Data ownership and management

ICT usage generates, aggregates and stores data. Consequently many personal and non-personal aspects of our day to day activities are stored as data by organisations and the government. The amount of information that others hold on us is growing, and many are concerned about what they see as a dangerous lack of awareness or concern about this amongst the general public.

Organisations now have the technical ability to create in-depth individual profiles based on online behavior and the data this generates. Offline behaviour is also increasingly monitored, recorded and stored as data in various forms and by various people. It is becoming easier to join up data from different sources in the name of seamless customer experience.

There is also public unease over who actually 'owns' the data (for example the data provided in social networks like facebook). All this has resulted in a growing debate over how this data is stored and what it is used for. The expectation that public data should be shared is also increasing (see open data).

What are the implications?

  • For organisations the increased sharing of data provides benefits, such as greater personalisation of care and service delivery.
  • Increasing concerns about privacy and online trust.
  • The need to be compliant with mandatory legislation which governs organisations that collect and hold data, such as the data protection act.
  • The need for common standards in information and identity management is likely to impact on VCOs delivering services under contract to public bodies.
  • Expectations that data will be shared leads to a risk that users will perceive VCOs as part of a bigger project holding data that people have no control over. 
  • Ethical issues regarding how data is used – it may be collected for one purpose and used for another.
  • Vulnerable groups are particularly at risk of agencies abusing confidentiality of data.
  • Organisations will need to ensure they store and use data appropriately.
  • As the public become more aware of the use of data they may be more reluctant to share information, and/or more motivated to advocate the yielding of data control back to the original owner – the individual.

Moving forward

The aggregation and storage of data presents challenges for VCOs, particularly those operating in the same environment as the public sector. A discussion hosted by e-gov monitor[1] highlighted the following questions:

  • Who owns what data and who is responsible for maintaining accuracy and currency?
  • Who decides what data can be shared and with what organisations?
  • Who polices data sharing? Who polices the policemen?
  • Data standards – how do we share data that could potentially be held in several different formats?
  • What constitutes appropriate access?

Do you need to review your current data management processes? Do you have a data management plan? Is it clear how and where data is stored by your organisation and who has operational and executive authority over its management? How is it archived, deleted, protected and secured?

Does your organisation need to communicate more clearly to beneficiaries how the data you store on them might be used? Would staff within your organisation benefit from training on data protection to be clear about what they can and can not do with personal data?

Perhaps the staff in your organisation would benefit from training on data protection to be clear about what they can and can not do with personal data?

If you share data with other agencies do you need to think about the process and communication of this to maintain the trust of your users and the wider public?

Do you need to think about how you share data with other agencies in order to improve services to beneficiaries or provide sufficient duty of care?

Do you have a role to play in helping to improve public understanding (or your users’ understanding) about how data is used?

How can your organisation embrace the “open data” movement? If beneficiaries request control over their own data are you in a position to oblige?

Information on the success or failure of organisational practices are increasingly open, do you take this into consideration when conducting large scale projects, initiatives or investments?  How can you cover your bases to prevent a potential backlash if things go wrong?

Want to know more?

UK Confidential

Published by: Demos – a left-wing think tank

Date:  2008

Format: PDF

What is it? This is a long report, with much of it less relevant to this issue. Chapter 6 analyses privacy and data sharing from the perspective of risk, using various public services to illustrate the key issues. It is essentially a discussion piece rather than a report on specific research.

How useful is this? This provides a useful discussion of the key issues. In addition, the report's other chapters give a good (albeit lengthy) overview of related issues.

Government plans personal data sharing scheme

Published by: Computer weekly

Date: 2009

Format:  Web

What is it? This is a short article outlining some key issues in data sharing.

How useful is this? In itself, this article provides only a brief analysis. However, through hyperlinks, it connects to further relevant articles on the internet, providing a helpful starting point for further reading.

Yield control of personal data

Published by:, which describes itself as “The Informational Portal for the Public Sector”

Date: June 2009

Format: Web

What is it? This article is inspired by a report by the Conservative think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. The emphasis of the article (and of the underlying report) is that data held by government should be freed up for wider use.

How useful is this? This article usefully outlines some of the key issues. However, the underlying research is not available, which limits the value of the article.

Open up the database state

Published by: The Guardian, left-of-centre broadsheet

Date: January, 2009

Format: Web

What is it? This is a comment article rather than an evidence-based report. Nevertheless, the article, along with the accompanying reader comments, gives a good account of the attitudes of this more vocal segment of society.

How useful is this? Although interesting ideas are presented, the context is that of a left-wing broadsheet and the respondents represented in the comments are not a reliable sample of the UK public.

Data and Privacy

Published by: Institute for Insight in the Public Services (IIPS)

Date: 2008

Format: PDF

What is it? This report examines public attitudes to the sharing of data across government departments. There appears to be an underlying assumption that data sharing is essentially a positive  approach. The research thus focuses on questions such as the reasons behind resistance and the areas in which respondents are more resistant.

How useful is this? This is a useful report, although the possible bias in favour of data sharing should be kept in mind. A key conclusion of the report is that while the public is unhappy with data sharing between government departments, this resistance typically is reversed once purported benefits are explained.


  1. Transforming Government Event Series Launch published by eGov monitor [back]
Last updated at 15:18 Fri 25/Mar/11.

Recent comments

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The joys of open data - neatly summarised here (slideshare presentation from developer of OpenlyLocal)

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

If you have some time to listen, there's a good open data podcast from DavePress (a blog about the impact that social technology has on organisations, with a particular slant on the public sector). He interviews Tim Davies of Practical Participation about open data. It's quite long - 20 minutes - but does well in exploring how open data can link in with other buzz movements of the moment such as co-production, production of public services and community engagement.

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