The United Kingdom may be the European country with the largest tech ecosystem with a third of Europe’s tech unicorns, more AI companies and startups than France and Germany combined, and 35 world-renowned research centers—but it does not intend to rest on its laurels. The British government recently published a national data strategy that seeks to leverage existing national strengths to boost use of data in business, government, and civil society. Other countries would be well-advised to take inspiration from the UK, whose strategy stands out with a welcome focus on at least five aspects.
One of the flagship proposals of the strategy is to appoint a chief data officer (CDO) to lead the government’s approach to data use and data policy. Only a handful of countries have a national CDO, such as Australia, France, and Estonia. Yet this role is essential to champion data-driven innovation across public sector agencies and encourage data-driven innovation in society.
Second, the UK data strategy sets out to equip the workforce with high quality data skills, and to develop expert resources and capabilities in data and data science across government. While access to the most talented, data-literate workers increasingly defines which organizations are best positioned to compete in the data economy, there are too few qualified workers. The proposed measures include teaching undergraduate students data skills that complement the existing current math and computing curricula, and training 500 analysts in data science across the public sector by 2021. The government will also seek to improve collaborations and pilot projects with industry, universities, and research institutes, which will ensure the quality and relevance of courses, test new ways to teach data skills, and bridge the skills gap.
Third, the strategy plans to strengthen support for improved data sharing by accelerating existing mechanisms such as “data trusts” and “smart data” initiatives. Data trusts are legal structures that act as independent intermediaries to encourage businesses to collect and share data responsibly. Smart data initiatives are sector-specific data portability frameworks that allow consumers to securely share their own real-time data with third parties, allowing them to, for instance, compare prices between banks and energy providers and easily switch to better deals.
Fourth, the UK’s strategy aims to address poor data quality with several concrete measures tackling cultural and coordination barriers. The role of the public sector in increasing the amount of high-quality data available is essential to create a better data market, accelerate the development and adoption of technologies, provide companies with a competitive edge, and address many privacy concerns and accuracy problems, for instance relating to AI systems. The strategy will launch a data quality framework to set out quality indicators, guidelines, and tools to ensure government organizations use data for its intended purpose.
Finally, the UK data strategy reaffirms the country’s commitment to global cooperation. It reflects the government’s intention to defend free digital trade with its partners and takes a stance against the use of data localization measures obstructing cross-border data flows. The strategy also pragmatically seeks to influence the global approach to data sharing and use by advocating in multilateral fora such as the WTO and the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI). In contrast, other countries are using their data strategy as pretext to ultimately enforce protectionist policies that prop up domestic companies and potentially exclude foreign providers.
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