https://defradigital.blog.gov.uk/2017/02/27/how-do-i-eat-the-elephant/

How do I eat the elephant?

Past incarnations of this working group have been no stranger to ambitious targets, and the latest is no exception. The group, which I am a part of, comprises Defra Data Programme Leads, Data Managers, Senior Managers and Solutions Architects from across the group. We were recently assigned the task of planning and progressing a number of elements of the transformation to the Target Operating Model, specifically around:

  1. Data principles
  2. Data and IT ownership
  3. Open by Design
  4. Data inventory
  5. Data skills

We met in early February with this fresh mandate and eagerly got stuck into the tasks at hand. First on the agenda was Defra’s data principles, which have been evolving since their conception at Pubcamp a few months ago.  We discussed them first in rotating break-out groups, followed by a full group discussion. There was a general consensus that with a few tweaks, the principles were a solid set and could be taken to the DDB for approval. We anticipated that these principles will continue to evolve as the Data Programme progresses, but could start to be used immediately as one of the core requirements for all data and technical developments for Defra going forward.

A session on ownership followed and again, smaller groups discussed how data and IT ownership is working within respective organisations; identifying good practice and opportunities for improvement. This generated a lot of discussion and strong consensus that consistency could be improved across the landscape, along with clear reasons for doing so.

The ‘Open by Design’ item was a little different –  a thought-provoking interactive presentation followed by group discussion on how the Data Accelerator (‘8000’) project created a strong and unified Defra group, focused on delivering an ambitious target. New opportunity areas for further join-up were proposed, and a number of pilots will be defined and progressed in due course.

We then went back to the break-out groups for ideas on what a data inventory for Defra might look like and how each organisation is cataloguing and publishing their assets. We quickly got down to the detail of metadata, lists and solutions; and in general agreed on the scope and approach of the objectives for the Defra inventory project going forward.

The data skills session was the last of the day: a short presentation on the recent Defra data skills audit followed by smaller group discussions and then a summary. We discussed how the outputs of the audit could be best used to further data skills within each organisation, and across Defra as a whole.

All sessions generated significant discussion and debate, from 'should data be referred to a singular or plural?' and 'is that a data catalogue or a data inventory?', to 'what is the next dragon which will draw us out of our castles?' and 'how do I eat the elephant?'. While the latter two may sound a little obscure, they certainly generated engagement and provoked thought. We recognised the scope of what we can achieve when we work together, tackling Defra-wide issues, creating opportunities for more efficient working, and delivering large initiatives. We also agreed that these challenges can’t be addressed as a whole; they have to be broken down to manageable chunks, with an iterative approach used to work towards the end goal. I have no doubt that every attendee left at the end of the day with a sense of positivity and energy, and a good number of ideas for improving their own processes from sharing knowledge. I perceived a strong sense of ownership over our shared objectives, which will of course be essential as the roadmap and objectives continue to develop.

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