Data Sharing and the Cost-of-living crisis: where do we start?

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

Data sharing is key to unlocking improved public services for the people of Wales, but the concept of data sharing, for many, can be daunting. With the cost of living rising, it is important that we work together and share information where we can to help support the citizens of Wales. This week we hosted a forum to dispel some of the myths and concerns around data sharing in the hope of raising confidence levels and breaking down barriers to make the process clearer and easier.

Led by Glyn Jones, Chief Digital Officer for the Welsh Government, the lively and informative event was well attended by colleagues from across the public and third sectors in Wales. It was fantastic to see such high levels of engagement on this topic and find out more about issues people are currently facing in their organisations.

If you were unable to attend, you can view the recording of the event here. However, here’s a quick summary of what was discussed.

Getting started

David Teague from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) kicked off the event emphasising that data protection legislation should not be seen as a barrier to sharing personal information. Rather it is there to ensure that the information rights of individuals are balanced with the needs of the organisations who use that data, and provides a framework for sharing securely, fairly and proportionately.

He also advised that before sharing data you should think about the following:

  • Why? Why are you sharing personal information? Does it even need to be shared to achieve this purpose?
  • Who? Whose data are you sharing? Who is it being shared with? Would individuals expect to have their information shared and does a privacy notice need to address this?
  • What? What specifically needs to be shared? Only share personal information that is needed to achieve the purpose for the sharing.
  • Where? Are there different data protection regimes or information risks presented by sharing the information across borders?
  • How? Data must be shared securely and appropriately. A data protection impact assessment is a good place to start as it will help you to consider potential the risks and how to mitigate these. And remember that consent is NOT the only lawful basis needed to share personal information.
  • When? Is it being shared regularly or on ad-hoc basis? What happens to the information once the purpose is achieved?

If you need more support when sharing personal data, the ICO’s Data Sharing Information Hub, including their Code of Practice, provides a practical guide on how to do so while complying with data protection law.

Lack of legal gateway?

In some cases, people feel unable to share data as they don’t know if they have a lawful basis to do so. If this is the case, the Digital Economy Act data sharing powers could be a possible solution.  

As the Welsh Government Head of Data Ethics and Data Sharing, Anna Bartlett-Avery, explained the powers allow specified public authorities to share data to help improve the delivery of public services to individuals and families who are affected by more than one disadvantage, or those in living in fuel or water poverty. So, for example, some local authorities have data sharing arrangements with external partners to share data to help them identify and support vulnerable people in their communities, and DWP shares data with utility companies in order to verify someone is eligible for a benefit-related discount scheme.

You can find more information on the data sharing powers in the DEA Codes of Practice.

Getting the documentation right

Another common issue faced is having the correct documentation in place to enable and support sharing. The Wales Accord on the Sharing of Personal Information (WASPI) provides the means to help organisations get past this barrier. WASPI is a set of principles implemented through standard templates that help you document information sharing protocols clearly.

Being able to use consistent data sharing documentation has proved invaluable over the last couple of years. For example, Welsh Government, Local Authorities, and Local Health Boards have drawn on the WASPI templates to aid data sharing during COVID and more recently while supporting Ukrainian citizens. More information on how these were used can be found in the recording, and templates and further examples can be found on the WASPI website.

DataMapWales: the answer to sharing geospatial data

Dave Roberts, Head of Geography in Welsh Government, introduced DataMapWales, which acts as a single source of geospatial data and shared data platform for all public sector bodies in Wales. The platform, which went live in September 2022, allows Welsh public bodies to publish their data in one place, providing data to those that need it.

Consisting of a website, data catalogue and mapping tool, it allows users to search and select the information they are interested in and see it displayed visually on top of a base-map. So, for example you’re able to visualise the location of doctor’s surgeries, flood zones and areas of deprivation.

Whilst most of the data is openly published for everyone to use, DataMapWales also enables restricted and secure access for the sharing of more sensitive data. An example of this is the JIGSO application, which is built on DataMapWales. This enabled the secure sharing of data about ‘at risk’ properties with the resilience community and emergency services across Wales to prioritise resources to those that needed it most during Storm Eunice earlier this year. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about DataMapWales or if you’re interested in using it to share data, then please visit the DataMapWales website.

Transport: data sharing in practice

The Head of Transport Strategy and Planning at Welsh Government, Deb Harding, provided an overview of the importance of sharing data in transport, explaining that in doing so it helps:

  • move people out of cars and onto public transport
  • improve services and user experience
  • support people to use public transport
  • develop and test new initiatives

She explained that there is a wide range of different data sources they can draw on including information from ticket sales and customer data to transport survey data, mobile phone data, and data held by other public bodies. However, with the opportunities these bring there are also challenges in being able to access and use this data. 

And finally….

We want to say a big thanks again to our panel of speakers and everyone who was able to attend. There were some great thought-provoking questions asked during the event, which we really appreciate. For questions we weren’t able to answer on the day, we will make the responses available as soon as possible.

As Glyn pointed out, in his closing remarks, establishing communities on the back of this event will be important. Both to continue conversations and to develop ways of facilitating the sharing of data that would be beneficial to all. Therefore those interested are encouraged to join the ‘Improving access to data’ Community of Practice recently established by Data Cymru, as it will provide a useful forum for this type of discussion.

Also, if you’re interested in attending a related session, Data Cymru will be holding ‘A problem shared….’ Webinar on 19 January 2023, which will showcase examples of local authority projects that have involved data sharing across organisations.