Standards, skills and sharing

Building a ‘smarter state’ is easier than we might imagine

7th October 2021

Better and quicker decisions enabled by data analysis, and supported by the right digital technologies, standards and skills, will catalyse a smarter state – and it’s within our grasp

Imagine a loved one has just suffered a severe accident. You call an ambulance, knowing instinctively it is a matter of life or death and that every second counts. Thankfully, connected data enables the ambulance to arrive as quickly as possible using GPS-linked to roadworks databases and thereby avoiding traffic hot spots. While en-route, paramedics are pulling up cross-referenced, live, life-saving medical information on the casualty, allowing them to make rapid, well informed decisions and ensuring they make every crucial second count.

Imagine another scene: a police officer spots a person behaving oddly on the street. Now, a casual observation might suggest that the person is intoxicated. The police officer however checks her smartphone app which is connected to the local authority’s social care system and immediately sees the person has some form of neurological condition. Armed with this knowledge, the officer approaches the confused person and can deal with the situation calmly, sensitively, and without aggravating the situation.

These hypothetical scenarios illustrate how, in an ideal world, public services of the near future will run and show how citizens could benefit from open and interconnected data. Encouragingly, we are not at all far from creating this ‘smarter state’.

The government’s National Data Strategy, launched last September, is the catalyst for the journey towards data-driven, digitally enabled public services of the future. The challenge, as the Strategy acknowledges, is that we are not, as a country, making the best use of data.

Sean Massey,

Managing Director,


The key to unleashing the transform­ative power of data lies in… standards, skills and sharing

Reinforcing the foundations: standards, skills and sharing

Data is the foundation upon which public services must be built to deliver the best outcomes for citizens and communities. Data is a vital resource and one that we have in abundance. Untapped data is, at best, a wasted resource. At worst, it is unexploited potential to deliver real change for those who require it the most. It’s important to stress that utilising data to its full potential is eminently achievable.

Encouragingly, there is an ever-growing list of case studies showing where robust, connected data is improving public services. In Greater Manchester, Civica has been working to develop a next-generation digital platform to support the transformation of public services and empower citizens to take control over their health, wellbeing and support.

The key to unleashing the transformative power of data lies in what we at Civica call the ‘three Ss’: Standards, Skills and Sharing. First, data standards provide confidence to those seeking to use quality datasets. By defining and applying watertight data standards, authorities can focus on understanding and interpreting data without constantly checking what it means or where it came from, saving time, effort and money.

Next comes skills. The Covid-19 pandemic proved the pivotal role that data plays in delivering public outcomes. The scale and speed of the UK’s vaccination programme was made possible by high-quality data, but crucially, by trained experts with the skills and knowhow to manage and interpret that data. There exists a significant skills gap when it comes to data. To narrow this gap, we need to change data’s ‘image’ – from one of spreadsheets and graphs to something that can improve, if not save, lives.

The last barrier to overcome is the sharing of data. Public bodies, from government departments, to local councils, have a vast amount of data that combined, could provide a unique in-the-round view of the needs of each citizen. By sharing their data transparently and securely, public service providers can better understand the needs of each citizen they serve and offer solutions that are tailored to individual circumstances.

Data-driven technologies have transformed how we live our lives. From online shopping to remote learning, to track and trace, our experiences and expectations as citizens would be completely alien to any previous generation. We are on the cusp of a fundamental transformation between citizen and state. The catalyst is data. With the right data standards, skills and sharing, this transformation will happen much sooner than we might imagine.

Read more in the Times’s ‘Digital Transformation 2021’ issue of Raconteur Raconteur here.