Better data sharing and access have the potential to reduce costs and enable more targeted service delivery, combat fraud and drive efficiencies. 

On the 2nd June, SICCAR hosted a roundtable on data sharing challenges in local and regional government, with panellists Mags Moore (Director of Citizen & Devolved Government Services, Sopra Steria), Carol Peters (Cyber Security Architect, Renfrewshire Council), Peter Ferry (CEO, SICCAR, and Honorary Consul of Estonia), and Robert Clubb (Independent Consultant, previously Chief Security Officer at Improvement Service).  

Watch the recording of the roundtable on our YouTube channel.

We have summarised the discussion and key points below:

What do you currently see as the biggest or most immediate data sharing challenge for local authorities?

Mags discussed the need for policy, and the importance of trust between local authorities, the different services, and citizens. Peter echoed the issues around trust and spoke about the many data breaches that have occurred to local authorities, adding to this issue. Local government organisations need a better infrastructure to tackle this, as data sharing is very much needed to meet citizen needs.

Robert sits on Scottish Government’s Digital Identity Expert Group and is passionate about making sure that people are at the centre of their data transactions with government. This approach should help improve trust between citizens and government, as data sharing and building trust require transparency. 

What are some of the technical solutions that are already available to local authorities? What are their relative advantages and disadvantages? 

Carol spoke from experience—some solutions work well the majority of the time, but when you try and change location or device they fail. We need one solution for staff and citizens. It needs to be simple and straightforward, as well as secure.

Councils tend to come up with their own solutions, which creates a patchwork of different systems. Robert discussed the importance of standards. They are the pillar of trust between authorities. Not only are standards needed, but data quality needs to be ensured. There is a new UK Government Data Quality Framework to support this.

Peter added that it’s an adoption challenge, rather than a technical one. The technology exists to support better data sharing within local authorities. He explained that the actual challenge is collaboration between local authorities – how can organisations trust each other, share data while complying with individuals’ consent? We need new ways to share data that keep the individual in control and minimise the exposure of personal information.

With so many new different technologies, data standards and tools available, where should local authorities start?

Mags started the discussion by recognising that digital transformation is more achievable these days as the culture of government has changed – it has become more user-centric. We need to take on one service at a time, or one organisation at a time, and look at the interactions between parties. Some services are simpler than others, and we don’t necessarily know enough to solve policy gaps until we start looking at these interactions.

Carol noted that at most local authorities, data is not yet seen as an asset; but rather just as information needed to complete a task. This not only leads to data quality issues but means that local authorities are not utilising the data they have for the best outcomes for the citizen. 

Peter explained that a local authority is basically a collection of different services. There is some low hanging fruit in terms of digital transformation in local government. Instead of waiting for change at the top, we can start to explore, and even implement, better data sharing at a lower level. Councils tend to better understand the collaboration journeys and citizen interactions, as they are closer to it.

How do we share citizen data responsibly and ethically?

This part of the discussion started with acknowledging that wherever there is data, there are hackers. Carol has found that the more hackers can get from a central authority like a council, the more harm they can do. And this makes local authorities a prime target. 

This led to the need for education around the ownership of data. Individuals, and indeed staff, need to better be aware of how much of their data is out there. Despite many individuals believing it is the organisation’s responsibility to manage their data, there is the issue of consent. Individuals need to be more aware and involved with their data, to ensure it is being used and managed correctly. Mags also spoke about the importance of digital inclusion when discussing the issue of ethics, especially when enabling better citizen services.

So then how can local authorities ensure their data is secure?

Peter explained that there must be a difference in thinking around data governance – specifically the policy and tools to govern data. Traditional security methods often involve lots of different layers and complex protocols. By taking new cyber security approaches, we can simplify these protocols so they can be better implemented and enforced throughout. 



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