Policy makers across government lack the necessary skills and understanding to take advantage of digital technologies when tackling problems such as coronavirus and climate change.
This report says already poor data management has been exacerbated by a lack of leadership, with the role of government chief data officer unfilled since 2017. These failings have been laid bare by the stuttering coronavirus Test and Trace programme.
Drawing on interviews with policy experts and digital specialists inside and outside government, the report argues that better use of data and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, would improve policy makers’ understanding of problems like coronavirus and climate change, and aid collaboration with colleagues, external organisations and the public in seeking solutions to them.
It urges government to trial innovative applications of data and technology to a wider range of policies, but warns recent failures such as the A-level algorithm fiasco mean it must also do more to secure public trust in its use of such technologies.
This means strengthening oversight and initiating a wider public debate about the appropriate use of digital technologies, and improving officials' understanding of the limitations of data-driven analysis.
The report recommends that the government:
- Appoints a chief data officer as soon as possible to drive work on improving data quality, tackle problems with legacy IT and make sure new data standards are applied and enforced across government.
- Places more emphasis on statistical and technological literacy when recruiting and training policy officials.
- Sets up a new independent body to lead on public engagement in policy making, with an initial focus on how and when government should use data and technology.