Nottingham City Council is balancing its ambition to be England's most transparent local council with stringent data-sharing and protection laws.
The council's head of IT strategy and security Simon Salmon said that its Nottingham Insight open data platform aims to achieve greater transparency and boost local businesses. This could include software based around its public transport data, for example.
The government has recently invested £1.5m in open data projects with a view to making the public sector more transparent. However, both internal data sharing and publicly publishing data pose significant regulatory challenges.
"There's an awful lot of regulatory requirements you need to get right," Salmon told V3.
The Data Protection Act (DPA), which safeguards how data on individuals is used, dictates the sharing agreements that departments come to and affects the content of the information shared between organisations.
"With things like public health data, because we're not the data controller, we need an information-sharing agreement and we need to conduct some non-reversible pseudo-anonymisation of the data, so not to connect it to [individual] patients," he explained.
At the same time, the council must also ensure they retain enough data to make it useful for wider analytics projects.
"If we know there's a particular issue among certain groups and that links up with health data, you can work together to solve those issues. So the challenge is – when publishing that data to other organisations, as you're the data controller – making sure you're meeting the requirements of the DPA."
The government's Public Services Network (PSN) – created with the intention of making public-sector communications easier, cheaper and more joined up – has helped improve the public sector's attitudes to data sharing, according to Salmon.
"The PSN is driving sharing agreements," he said. "Historically, going back five or 10 years we had a Mexican stand-off between agencies and none of them wanted to take a balanced risk with sharing information."
Now, he said, the council has commissioned a network connection to the local police authority to improve data sharing between the force and council community protection officers. Similar projects with higher education institutions and healthcare bodies will also follow.
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