Data Governance in the Public Sector: How Effective Is Yours?

There’s no doubt that good data is a strategic asset to public sector institutions, whether in co-ordinating the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting and shaping long-term policy initiatives, or improving day-to-day service delivery. Complete, accurate, and accessible enterprise-wide data empowers institutions to make better decisions and take appropriate action, rapidly.

Significant volumes of data are consumed and generated by every public sector department or agency all day, every day. However, it’s vital not just to assume that all that data is reliable. How much do you trust your data? Is it compliant with appropriate regulations and policies, and does it deliver value?

The importance of a long-term data governance strategy

Chief data officers (CDOs) in all areas of commercial business are currently focused on delivering against strategic objectives like increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, minimizing risk, and ensuring compliance, goals which are also pivotal to the public sector. Excellent data governance—robust, clear, and consistent data and context—is key to fulfilling these.

In large departments and agencies with significant numbers of staff and potentially regional and foreign offices, there’s a real risk that data curation and use may become fragmented—teams work in silos and information is not shared or hits a bottleneck in the processing pipeline, reducing service delivery, costing time and money, and obscuring the overall picture.

The critical questions for any organization are: Do you receive the right data and is it complete? Is your use of data aligned to your overarching department and data strategy? Can you demonstrate that it helps you to make the right decisions? Does your data show you the way forward and enable you to add value? Does it comply with appropriate regulations and policies?

Three United Kingdom government departments have already considered these questions and brought in new data governance systems to deliver transformation: The Department for Education (DfE), the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Delivery and transformation

According to Kris Marshall, Head of Data at the DVSA, public sector bodies might well have to build their new systems from the ground up, ensuring that the metrics of data management and the metadata principles are right as a first step. With the levers and capabilities in place, optimization and positive outcomes will follow: “Governance is the enabler, not the restrictor,” he says.

Identify your strategy, appoint your governance leaders for executive oversight, and bring stakeholders onto working groups to share their expertise and feedback. Clear communications will help all within your organisation to understand how more effective data governance will make their job easier.

At the DfE, new data governance processes are enabling good decision making, whether that’s in short-term operational transactions or strategic thinking about long-term education initiatives. With a strong data culture being embedded throughout the department, teams can increasingly locate, analyse, and act on trusted data with ease. That adds up to greater value; in service delivery and productivity terms, certainly, but also financially.

Good governance also promotes compliance with GDPR and other regulations and policies, and it reduces the risk of data loss because robust controls mean that data is not left languishing in the dark.

Next Steps

Learn more about the transformative effects of an excellent data governance strategy by joining our United Kingdom Public Sector Executive Data Governance Roundtable, with data leaders from the DfE, DWP, and the DVSA.