How much does the public sector spend on data?

I gave a short internal presentation this week about open data. As I was writing a few thoughts came to mind based on chats with data users.

One of the intriguing questions is – how does the public sector spend on data? This could be data being bought from other public sector bodies or the private sector.

For example the BBC buy weather data from the Met Office. How much do bodies pay in licence fees to Ordnance Survey every year? Someone suggested that it might be several million pounds a year. Of course the Trading Funds have a financing model to follow and are expected to generate income.

What about private sector data? Apparently it is quite common to pay for Dun numbers (Dun and Bradstreet) in government. How much does this cost each year? Do we know how much is going to be paid to the Royal Mail for postcodes address information?

Has anyone ever investigated this topic and done a map looking at the flow of data/money in and out of the public sector?

Just curious and whether there is something here about the wider benefits of open data to the public sector.

Thoughts and comments more than welcome.

Why I support National Hack the Government

Slightly by accident I went to the first National Hack the Government in the Guardian building seven years ago. As I did not know what to expect it was with some trepidation that I went up the Guardian’s escalator.

Of course I had a brilliant time both because the developers like to have fun and the things they built in a weekend were an eye opener as to the art of the possible.

Since then I have always tried to attend unless I have been out of the country.

Again slightly by accident I ended up hosting the London part of the event last year. I saw this as a bit of a milestone for the NAO as it was the first time, as far as I know, that the building was fully open for a weekend event. Not just any event but something completely outside the normal experience of a supreme audit institution.  Many colleagues across the Office helped make the event a success.

But why support the event in such a concrete way? Well for one it meant that we pushed our technical capacity further and tested, stretched and improved our wifi for future events.

We got to know software developers and continue to stay in touch with them which helped us to run an internal data hack. This then led on to our joint Accountability Hack with Parliament and the Office of National Statistics – and of course hosting the London part of the event this year.

National Hack the Government is about encouraging innovation, doing things differently, being willing to learn from others and share knowledge. That pretty well sums up the NAO itself.





What should the UK’s Chief Data Officer do in their first 100 days?

Ok I am making an assumption that there is going to be a CDO but bear with me on that.

Will a CDO be the saviour of data in the UK?

Here is a starter for ten list:

  1. Work out who is responsible for data publishing and transparency – GDS (The Government Digital Service) or the Transformation Team in the Cabinet Office?
  2. Do something with – a great idea but a bit like a marathon runner it seems to have hit the wall.
  3. Please sort out public sector data publishing – are central and local government working to the same standards?
  4. Give some oomph to the National Information Infrastructure, even a new name. Data is the life blood of the economy it should be sexy not boring.
  5. Mandate data registers for every public sector body as will now be the case in the US (and why not throw in the private sector as well why you are at it.)
  6. Data quality is appalling and a perennial issue – it should be everybody’s responsibility not just the person who pushes the publish button.
  7. Open, open, open – yes with the relevant caveats around privacy and security everything should be open.
  8. Education – so we are teaching coding to kids where is data in all this? Most organisations cannot function without data and data management but this is not entirely clear when you talk to public sector bodies. So education, education, education – about data.
  9. Make sure the UK stays at the top of the table for open data – but by using better metrics than the current lightweight assessments.
  10. Create a network of Chief Data Officers.

So that’s ten points written in ten minutes – what else is missing?


How feedback is helping improve our digital services

Neil Williams great post about how GDS keep improving reminded me that I wanted to provide an update on what we have been doing with feedback recently. I mentioned feedback a while ago.

Since then we have tried to integrate it more regularly in our work. So we have a weekly retrospective and the first thing we do is cover the feedback that has been generated on the website feedback form.

This has covered a range of issues and usually things we can quickly change. So for example there is an area of content called Successful Commissioning which is quite popular. Over the last few weeks we had a number of comments left saying that some of the frequently used abbreviations were not explained. So we went in and changed these.

