The Open Data Task and Finish Group

By Alistair Bullward, Acting Head of Function for Analytics, NHS Digital


Over the last 18 months, open data has been used extensively for reporting on the Coronavirus pandemic, and this has demonstrated the power of open data in its ability to support policy, innovation, transparency, and public debate. The UK health sector is a major producer of open data, and work is undertaken by a variety of public bodies. Therefore, it goes without saying that collaboration across the health ecosystem is key. Consequently, in September 2021 a cross governmental task and finish group have come together to improve open data.

Key Points

Working across NHS Digital, the NHS Business Service Authority(NHSBSA), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS X, Public Health Scotland, NHS England and Improvement, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and Open Innovations, user research and learning was compiled to understand common issues and challenges. This highlighted open data could be improved by making it:

  • Easier to find
  • Easier to understand
  • Easier to process
  • More consistent

In addition, open data platforms and approaches were shared across all of these organisations via a series of “show and tells”.

This led to a rich conversation that highlighted:

  1. The need to publish some common standards for open data based on all these learnings, they have been published for review on Github, if you have any comments, please raise on Github.
  2. It quickly became apparent that a diverse approach of technologies are used when publishing and storing, it was agreed that a centralising effort on open data platforms and portals at this stage was likely to get bogged down, however it was agreed that a common decentralised approach to publishing and sharing meta-data (data that describes data) could be key - this aligned with user research that highlighted interpreting open data is a blocker.
  3. Consequently, NHS Digital and the NHSBSA teamed up to prototype an approach using Mauro Data Mapper, an open metadata tool that has been developed with Oxford University to load open meta-data. In late December datasets were successfully loaded and we are now looking to share learning and role out open meta-data in the new year (targeting March).

As we look into the new year we are hoping to push the open data agenda forward by continuing the cross governmental working group and engagement with various community events, we are specifically looking to:

  • Further share and build open data best practice across government.
  • Identify good use of open data of Open API to identify best practice that can be shared.
  • Promote a common way of sharing metadata across organisations using Mauro, the NHSBSA and NHS Digital are planning to be early adopters.
  • Share open code and learning from NHS Digital’s use of Reproducible Analytical Pipelines (RAP).

As always, open data is a team sport, if you would like to get involved or ask any questions, then please get in touch by contributing your comments and ideas on this shared document.

Many Thanks,

The Open Data Task and Finish Group.