Definitions and debates on the path to unlocking the value of public sector data

November 14, 2022 by No Comments | Category Data, Digital, Digital Scotland

Blog by Charlie Mayor, member of UVOD Independent Expert Group.

Members of the Independent Expert Group on Unlocking the Value of Public Sector Data for Public Benefit met for a sixth session in September 2022, to further consider our proposed draft guiding principles, and to plan forthcoming stakeholder events.

Seemingly simple concepts can disguise hidden complexities, and this has proven true as the Group has discussed what we might mean by ‘public sector personal data’. As a citizen and user of Scottish public services, you leave a digital footprint. When you visit a doctor, claim for a benefit, or travel on a public road, data can be collected with legitimate purpose. You leave an electronic echo of your presence.

In the digital economy, private companies have become adept at collecting our personal data, which occurs when any customer engages with a company and their services or products (even if not actually access digitally, since essentially all companies are moving to use digital tools). After gathering – or creating – these data stores, many companies are increasingly skilled at leveraging that data to create popular platforms and applications. Is it right then, to use public data in the same way? Should different limits be applied to the use and re-use of public data created when you use public services?

I run a data service at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde called a Safe Haven [1]. A Safe Haven is one way we can securely share health data to enable research and innovation, without compromising a person’s privacy, or releasing data into the public domain. I am conscious though that there are lots of other models and methods for sharing data that likewise preserves the privacy of data subjects.

What models and methods are best for Scotland’s public data?

If limits should be applied to how public data can be used, where do those limits lie? Who decides what those limits should be now, and in the future?

Further to this month’s well attended webinar, I was struck by the depth and diversity of opinions expressed on the subject of unlocking public data. At the webinar, representative voices from the public sector, from data controllers, and the private sector, spanned topics ranging from trust and technology, profit and intellectual property, to ethics and exploitation.

The challenge for the Independent Expert Group is in distilling these many voices down into a pragmatic policy that might guide how we use public data for public good.

Whilst the law, the technology, and the ethics are complicated, I am hopeful that our forthcoming events in October and November will help us to navigate this fascinating and challenging area.

If we can better understand the needs and reservations of stakeholders in the public data debate, seeking to uncover perspectives from practitioners (who may be public sector personal data controllers), as well as the wider public as residents of Scotland, I believe that the IEG can offer key policy recommendations that can unlock the value of public sector data, for all.


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