Public Services

Cabinet Office still seeks chief data officer appointment

Neil Merrett Published 04 December 2015

A replacement for Mike Bracken is expected to be appointed as efforts continueto tackle issues in ensuring consistent quality and supply

The Cabinet Office is still expected to appoint a new chief data officer (CDO) following the departure of Mike Bracken from that role in September, as work continues to overhaul and open up whitehall's information management.

It was announced in September that Paul Maltby has been appointed as the government's director of data to lead a cross-government programme around information use, with a decision on the future of the vacant CDO role yet to be finalised at the time.

However, Government Computing understands that a new appointment is planned.

Former Government Digital Service (GDS) executive director Bracken was appointed as the first ever CDO in March in a dual role designed to try and champion open data efforts across Whitehall and tackle a culture of individual departmental data silos.

Having taken up the role of data director in the autumn, Paul Maltby has since been overseeing work on ensuring data interoperability between departments and that spend data from Whitehall is open and available.

Responding earlier this week to a recent Whitehall Monitor report by the Institute for Government (IfG), Maltby noted that spending analysis had been frustrated by "difficulties of data interoperability between departments".

Accepting ongoing problems with spend data, he claimed that there was an "incentive inside government to sort this out and teams led by the Treasury are on the case."

While the Cabinet Office is the department leading Open Data initiatives, it has not yet updated its own spend data since August of last year, despite commitments to publish the updated figures after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request for the information was rejected.

Referring to the IfG's most recent findings, Maltby said that the report's authors had noted that the UK government had made progress in work to improve the availability of open data, while also discussing some key challenges need to be addressed.

The report stressed that too much data was still being "locked in PDFs and of questionable consistency", which in turn creates difficulties for organisations looking to use the information. Questions were also raised over the poor quality of some data, even for basic management information, like the professions of civil servants in Whitehall departments.

Other concerns raised in the report included:

- Data such as information on performance of companies providing public services not being mentioned at all
- The government being bad at explaining the meaning of certain key data, such as the impacts of individual department reforms

"These problems of quality and accessibility point to a wider problem: a lot of this data, which could provide greater insight into how government is run and increase accountability, isn't being used by government, Parliament or the public," said the findings.

"Although discussions of formats and standards can often seem technical and remote, they are vital: better data, and better use of data, can allow us to understand and improve government in ways previously unknown. Better data is a means to more effective use of data, and ultimately to more effective government."

In an attempt to try and "fix" the government's data infrastructure, Maltby pointed to the need for 'dog-fooding' within Whitehall - a term relating to an organisation demonstrating confidence in its own products - to improve quality of its information sharing.

He added that there were inevitably some difference of opinion between GDS and the report, such as "the oblique questioning about our ongoing commitment to open data", it ultimately remained a fair assessment.

Last month, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock pledged to modernise the open data infrastructure by improving how it standardises and maintains data as part of a pledge to review how information is collected, used and made available across Whitehall.

Key figures within the Open Data Institute (ODI) have noted that defining data standards remained both challenging and time consuming, with Whitehall having in many cases to start from scratch to not only understand key user needs, but who the 'consumer' of its data actually is.

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