At the end of 2018, Ireland published its first ever data strategy for the public service, setting out ambitions to improve the use of data to support a more joined-up, efficient and effective Government.
A legacy of collecting and managing data independently across the public sector has resulted in an environment of increased “administrative burdens, reduced data-driven policy making, difficulties in introducing joined-up digital services” and reduced government agility in responding to public demand.
Taking learning from exemplars of data strategy implementation across Europe, such as in Estonia and Denmark, the Government is seeking to create a “data ecosystem” for the optimisation of data management.
The benefits of such an approach include: more joined up digital services; better data-driven insights on policy formulation, better efficiency in data administration, approved agility in securely reusing data; better protection and transparency of held data; and better services through improved data quality.
The Strategy is the latest step in existing data initiatives including the National Data Infrastructure and the Data Sharing and Governance Bill, and creates the governance, processes and systems to create a “cohesive ecosystem”.
The primary characteristics of the Strategy are:
Support: supporting data controllers to meet GDPR obligations while also allowing the relevant access by the public and private sector to the data holds;
Trust: Maintaining standards and good governance process for data management to ensure trust;
Privacy: Ensuring privacy-by-design and privacy-by-default are adopted to protect citizen and business data;
Sharing: A consistent method of publishing and collecting data digitally will provide the backdrop to a co-ordinated approach to shared systems and processes;
Access: The introduction of a shared platform to support the reuse of data across public sector bodies with a focus on Application Programming Interface technology;
Efficiency: The use of base registries to enable date to be reused and reduce the need for multiple data inputs to public sector bodies;
Transparency: The empowerment of people to see what data government holds through privacy, security and transparency systems and processes; and
Structure: A structured approach to open data and cross-departmental analytics to promote the value of data and data insights in evidence-based decision making.
The multi-department strategy covers a four-year term but includes long-term actions beyond its lifetime and will build on progress that has already been made in public sector bodies.
The Public Service ICT Strategy, the eGovernment Strategy 2017-2020, the National Statistics Board’s Strategy and Our Public Service 2020 have all called for data management improvement across government, recognising it as a key enabler of digital public service delivery.
Recognising the benefits of the legacy processes in which public sector bodies have collected and stored data, including security, the Strategy points to an overall “sub-optimal whole-of-Government ecosystem where data is managed by the policies of individual public sector bodies.
“In order to improve the various forms of data reuse, a greater degree of standardisation in terms of systems, policies and practices is required. The good practices being employed by public sector bodies should serve as the foundation for building a more co-ordinated, consistent approach to data management in a whole-of Government manner.”
The good practices are embodied in existing good practices of data-sharing between public sector bodies such as MyGovID, the Local Property Tax register and the HSE Healthlink project. However, there are also areas of existing challenges for service users such as separate online customer registration systems; cross-agency customer data matching issues; manual processes necessitated by the lack of real-time interfaces and data re-collection serving to slow down service delivery.