Recently the Open Data User Group published a position paper on the UKNII, as an attempt to engage wider interest and reinvigorate discussion. The UKNII was also covered in a recent all-star open data briefing at techUK in London.
I’ve written before about the UK National Information Infrastructure (UKNII), a Cabinet Office project to identify the more important and useful public data assets and perhaps nudge some of them towards open data release. I’ve been critical of progress so far, but the basic idea is sound. This is potentially an important initiative for open data and public sector information in general.
It is surely a sign of the times that a subject as inimical to high-impact journalism as data processing has featured in the news a lot recently. We hear plenty about big data and the research opportunities it offers, so it seems a good idea to take a fresh look at the colossal data resources of the NHS, to see whether we can discover new treatments and risk factors from it, and thus save and improve lives.
The evidence movement, long championed by the Royal Statistical Society, is achieving real progress. Five new ‘What Works Centres’, in crime reduction, local economic growth, education, ageing better and early intervention have now opened and are linked in a 'What Works Network'. The centres’ overall aim is to improve the use of high quality evidence when government makes decisions about public services.
Care.data has met a hail of criticism. Technical solutions which both protect patient-confidentiality and enable linkages in the public interest had been eschewed. Why? Each of three possible reasons - economy, expediency, ignorance - is unacceptable. Confidentiality costs, but the pay-off from properly designed, ethically approved record linkage is great potential for new discoveries in the public interest.
Web companies have been doing human subjects research for a while now. Companies like Facebook and Google have employed statisticians for almost a decade (or more) and part of the culture they have introduced is the idea of randomised experiments to identify ideas that work and that don't. They have figured out that experimentation and statistical analysis often beat out the opinion of the highest paid person at the company for identifying features that 'work'. Here 'work' may mean features that cause people to read advertising, or click on ads, or match up with more people.