- Survey provides valuable insights into how the views of leaders and managers in Civil Service differ from those in other grades
- 75% of senior civil servants believe that better use of data is absolutely essential – 10% higher than their junior counterparts
- More than half of junior civil servants unaware whether their employer has a data strategy
New research by NTT DATA UK, a world leader in digital, data and technology services, solicited civil servants’ views on the government’s data agenda. The research revealed that three-quarters (75%) of senior civil servants (SCS) believe that better use of data to improve tools used by civil servants and public services is absolutely essential - just over 10% higher than their junior counterparts (64%).
Views between SCS and their junior counterparts differed when asked how they want to improve data use in tools, services and decision-making. All seniority groups except the more junior staff ranked the following as their top four priorities:
- Collating and analysing data to support evidence-based policymaking (65%)
- Using data to target services at the points of greatest need, improving impact and reducing waste (52%)
- Providing a single point of access to multiple public services and supporting data sharing between them (40%)
- Assessing the impact of public services, supporting better evaluation of policies and services (37%)
Those below grade seven agreed on the top three but placed less emphasis on ‘assessing the impact’ – which was pushed down to sixth place by two priorities tied in fourth: ‘personalising and automating services, using data to adapt them around user needs and streamlining delivery’ and ‘interrogating data to identify waste, fraud and error in service delivery and government operations.’
Current use of data
This research revealed that more than half (54%) of junior civil servants were unaware whether their employer has a data strategy, significantly more than their SCS colleagues (38%). The outlier here was HMRC staff, where 68% of respondents said that they had a data strategy and just 24% didn’t know whether there was one in place or not. HMRC recently refreshed its data strategy – which was overseen by a dedicated Chief Data Officer and Data Governance Board – and offers training on data use and protection to all staff.
When asked to state their employer’s state of development in four fields of data management, only in two groups did more than 15% of respondents answer any question with a 5 – meaning that they ‘have strong, effective, up-to-date systems in this field’. Here, 22% of HMRC staff gave this answer, reflecting good internal communications on data programmes within the department.
Future use of data in government
A high proportion of survey respondents were from senior grades: 9.2% of respondents were members of the Senior Civil Service – a group representing just 1.3% of the workforce – and a further 39.6% were from Grades 6 and 7. Overall, nearly half of respondents (48.8%) were drawn from grades that comprise the top 13% of the civil service. The disproportionate number of SCS, Grade 6-7s suggests a strong interest in data among senior staff; positive news for those promoting the data agenda.
When asked whether the centre of government should have additional levers to promote departmental compliance with central data strategies, policies and standards, junior staff were the most enthusiastic, with over half (57%) in favour of the idea. On the other hand, SCS were more sceptical than the average respondent with only 47% in favour.
However, despite differing opinions between Civil Service staff, initiatives are being put in place to help coordinate the Civil Service and ensure senior leaders and more juniors members are working more effectively together to improve the data agenda. One such initiative is the Civil Service Data Challenge, which launched in March this year and asked civil servants to submit proposals on how data could be better used within government. Nearly 200 submissions were received, with a long list of ideas announced in August and a final round of judging in December 2021, which will assess the viability, potential benefits, and obstacles to delivery of each idea. The best ideas will receive support from NTT DATA UK to help implement them in practice.
Vicki Chauhan, Head of Public Sector at NTT DATA UK commented: “The gap in knowledge on the use of data in government between senior and junior civil servants highlights a need for more education on the power of data. Data has the potential to be a powerful tool for making informed decisions to drive improvements to public services. Becoming data-driven is a big change that requires educating civil servants at every grade to get right.”
Bill Wilson, Head of Data & Intelligence Solutions at NTT DATA UK, added: “The UK government possesses incredible data assets – many are recognised, although there is no doubt hidden treasure which is yet to be properly catalogued. Using this data to drive policy, casework and operations is crucial for efficiency and specific scenarios like counter-fraud. In some cases, using data to improve public services is a moral imperative. This survey shows however that civil servants lack mature technology platforms and training needed to harness the power of data and analytics. While there is progress in some areas – and reasons to be proud of what has been achieved during the pandemic – we need to go further to build an enduring data and analytics capability across the civil service.”