Seven principles to help us strengthen our data infrastructure


Data infrastructure underpins business innovation, public services and civil society, but is often unseen and neglected. The ODI has set out draft principles to guide how a strong data infrastructure can be designed and assessed, to benefit everyone

Good infrastructure is simply there when we need it – we know it’s working when we don’t need to think about it. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by Hefin Owen.

The UK Government has launched a public consultation on moving the operations of the Land Registry for England and Wales to the private sector. The Land Registry registers the ownership of land and property. Land ownership is a valuable part of any country’s data infrastructure. We will be responding to the consultation and hope to persuade the government to avoid the mistakes it made when it lost control of address data.

We had already begun devising our own high-level principles to shape how we approach policies, research and tools for data infrastructure over the coming year. We developed the principles through internal workshops and from the lessons we have learnt over the years. The Land Registry consultation will be one of the ways that we test and iterate the principles (set out below). We wanted to share them in draft to hear other people’s feedback or ideas for other potential uses. We will publish the next iteration of the principles in two months’ time.

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Data is infrastructure. It underpins innovation, transparency, accountability, businesses, public services, and civil society.

The data in our infrastructure exists on a spectrum, from closed to shared to open. Each part of the spectrum is useful; not all data will be open or closed. For example, while few people want to publish medical records openly, societies accept that medical records will always be shared with a doctor in time of a need.

Society is not currently treating data as infrastructure. We are not giving it the same importance as our road, railway and energy networks were given in the industrial revolution – and are still given now. Good infrastructure is simply there when we need it. We know our data infrastructure is working when it is boring – when we don’t need to think about it.

At the moment, too much of our data infrastructure is unreliable. It doesn’t work easily or doesn’t work at all. Data innovators struggle to get hold of data, to work out what they can use it for, to know whether or not data will continue to be maintained or is of reasonable quality. The time and effort that goes into fixing data infrastructure as and when these potholes and dead-ends are discovered could be spent building services or finding insights to improve them.

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Our data infrastructure could contribute more value to our economies and our lives than it already does. We should take every opportunity to strengthen it.

A data infrastructure consists of data assets, the organisations that operate and maintain them and guides describing how to use and manage the data. Trustworthy data infrastructure is sustainably funded, and is managed in a way that maximises data use and value by meeting the needs of society. Data infrastructure includes technology, processes and organisations.

These principles for data infrastructure complement our draft principles for personal data, which will help to build services and find insights in ways that people can understand and trust.;

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