional government and the new combined authorities have a need to combine local data from constituent districts/boroughs on regular basis (in London’s case the 32 Boroughs and City of London). Some government departments only release one-off snapshots of data or highly aggregated data, making it difficult for cities to carry out analysis in these policy areas. This leads to local organisations commissioning their own data gathering exercises or carrying out surveys.
· There are examples where the GLA has resorted to Freedom of Information requests to get the level of detail we need from government departments, for example on migration data from Home Office. Devolved government should not have to use this route for basic statistics.
A more consistent approach to data sharing in our relationship with Whitehall is important for public policy in two new areas:
The Mayor of London is taking over responsibility for the £306m Adult Education Budget from the government starting in the academic year 2019/20. The devolution provides an opportunity to focus the provision to local needs and innovate. Access to data linking performance at school, employment status, benefits claims and previous accessing of skills training (known as ‘LEO’) would greatly enhance the design of the programme — providing better outcomes and better value for the public purse.
The GLA’s new Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) is bringing together specialists from health, police, local government, probation and community organisations to tackle violent crime and the underlying causes of violent crime. In order to reduce violence using a ‘public health approach’ the Unit will need to bring together and develop advanced analytics across a whole range of government services requiring better access to central government public health, NHS and criminal justice service data for London alongside more localised data on social services and emergency service performance.
Are there barriers in cases where government works with the private sector?
The government should address data sharing with regulated utilities
The GLA’s work to bring together future investment, context, capacity, and existing asset data from the water, gas, electricity, transport, and digital connectivity sectors has revealed several barriers to effective data sharing. Utilities are an important part of the picture for our city and it is critical for cities to plan for growth strategically, and for our work on climate change.
Proactive infrastructure data-sharing supports a number of outcomes. Sharing forward investment plans with one another allows utilities to identify joint street works collaboration opportunities, which can reduce road network congestion. Sharing utilities’ capacity information with the GLA allows the public sector to ensure strategies are in place to pre-empt potential capacity issues resulting from planned development. Better information on existing network capacity can result in improved design outcomes for developments — e.g. more efficient connections — which could be more strongly encouraged via the planning authority. We can also identify opportunities where utilities can coordinate, by expanding projects such as the London Infrastructure Mapping Application.
Current data-sharing arrangements are not adequate, regulators do not have sufficient powers in this field and the business model of infrastructure providers themselves effectively disincentivises investing in their own data capabilities, these include:
· addressable concerns about access to the data
· difficulty ensuring data accuracy
· costs of processing and preparing data for sharing
· lack of up-to-date systems for storing and sharing data
· challenges around regularly updating the data
· multiple parties that require consultation within utilities to prepare and release the data
Given digital connectivity is now considered the ‘4th utility’, the National Data Strategy should address obvious gaps such as limited data and poor information-sharing to the government and Ofcom from competing digital infrastructure providers. The current system, which relies on self-reporting to Ofcom, provides an incomplete picture of need and consequently undermines government investment decisions.
Finally, a new approach to utility information will encourage better city resilience planning for climate change and identify and reduce problems such as water pollution incidents.
What are the main barriers to more effective data use within government?
In conclusion, we think there should be a common approach across government departments to sharing data.
We suggest this includes:
· Managing public sector data as an asset, providing evidence to inform policy at national and local level.
· Proactively negotiating access to data with departments in way that local organisations are currently not able to, and clarifying the legal status of devolved administrations and cities in relation to data access — often currently caught between central and local government with no access to data held by either.
· A comprehensive Application Programming Interface (API) for organisations to access data directly (including authorised ‘attribute exchange’ where specific answers are supplied rather than access to a whole database).
· A common approach to applications for central government data, to make this more efficient and reduce the burden as different departments have different approaches.
· Make full use of the provisions in the Digital Economy Act for better data sharing. Provide secure access to individual records for all departments and develop longitudinal and linked outputs that can be made available through the ONS Secure Research Services.
This is an overdue discussion for government — we’d be interested to hear the views of data users, institutions and Londoners generally on how we can shape this approach further.