Data maturity assessments for government departments

Why government departments should be excited – not concerned – by data maturity assessment

16th May 2023

Following the Cabinet Office announcement, the CDDO’s framework is intuitive – but the results are just the start of the data journey, and consultants can help establish the direction of travel and draw a roadmap

By Mark Humphries, Consultancy Director at Civica and Chair of DAMA UK, and Glyn Evans, Managing Director at Civica

Many government officials were in a flap following the Cabinet Office’s new request to perform a data maturity assessment over the next two quarters. The government departments thus in picture are also required to repeat the exercise in 2025 to chart and compare progress.

However, the prospect of being honest about the level of understanding and possibly neglect of data duties triggered alarm in some departments. Yes, issues may surface, but this assessment will draw a better picture of the current state of data maturity across the board.

Hopefully, after the initial push, departments would realise that this is an uncomfortable but essential step for the UK public sector, which has hitherto lagged behind other nations in opening and sharing data.

Ultimately, this initiative should encourage greater inter-departmental collaboration, raise awareness about data-sharing, help with best practices, and inform decision-making and improve citizen-centric policy.

Thankfully the 100-page Data Maturity Assessment for Government, published in late March by the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) – which deserves enormous credit for driving this agenda – is intuitive and easy to use.

Adapted from the Data Orchard Data Maturity Framework, the assessment form takes about 20 minutes to complete, and comes with expert guidance from a data management consultant, such as Civica. We recommend organising a group session so everyone can finish the necessary questionnaire together.

Once the department has played its part and submitted the assessment, results – including graphics, displays, and scores – will be accessible to everyone participating. While this itself should be an interesting read, what happens after is much more crucial and exciting regarding data maturity.

Plan of action

Civica has been conducting data maturity assessments for years – although the framework we use is less streamlined than the one offered by CDDO, admittedly – and this first step is often the hardest. It’s as though you are holding a mirror up, and whatever is revealed starts a difficult conversation. But it should also generate vital questions. These might be, “What does this mean for us?”, “What does ‘good’ look like?” and “How do we move the dial?”.

Validating the results of the data maturity assessment is one thing. But, further, this process is designed to encourage people to talk and think about where the department should be in the short-term and distant future.

The fun truly starts by working out how to improve to reach that point and setting down a plan of action. And it is here that the value of data management consultants can be realised.

As we say at Civica, it’s important to “think big, but start small”. You might have grand ambitions, but it starts with a small first step. From a data management perspective, determining a roadmap that shows the desired direction of travel and key milestones is critical. Achieving the first couple of near-distance checkpoints will help you learn and start to change the culture. Then larger-scale projects will be possible.

Think big and start small

In this context, with all government departments mandated to assess their data maturity, it will spark competition as well as conversations. Then eventually, it will foster greater collaboration. Moreover, the best performers can be identified and everyone can learn from them.

By raising data awareness and literacy, there is a huge opportunity for government departments to improve ways of working and break down barriers to progress. In theory, the data maturity assessment will force people to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their current data management operation.

It also lays the foundation for a conceptual data model understood and used across government. Think of it as a Rosetta Stone. By standardising data language and processes, and sharing challenges, opportunities, and best practices, progress on an individual and collective basis will accelerate.

The measure of success will be when in two years, the next data management assessment is conducted. Of course, not everything will be completed – the data journey never ends – but departments can achieve plenty between now and then.

The hope is that by 2025, data management will have merged into the background because of the improved data-driven leadership, organisation-wide data literacy, and related skillsets. It will, with luck, have become a core element of business as usual.

For those seeking to reach that destination, now is the perfect time to engage data management consultants – first to make sense of the mandated maturity assessment and then determine the route to success.