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Data Programme Board: putting the user first

Recently I attended the first meeting of the Defra Data Programme Board. This is the group of senior officials advising the SRO of the Defra Data Programme, Emily Miles, and reports into ExCo, the executive team of Defra chaired by Permanent Secretary, Clare Moriarty.

This may sound like a dry subject, but I was delighted to be asked to join this group because I believe that getting the right data governance in place across Defra group is critical to achieving our strategic objectives for data. Becoming the Defra group requires us all to think more as a single entity rather than a federation of organisations and data will help us deliver this.

Risk and opportunity are forever inseperable

It was great to hear the new Group Chief Technology Officer, John Seglias, speak of the role that data and technology play together. How these areas work together in future will be a key measure of the success of the Data Programme.

I learnt something new from John, which is that the symbol in the Chinese language for opportunity and risk is the same. This set me thinking: we will not make the necessary transformation in how we operate by playing it safe all the time; we will need to take risks to achieve our ambitions, and those risks are also opportunities to do things differently.

To date, theData Programme has focused on delivering 8000 open datasets by June this year to meet the Secretary of State’s commitment. There’s been a huge effort in large swathes of Defra Group to deliver this ambition. The Programme is now focusing on what happens after June and we heard about some of the thinking that will take us forwards.

We need to continue to put the user at the heart of the decisions we make around our data. By user we mean not just the external end-user, such as small developers building apps to make farming more efficient or environmentally friendly, but also internal users, the 34 bodies that make up Defra Group.

The independent Environment Agency Data Advisory Group, EADAG, brings the voice of the user into decision making, and I heard that the programme will build on that approach. The work of EADAG and Chair, Tom Smith, in championing open data, put us in a good place to meet our commitment under #opendefra.

Overall, my reflection from this first meeting of the Data Programme Board, was that it was a positive step forward.  It will be interesting to see how it develops and works as the interface between the delivery of the Data Programme and ExCo. I am looking forward to supporting the Programme Board and in the spirit of transparency, which I think should be our watchword, I am blogging about it.

On a final note, Alex Coley leaves Defra in May to pursue his career outside the public sector. Alex worked for me at the Environment Agency and it is gratifying to see the ideas we kicked around on open data a few years ago come to fruition now.  He has achieved a huge amount both at the Environment Agency and Defra, and can be justifiably proud.

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