Another popular area of content are some FAQs about Taxpayer support for the banks.  This content was created as it was a topic the NAO was regularly asked about. So almost every week we get a comment asking ‘can a particular figure be made clearer or do you have more data on x’? We pass these all onto the authors who have taken the necessary action.

There have also been some useful comments about the difficulty of contacting particular people in the NAO. This is slightly more tricky but clearly worth reviewing especially as the on site search shows users are putting in the names of NAO staff.

So oddly we have found all the feedback quite motivating. Because people care, value the content and want it to work even better. It shows that the effort we put into maintaining these pages is worthwhile and we can fix things that do not work well. It’s a feedback win/win.



Do you know the perfect venue for #GovCamp16?

A GovCamp is not a GovCamp without a venue and so the search begins….

We asked for feedback last year and the consensus was that a venue needed the following features:

Must haves

  • It needs to be available on Saturday 23 January 2016 – and yes the majority wanted it in London
  • Capacity in one space for 200 people – with chairs of course
  • 6-8 breakout spaces on the same level as the main space
  • An immaculate wifi set up
  • Projector screens – preferably two
  • Easy access – not an overly complicated security system with scanners etc
  • Toilets
  • Space for tables for food and sponsors
  • Lectern with microphone
  • Not ridiculously expensive
  • Easy to get to location preferably near a train or tube station
  • A recommendation from someone who has already used the venue

Nice to haves

  • A not massively complicated process to book the space and sign a contract with the venue
  • A cloakroom
  • An AV specialist from the venue available on the day
  • Flip charts
  • Access to venue the night before
  • Option to use in-house catering if not massively expensive


So that is our list – let us know if you have a great venue just waiting to play a starring role in #GovCamp16


@nickmhalliday @jaCattell @baskers or

What is the problem with the National Information Infrastructure?

I was foolish enough to run a session at the excellent Open Data Camp about the National Information Infrastructure #UKNII

The reason I thought this could be foolish is that the words National Information Infrastructure are not exactly sexy. In fact it all sounds a bit boring. So I was glad that anyone turned up all – which they did so thank you to all the attendees.

So what did we talk about? Here goes….

Is National Information Infrastructure in fact the wrong name – should it be called the National Data Strategy? This was my point. The name at the moment sounds a bit like a Librarian (much as I love them) talking about the Dewey Decimal system. A bit dry and academic which of course it is not. Data is a bit of a catchy word at the moment as is strategy – so maybe a new title is in order?

I did point out that the concept is not new. Parliament published a fact sheet about it in 1995 where they stated that the cost could be very large so that care would be needed planning such a project. Interestingly the Open Data User Group in its recent paper say that opposite and that any cost would more than outweigh the benefits.

I note passing that on Wikipedia there is an entry for the National Information Infrastructure – but that is for the US. Where is the entry for the UK? Any volunteers?

We also discussed the perceived lack of momentum around the subject. Certainly the Transparency Team (a good number who gave up their weekend to be at the event) in the Cabinet Office have done a lot of work on the NII and are engaged with three pilot departments which sounds very promising but where is the wider enthusiasm and where are the evangelists? Who knows anything about it the UKNII but a handful of data geeks?

It was suggested that the possible appointment of a National Chief Data Officer might be the trigger to pull things together across government and generate some momentum. Notice the job title is not (Chief Information Officer.)

Another point (made on the way out) was where is the list that people can make suggestions about what should be included in the National Infrastructure? It is worth reading the Open Data Institute take on this topic and their starter list on a wiki.

We did agree that each specialist group will have ideas as to what should be included on such a list but that as more suggestions are made a Venn diagram would start to pick up the consistently mentioned data sets.

In this context in a later session it was mentioned that there are at least two different sets of data about the height of beaches which can cause problems for the military when planning exercises. It made me think – ‘ha another item for the Infrastructure list of data sets’. Who else would this seemingly innocuous information (or data) help? Councils managing beaches; fishermen, lifeguards, companies planning green energy installations..? There are probably a lot more.

That’s my round up of this session. Thanks to everyone for coming along and hopefully there might be a few more evangelists in circulation.