Data standards in Scotland's public sector - framework for action: consultation analysis

We have identified a model of co-design for the development of public sector data standards in Scotland. This report is a summary of a consultation on data standards in public sector organisations within Scotland.

4 Framework for Action

Section 4 proposes a Framework for Action that builds on the consultation activities undertaken and the ideas for change proposed or demonstrated by those involved in the workshops, case studies, and survey.

The expectation is the Framework for Action could be extracted from the report and developed iteratively by the client and stakeholders working together to secure transformational change in the use of data standards. The Framework for Action has benefitted from discussions with the client. The expectation is that the proposals will be taken to a further workshop for discussion.

The development of the framework has been undertaken alongside other complementary initiatives. The emergent ambitions and actions in support of public sector data reuse have been promoted by the Data Standards Team and incorporated into the consultation document for a new Digital Strategy for Scotland. Particularly relevant excerpts from the consultation document for the Digital Strategy are:

Adopt common digital and data standards: We will develop and accelerate the use of common digital and data standards across the public sector. This will make it easier to join up services for the benefit of the people who use them. We will embed the Scottish Approach to Service Design, and ensure that users are involved in all design decisions, data can be shared where appropriate, teams are resourced and skilled appropriately and that common services and platforms are used as the default. To aid this, a Data Standards community of practice will be formed to develop the ambition, build a roadmap of key steps to be taken and processes to help organisations improve. We will develop a public sector data catalogue, which will make it easier for everyone to see what data is held and to understand how to access it.

Protect and create value from Scotland's data: We will develop a Data Transformation Framework to improve data reuse in the Scottish Public Sector. This will enable our organisations to understand their data maturity with steps and support to improve. Central elements of the Framework will include Data Standards, Ethics and Social Responsibility, Skills and Data Management. We will more of our data available openly, renewing our focus on data which will improve transparency.

Pooling digital and data expertise: High quality digital and data skills have been in short supply in the public sector for some time. Alongside our plans to expand our training capability, we will therefore establish a new, pooled resource of digital and data experts that public sector organisations can call upon to help them transform the way they work. We will also work with partners across the public sector, including the Civil Service Commission, to explore how we can radically overhaul our approach to digital talent recruitment in the Civil Service in Scotland and the wider public sector, in recognition that the current recruitment process is based on siloed ways of working and historical organisational arrangements.

In addition to the development of an ambition and potential actions, a key question for the study was to assess whether there is a willingness to engage in co-design of data standards for Scotland's public sector. Whilst it was initially challenging to identify those interested, presumably due to the fragmented and diverse nature of public sector activity in this space, the enthusiasm with which people provided their experience and ideas for the future suggests a strong foundation upon which to build ongoing engagement.

The Framework for Action includes:

  • an ambition reflecting a more strategic approach to data standards in Scotland's public sector;
  • key features and conditions that are required to realise the ambition;
  • a set of principles to be followed in pursuit of the ambition; and
  • three key pillars of activity and associated actions that will support the ambition to be realised.


Our ambition is to have widely adopted and well applied data standards that enable the reuse of Scotland's public sector data assets.

Digital technologies are a mechanism by which Scotland can pursue its National Outcomes. However, Scotland's digital ambitions are dependent on data; and access to data that is ready for reuse is dependent on data standards.

Well applied data standards operate as virtual bridges connecting disparate data sources together and connecting potential users to valuable data. By providing vital bridges across a fragmented landscape, data standards will raise the quality of and access to Scotland's public sector data assets.

The capacity to reuse a wider range of data assets more rapidly and more easily will provide multiple benefits, including but not limited to:

  • better understanding of a problem or situation which can inform the design of better, quicker, and more effective responses;
  • a more informed public sector, and more evidence-based decision-making at a local and national level;
  • enhanced digital transformation of public sector services, and consequently a better experience of public services for Scotland's residents;
  • greater transparency, accuracy, and value in the delivery of public sector services;
  • more R&D and innovation in the design and delivery of public sector services; and
  • cost reduction through improved efficiency and avoidance of duplication.

Connected and reusable public sector data assets will support Scotland to achieve local and national economic, social, and environmental objectives.

Realising our Ambition

Our ambition to enable reuse of Scotland's public sector data assets will best be realised in an environment that supports and enables:

  • widely shared understanding of the value of reusable public sector data assets, and the key role of data standards in enabling reuse;
  • communities of interest working together to create FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data assets (data and metadata) which are machine searchable;
  • rich interconnected data infrastructure across the public sector in Scotland;
  • open access to data standards;
  • a focus on the quality of public sector data; and
  • a learning and improvement culture in the data community.


In pursuing the ambition for data standards, the following principles are proposed:

  • Enabling the appropriate reuse of public sector data is the target outcome for all activity, the creation of data standards is a means to an end.
  • Scotland's public sector data standards will support ethical practice, equality, and non-discrimination.
  • Scotland's public sector will seek to adopt and apply existing standards before considering 'new' standards.
  • The sharing of learning will be a key thread running through all data standards activity.
  • The development of data standards will work hand in hand with efforts to improve data quality.
  • Data standards will be flexible to different circumstances and potential pathways for data reuse. For example, the role of data standards is not to dictate whether data assets should be stored in a centralised system or channelled through federated systems. This decision sits with the community of interest.

