Government data sharing during the pandemic

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Gavin Freeguard; Paul Shepley

February 20, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at lessons from six case studies and other research on government data sharing during the pandemic.

During the pandemic, the government created the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable People Service – which required sharing individual address and health information – in a matter of weeks. It also used data to inform operational decisions through initiatives like the NHS Covid-19 Data Store and NHS National Data Platform and various business support schemes. But there were aspects of data sharing that could have gone better, such as making data available to different levels and parts of government, and engaging the public about how their data would be used. This report synthesises the lessons from six case studies and other research on government data sharing during the pandemic. It finds that current legislation, such as the Digital Economy Act and UK GDPR, does not constitute a barrier to data sharing and that while technical barriers – incompatible IT systems, for example – can slow data sharing, they do not prevent it. Instead, the pandemic forced changes to standard working practice that enabled new data sharing agreements to be created quickly. This report focuses on what these changes were and how they can lead to improvements in future practice. The report recommends: The government should retain data protection officers and data protection impact assessments within the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, and consider strengthening provisions around citizen engagement and how to ensure data flows during emergency response The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should consult on how to improve working around data between central and local government in England. This should include the role of the proposed Office for Local Government, data skills and capabilities at the local level, reform of the Single Data List and the creation of a data brokering function to facilitate two-way data sharing between national and local government. The government should complement this by reviewing the role of the UK Statistics Authority to support timely data and data sharing across all nations and regions in the UK. The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) should create a data sharing ‘playbook’ to support public servants building new services founded on data. The playbook should contain templates for standard documents, links to relevant legislation and codes of practice (like those from the Information Commissioner’s Office), guidance on public engagement and case studies covering who to engage and when whilst setting up a new service. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, working with CDDO, should take the lead on guidance and resources on how to engage the public at every stage of data sharing.