Public Services > Central Government

Survey indicates Whitehall's data sharing progress

David Bicknell Published 29 January 2016

CGI study says collaboration a priority for civil servants - but data sharing patchy; just 8% of respondents say their departments are practising open data; Internet of Things yet to reach Whitehall's lexicon


A CGI survey has revealed the data sharing traits of civil servants.

The research, based on online interviews with over 4,400 UK civil servants, revealed that data sharing within Whitehall, local government, third sector organisations and the private sector is patchy, collaboration and digital transformation are priorities - and the Internet of Things has yet to cross civil servants' radar screens.

In October 2015, 71% of respondents said they share data with other central government departments, a figure that increased marginally by 2% from January 2015. Only 31% said they share data with local government organisations (though there was an increase of 6% from January) while 29% said they share data with third sector organisations. 26% also said they share data with the private sector. However, just 8% of respondents said their department makes data available via 'open data platforms' today.

The most cited barrier to further data sharing by government was the risks posed by any cyber security breaches. At the end of 2015 49% of respondents cited concerns with cyber security as a barrier to their department sharing data, a figure down 7% compared with the same research conducted in January 2015, suggesting the public sector may be making some improvements in its cyber security strategies. Other top barriers to data sharing include a 'lack of interoperable systems' (38%) and the challenge posed by 'poor quality data from other organisations' at 33% (up from 27% in January).

The research also shows that collaboration (83%) and digital transformation (82%) are the two top priorities for civil servants, possibly in line with the priorities set out in the Chancellor's recent spending review.

Whitehall doesn't seem to be too clued up in one area, however. Utilising the Internet of Things was not a priority, with many of the comments provided suggesting that the term has not yet found its way into the Civil Service lexicon. A number of civil servants said that they did not know what the Internet of Things meant.

Steve Thorn, SVP public sector, CGI said: "During the spending review the Chancellor lent support to both digital technologies and greater collaboration as critical approaches to achieving transformation across the public sector. However, this research clearly demonstrates that more needs to be done to foster data sharing within the public sector if we are to deliver on the efficiency opportunities presented by greater collaboration. Sharing data within Whitehall is to be encouraged but it's only half the battle, local government organisations need to be a key part of the action too."

With data sharing in mind, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) this week launched a new initiative which it hopes will help break down the barriers that stop public services sharing information. GMCA is proposing to establish a data-sharing authority, called GM-Connect, which would initially have four full-time staff, led by a Greater Manchester chief information officer.

The "small centre of excellence" hopes to enable improved understanding of the risks, challenges and opportunities in the local area, at the same time "identifying patterns, trends and relationships and helping allocate resources as effectively as possible."

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