The NHS’s Metadata-Driven Data Strategy: Data Transparency Revolution

by Adam Milward , June 25th, 2021

Recently, the NHS published its draft Data Policy Paper Draft. We’re excited to see their metadata-driven Data Strategy prioritizing Data Discovery, Understanding, and Access. This aligns with our belief that effective metadata management is vital to transforming the use of data for public benefit.

Despite “metadata” being mentioned only once, it’s clear that three major priorities and 44 commitments (out of ~97) require effective metadata solutions to be realized.

We want to explain how metadata can fuel a transparency revolution across the NHS, enabling them to meet their obligations and focus areas.

NHS’s First Data Priority: Understanding Data Usage and Innovation

The first NHS data priority is to “build understanding on how data is used and the potential for data-driven innovation, improving transparency so the public has control over how we use their data.”

Let’s dissect this:
  1. Understanding how data is used: This is achieved by collecting Metadata that describes existing data across the system, allowing us to track its use.
  2. Understanding the potential for data-driven innovation: Innovators should know what data is available, and there should be transparent processes for them to request data access and demonstrate their innovation’s benefits to the public.
  3. Improving transparency for public control over data usage: A good starting point is to be more transparent about collected data. Publishing a comprehensive list of the collected data and its uses would be highly beneficial.

Can metadata help the NHS achieve Priority Number 1? The answer, in short, is yes. Let’s illustrate this with a story…

Once upon a time, there was a data crisis in the NHS where staff struggled to get the information they needed, and the public didn’t feel like they had any control over how their data was used. Every day, data engineers worked tirelessly to try and get data to the right place at the right time, but time and time again, they couldn’t find, understand or access the data. One day someone developed a catalogue that listed all the data in each NHS organisation that could be searched and shared safely and securely. Because of that, data engineers could find and understand data to get the right data to the right place at the right time. And the public had greater transparency about what data was collected and how it was used. Finally, the NHS had data that helped the whole health and care system deliver the best care to the citizens they serve.

This may be an oversimplification, but ultimately, you can’t improve the way data is used or inspire confidence in the public until you answer some basic questions about your data, like, what data do we have? How is it used?

And present this back to the public safely, securely and transparently.

The Value of Metadata in the NHS’s Data Strategy

Although the previous story simplifies the process, the core message is clear: improving data usage or gaining public trust is impossible without answering basic questions about your data. What data do we have? How is it used?

Presenting this information to the public in a secure, transparent manner is key.


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