Data and securityFive data gaps the government needs to fill

Five data gaps the government needs to fill

A new paper published by the Institute for Government has identified five important gaps in the data that government gathers or publishes - and how these gaps should be filled. 

A new paper published by the Institute for Government (IfG) has identified five important gaps in the data that government gathers or publishes – and how these gaps should be filled.

The paper draws on the IfG’s extensive work with government data and argues that Government effectiveness is vital for two reasons:

  • Government needs high-quality data to understand how it is working: this enables it to judge whether its policies are making a difference, and how to provide better public services. High-quality data allows government to measure its own performance, and improve it.
  • Accountability: open data on government and its performance allows Parliament, the media and the public to understand government and hold it accountable for its actions.

The five suggestions made in the paper include:

  1. A list of all the datasets that government departments are responsible for producing
  2. More comprehensible data on government spending, including better annual accounts from government departments
  3. Better outsourcing data
  4. More comprehensive performance data on public services
  5. Better data on the public sector workforce

Discussing the issue of better outsourcing data, the IfG called for more comprehensive performance data on public services. It said, “Government spent £277bn procuring goods, works and services from third parties in 2016/17, but we still know too little about what it is spending, with whom, to what effect. Government could manage contracts more effectively if it could link tenders, contracts and spending; those outside government could bring greater insight and better hold government to account if such data were published. But as the Institute for Government has previously argued, and as our forthcoming report will show, there are serious problems with the available data.”

The IfG also advised Whitehall to publish more comprehensive performance data on public services.

“Difficulties in collecting and collating data have been exacerbated by the outsourcing of many public services, which are not subject to the same transparency rules as those run directly by the state. The Information Commissioner has said that the public should be entitled to the same level of transparency about public services regardless of whether they are being provided by the public or private sector. The Institute for Government has long called for better data on how providers are performing as vital for efficient use of taxpayers’ money and better contract management”, the report said.

The think tank also urged the government to provide better data on the public sector workforce, saying:  “A government that has the right data about the composition and diversity of and change in its own workforce should be in a better position to manage it effectively. Better data is needed in particular in two areas: turnover and socio-economic data on the civil service.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

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