To transform the public sector under increasing pressure, governments need data sharing, which most importantly needs to be high-quality and accessible
Today, governments must grapple with increasingly wide-ranging, complex, and interconnected challenges. Outside of their electorates, governments are also facing the effects of the pandemic, global inflation, geo-political tensions, and the ongoing effects of climate change– all of these require a systemic and collaborative response. To make the best choices in these circumstances, governments need data sharing. Most importantly, this data needs to be high-quality and accessible.
This is where data ecosystems come in
It sounds deceptively easy, and admittedly data sharing alone will not solve today’s most complex policy challenges. However, data sharing can empower public sector bodies to join forces across organisational boundaries, enabling a joined-up approach that allows governments to tackle bigger challenges. It also helps organisations and governments respond holistically and in an evidence-based manner, which is important when dealing with today’s interconnected policy challenges. In other words, it’s like the first domino in a chain that leads to better outcomes for citizens.
Data ecosystems provide a systematic approach to data sharing that can empower public sector organisations to go beyond collaborating just between themselves. Indeed, it can facilitate more effective partnerships with civil society organisations and companies beyond the sector. The potential of these systems is increasingly gaining recognition among public sector experts, and for good reason. Benefits like greater efficiency, better decision making and, ultimately, better outcomes for citizens, are hard to overlook.
Better data – better decision-making
Government departments make countless decisions each day – from how to allocate budgets, to which policy to prioritize, and how they can improve the lives of citizens.
The potential of data sharing here is clear: better access to high-quality data leads to more informed decision-making, which in turn leads to better outcomes for citizens. In recently published research from Capgemini, over three-quarters (76%) of public sector organisations highlighted improved decision-making as a key benefit of data sharing across the sector.
over 76% of public sector organisations highlighted improved decision-making as a key benefit of data sharing
But what does this look like in the real world? In Hamburg, Germany, a data-sharing platform called the Urban Data Platform Hamburg has linked the city’s numerous systems and databases, which has provided openness and transparency in the city’s governance and empowered citizens to participate in planning processes for urban development projects. By allowing citizens to have their voices heard, city administrators are then better placed to align their decision-making with the needs of their constituents.
Interestingly, one consequence of improved decision-making is a smarter use of funds and resources. In fact, a fully functional data ecosystem is estimated to improve government utilisation of funds and resources by up to 9.5%.
Engaging citizens in the digital age
The combination of improved decision-making and more effective use of resources is a particularly powerful one for public sector organisations: it enables them to deliver tangible impact on the lives of citizens.
We’re already seeing this in action, particularly in welfare departments. Here, data sharing can contribute to supporting the most vulnerable citizens – perhaps even by helping to save lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, cross-department data sharing played a key role in enabling the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide high-risk patients with critical welfare support, which helped them navigate the turmoil of the pandemic.
This is also echoed by broader research findings, which showed that 90% of welfare departments reported that data sharing has enabled them to better support at-risk and disadvantaged citizens.
The hurdles to data sharing
It’s clear that data sharing has a lot to offer public sector organisations. Yet, despite the transformative potential of these systems, few have realized these benefits.
There are several notable barriers that limit the more widespread adoption of data sharing in the public sector. Culture is one of the most prominent. Public sector organisations have reported challenges such as a lack of collaboration between departments and wider agencies, as well as a need for dedicated leadership to establish data-sharing initiatives. Much of this is underpinned by a digital skills gap, which contributes to the ongoing absence of a digital culture to embed data sharing into the workplace.
This is also connected to wider technological challenges facing the public sector. Because of the digital skills gap in the sector, there is a notable lack of capability to develop and maintain the robust infrastructure required to reap the benefits of data-sharing. This also means that we see a lack of standardization for data-sharing processes. In fact, research suggests that only 39% of public sector organisations have the capabilities to identify and collect multiple types of data, automate the collection process, and maintain up-to-date catalogues.
However, there is also an important barrier from the citizens’ side: trust. Over half (56%) of public sector organisations have cited challenges such as citizens being hesitant to share data, as well as scepticism about data handling, security, and privacy. Given the sensitivity of the data in question, building trust will be essential to the success of any data-sharing initiative in this sector.
The way forward in public sector data ecosystems
These challenges are complex and will take some time to address, but organisations should not be put off given the benefits that data ecosystems can bring to the public sector and, ultimately, to the citizens themselves.
Addressing the skills gap is perhaps the foundation, given the starring role technology plays in thriving data ecosystems. This can be achieved by implementing skilling programs to provide employees with data and AI skills, as well as equipping them with data privacy management expertise. Then, those technical skills can be applied to harness innovations in privacy-preserving technology, like federated learning or advanced encryption techniques, and coupled with strong governance measures to build trust and confidence within the public.
We need to implement skilling programs to provide employees with data and AI skills, and data privacy management expertise
Finally, facilitating a shift in working culture will be a longer-term challenge, and will require leadership to actively encourage collaboration within and between their organisations to ensure any data ecosystems function successfully.
Towards the data age
Data sharing may seem like a rather small thing on the grand agendas of governments and public sector organisations. However, it’s clear that it can provide a more joined-up approach to policy, which can in turn help this sector provide better support to citizens. Steadily, we’re seeing a growing number of organisations rolling out data ecosystems, and by addressing challenges like trust and the skills gap, adoption can become even more widespread.
After all, data ecosystems like these are rather well known for delivering value and unlocking efficiencies in business environments – it’s time we put data to work and felt the impact in the public sector too and tackle the day’s most complex policy issues.
By Marc Reinhardt, Global Leader for Public Sector at Capgemini
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