DWP Digital is improving cross-government data sharing

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the need for several departments to urgently collaborate and have access to the right data and insights at the right time. Better use of data underpins everything DWP Digital want to achieve.

The Labour Market Data Trust pilot is building on the work of the Open Data Institute (ODI) on Data Trusts (https://theodi.org/article/data-trusts-in-2020/) and the Alan Turing Institute’s (ATI) work on Data Safe Havens (https://www.turing.ac.uk/research/research-projects/data-safe-havens-cloud). This has enabled DWP Digital to explore improved data accessibility between the four government departments closest to everyday Labour Market activity, namely DWP, DfE, BEIS and HMRC.

Paul Lodge, Chief Data Officer at the Department for Work & Pensions said:

“Our work in Digital enables DWP to make better informed decisions, based on how timely and situationally aware we can be, to help shape DWP policy and operational delivery. Making a real impact on millions of people’s lives.

“This was particularly important for cross-cutting work such as the shielding programme (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/shielding-programme-ends-for-most-vulnerable) or the COVID-19 vaccination programme (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/covid-19-vaccination-programme) during the pandemic, and now the same is true for our efforts in supporting the labour market and its continued recovery.

“DWP is committed to maximising employment across the country to aid the economic recovery. It’s also the case that other government departments need granular insights into everyday labour market developments, especially those affecting local areas, specific sectors and disadvantaged groups. For example, the Department for Education’s National Skills Fund (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-skills-fund) or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s UK Innovation Strategy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-innovation-strategy-leading-the-future-by-creating-it) which seeks to enhance productivity across the economy, and in turn bring jobs, growth and prosperity.

“Based on the need to collaborate on shared outcomes, we are actively exploring whether thematic data trusts can help government as a way of sharing pertinent and timely data to enable better outcomes.”

The Labour Market Data Trust pilot is being financed through HM Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/shared-outcomes-fund-round-two), which incentivises departments to work collaboratively across departmental boundaries and challenging policy areas.

The nine-month pilot focuses on understanding and testing the feasibility of meeting the respective labour market data needs of different departments. This means proving the legal, digital and data protection framework necessary of a collective engagement. It aims to help departments to proportionately share their data, while rigorously protecting the privacy of those whose data it is.

It will also make sure that government bodies, as well as providing services to the public, learn from what the data is showing, to improve public services and respond earlier as dynamic changes in the labour market happen.

Connecting and making better use of government’s different pockets of labour market data is vital to informing and improving citizen outcomes, iterating policies based on wider evaluation and, ultimately, delivering the best value for taxpayers’ money.

Paul continued:

“Currently data sharing arrangements between departments are lengthy to put in place or amend, and resource intensive. As a result, the subsequent insight is often well-behind the pace of change, especially in something as dynamic as the UK labour market. Government analysts and service delivery teams seeking data are unable to easily understand what data is held by others or confidently navigate their governance processes. As a result, the department data silos across government make it hard to deliver joined-up interventions at the speed needed for our ambitious policy agenda.

“To be effective, a data trust requires the data to be accessible and discoverable, and the onward extraction of any results need to be monitored and governed. That means asking new technical, procedural and legal questions of our data to see whether a data trust can help to deliver greater collaboration or what changes would be needed.

“In line with Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-national-data-strategy/national-data-strategy), we want to move away from batch-file data sharing and towards in-place data shares, whereby data is shared from a single source and reused many times without unnecessary copying.

“This approach avoids creating new data warehouses and drives up data quality across government by having a single source of truth. We are testing this concept over the course of the pilot when assessing data from other government departments and when drawing on their existing internal data catalogues. This is enabling us to test what improves discoverability and interoperability of data.

“The security controls for any platform will align to industry best practice and include specific department requirements. All designs and processes across the project have been developed in line with our ‘privacy by design’ principle and informed by the National Cyber Security Centre’s cloud security principles (https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/cloud-security/implementing-the-cloud-security-principles).”

This work is important to find smarter ways to support economic recovery, levelling up and longstanding productivity challenges, all while directly helping some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society.

The pilot will continue until the end of DWP’s financial year in March, when it will be fully evaluated to find out how it can help DWP, HMRC, DfE and BEIS work better going forward. Paul’s team are also working closely with HMT, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) within Cabinet Office on how to carry forward the learnings and expand the legacy of the pilot beyond just the labour market challenge.

DWP Digital have a huge mission to ensure that everyone can access DWP services when they need to, whether it's claiming benefit, getting help finding a job or understanding their State Pension.

Paul will be talking at the Big Data & AI World Conference (https://www.bigdataworld.com/welcome) on 3 March where he will discuss how DWP are connecting data to support Citizen Life Journeys through the Social Welfare system.

If you want to read more about the DWP Digital Data Practice, visit their Careers site: https://careers.dwp.gov.uk

Notes to Editors

To find out more please contact: Rachel.Poole@DWP.GOV.UK / Rachel.Loughlin@DWP.GOV.UK

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