Health and Social Care

Leading the development of the data strategy with positivity and ambition

January 14, 2022 by No Comments | Category Data Strategy, health & social care

Colin Birchenall is the Chair of the Health and Social Care Data Strategy Working Group and the Chief Technology Officer of the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government

Over the last two years we have seen a dramatic shift in how data is used within health and  care. Between us we have demonstrated that if data is made more accessible and used proportionally, respectfully, ethically and securely, data can empower people, empower communities, and this can save lives.

By drawing upon this experience, the development of the first ever Data Strategy for Health and Social Care for Scotland provides a unique opportunity to radically rethink how we collectively use data to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland.

I am the Chief Technology Officer for the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government. I provide strategic leadership for technology and data within local government in Scotland and I currently chair the working group that is developing the data strategy on behalf of Scottish Government. Although my job title includes the term “Technology” rather than “Data”, I have a relentless focus on the role that digital technology can play to equip people with the data that they need to improve outcomes. If I didn’t focus on how data can be used to deliver outcomes, I would not be doing my job.

I was therefore thrilled to have been invited by Scottish Government to chair the working group. It has a fantastic team working on it and this is one of the most progressive and exciting pieces of work I have been involved in in my career. When I see the working group in my calendar it fills me with joy.

Establishing collective sponsorship for the strategy

The Digital Health and Care Data Strategy Working Group itself brings together expert representation from across Scottish Government, Local Government and Public Health Scotland to coordinate the development of the strategy at a practical level (for example, the coordination of stakeholder engagement and the drafting of content).

On behalf of the working group, I recently proposed to the Digital Health and Care Strategic Portfolio Board that a new Health and Care Data Board be established which will bring together a broader representation of stakeholders from across sectors to oversee the work of the working group. This will ensure that the development of the strategy has the collective sponsorship and scrutiny that will be required for it to be a success. The board will continue to exist to oversee after the strategy is launched to oversee its implementation.

Developing an ambitious and progressive strategy for Scotland

The textbook approach to developing a data strategy would be to define business objectives for improving insight that can be used to monitor and improve business efficiency and effectiveness. From there you would typically define actions for improving the management of data from the perspective of the data itself (for example, data standards, data quality, etc), technology, skills, processes, and governance.

Whilst this all matters and will (of course) need to be a component of the strategy, the ambition for the strategy requires us to do much, much more. This isn’t a strategy to improve efficiency for our individual organisations or individual sectors. It is a strategy to improve health and care outcomes for Scotland.

The ambition that sits at the very core of how we want to achieve this is to democratise health and care data. To provide people with more control over how their data is used, and (where it is required), to make data available to those who need it the most to equip them to make decisions that can:

  • improve health and wellbeing of people
  • improve public health in Scotland
  • save lives

We therefore need to peel the strategy back a bit further beyond how we, within our individual organisations manage data. We need to challenge ourselves and develop a more foundational and progressive plan for what we (collectively) want to achieve for:

  • the citizens of Scotland
  • staff within the health and care profession
  • researchers and entrepreneurs

Involving people in the development of the strategy

To achieve this, we will need to have an extensive dialogue with stakeholders from across Scottish Government, local government, other public sector partners, the third sector, industry, universities and colleges, and (most importantly) the public. We all have a stake in the strategy for health and care data, and so we all need to be provided with an opportunity to influence it, and to shape it.

When we proposed the new Health and Care Data Board, we also provided an outline plan for the development of the strategy that incorporated an extensive (professional and public) stakeholder engagement programme, which is now underway. The stakeholder engagement will run in parallel with the development of the content for the strategy so that we can continuously adapt our draft content based upon what we hear in an iterative manner. And to be absolutely clear, we will be listening and acting upon what we hear. We will review the latest feedback from our engagements every time we meet as a working group (which is every two weeks).

Listening and adapting to people’s concerns

Many people we speak to will be very excited by the opportunity to make better use of data to improve health and wellbeing and to save lives. Many people though will be equally concerned about how personal data is used (and by whom). The success of the strategy will be dependent upon people’s trust. It is vitally important that the strategy is inclusive, respects privacy, is ethical, and protects people’s human rights. I promise you that while we are focused on these matters,  we are particular keen to hear people’s concerns on these points specifically during the engagement process so that we can address concerns in the strategy.

Looking ahead for 2022

As we look ahead for 2022 it is clear that it is going to be a very busy and pressured time for us before we launch the strategy in Autumn. We’ve got a lot of dialogue, discussion, debate, and drafting to progress between now and then, but I believe that the foundations are now in place for us to succeed and it’s clear that people (myself included) are getting very excited and motivated by the prospect of the strategy. If you are too then please do keep an eye on this blog to see how you can get involved.

For more information on the Data Strategy for Health and Social Care, contact Nel Whiting (Participation and Engagement Lead):

Data Strategy Working Group page: Digital Health and Care Data Strategy Working Group – (

Twitter: @DigiCare4Scot

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