Three pillars of activity

Scottish Government, in association with partners, will drive the adoption and application of data standards in Scotland's public sector. To progress toward the ambition for data standards in Scotland's public sector, action is proposed under three pillars:

  • Governance – activity to provide oversight, planning, and coordination.
  • Adoption – activity to persuade and support public sector organisations to adopt and apply data standards.
  • Improvement – activity to provide guidance, share best practice, and support continuous improvement in the application of data standards.

The remainder of Section 4 proposes a short-term programme of action under each pillar.

Pillar One: Governance

The role of the governance pillar is to create a strategic response to the development of data standards across Scotland's public sector. Governance activities will provide oversight, planning, and coordination.

Proposed Actions

1.1 Create an advisory/oversight body made up of cross public sector subject matter experts. The advisory body will contribute to governance in the following ways:

  • It will be a vital sounding board and source of advice with oversight on the development and delivery of the data standards ambition and work plan.
  • It will be a source of knowledge on relevant activity in the wider landscape, including but not limited to the Local Government Data Champions and UK Data Standards Authority.
  • It will be influential in engaging others in the discussion on data standards including promoting data standards and encouraging adoption and investment in data standards.
  • It will support coordination activities across Scotland's public sector. Coordinated activities are expected to target widespread data improvement and the adoption of data maturity assessment as a mechanism to achieve this.
  • It will consider how Scotland can overcome data standards challenges.
  • It will report into existing data governance (i.e. DDG, Data and Intelligence Group and/or Design Authority)

1.2 Scottish Government will adopt, and promote to the rest of Scotland's public sector, a common and adaptable framework for data standards, alongside national guidelines. This will create a shared foundation and offer a common point of reference for those engaged in the adoption and application of data standards. The FAIR principles and Implementation Framework will be the framework adopted (see Appendix A) and The Data Transformation Framework will act as a wrapper for enabling this adoption.

1.3 Options for a public sector data portal to support reuse of public sector data will be considered and appraised.

Role of the Data Standards Team in Governance:

  • To ensure the proposed actions occur and that actions retain a focus on the reuse of public sector data assets and align with the ambition and principles described above.
  • The DST will drive the formation of the Advisory Group and provide it with secretariat services.
  • The DST will develop the national guidelines and framework in partnership with the Advisory Group and the wider data community.

Pillar Two: Adoption

The role of the adoption pillar is to encourage adoption of data standards in Scotland's public sector organisations. Adoption activities will focus on:

  • promoting understanding of the role of data standards to those who can influence success, and those who are not currently engaged in the adoption and application of data standards;
  • encouraging investment in data standards; and
  • supporting adoption activities.

Proposed Actions

2.1 Clearly describe the role of data standards and how data standards connect to other key pieces of national data infrastructure.

2.2 Create and publicise a persuasive use case(s) to promote the investment in and adoption of data standards. Identify a thematic area (e.g. planning) with which a common framework for data standards can be pursued and construct a business test case by monitoring progress, recording learning, and measuring impact and value.

2.3 Create a community of practice for data standards from across Scotland's public sector, including both local and national organisations. The community of practice will act as a catalyst for more widespread adoption of data standards and support the development of communities of interest within Scotland's public sector. The community of practice will facilitate a process to connect individuals to evidence, support, and advice. This action is echoed in the consultation document for the Digital Strategy.

2.4 (Linked to Action 1.2) Design the Data Transformation Framework for adoption to provide guidance and to reduce the investment required from individual organisations or communities of interest seeking to adopt data standards. Build in flexibility to enable the aim of the Framework to be matched to the data maturity of the organisation. This action is echoed in the consultation document for the Digital Strategy and the activity of the UK Government Data Quality Hub. Ensure all developments that can be are based on open data standards.

2.5 Work with partners to identify potential resources from national or international sources that can be used by organisations or communities seeking to adopt data standards. Sources may include FAIR Implementation Profiles developed by others and the UK's open data standards adoption process.

2.6 Undertake research to understand why current standards are not well used and build-in responses to these barriers in future activity.

Role of the Data Standards Team in Adoption:

  • To ensure the proposed actions occur and that actions retain a focus on the reuse of public sector data assets and align with the ambition and principles described above.
  • The DST will coordinate the collation and development of materials that can promote the use of data standards.
  • The DST will facilitate the development of the community of practice.
  • The DST will, in partnership with others, build a framework for adoption that works alongside or embeds similar initiatives at a UK level.
  • The DST will undertake research and work with partners from across the public sector in Scotland to support adoption.
  • The DST will engage with key partners outside of Scotland.

Pillar Three: Improvement

The role of the improvement pillar is to create a culture of learning around data standards in Scotland's public sector and to support continuous improvement in the application of data standards. Improvement activities will include supporting channels of communication between stakeholders, development of guidance, skills development, and sharing of good practice and experience.

Proposed Actions

3.1 Nurture the community of practice developed in pillar two (2.3) to mature into a community that facilitates continuous improvement in the development and application of data standards across Scotland's public sector. In particular this community is expected to support the ongoing development of the Data Transformation Framework and improved awareness and development of data maturity. A process will also be developed to easily share, and access good practice and lessons learned.

3.2 Promote and support the creation of Data Champion roles in Scotland's public sector organisations.

3.3 Monitor and engage with communities of practice and relevant organisations outside of Scotland, including the GOFAIR network and the UK Data Standards Authority, to inform practice in Scotland.

3.4 Connect data standards activity to activities that pursue higher quality data.

3.5 Identify the different roles and associated skills required to implement data standards and reuse public sector data assets.

3.6 Develop and provide guidance to those dealing with impending contractual renewal of legacy systems to support improved access and interoperability.

3.7 Contribute to national discussions on digital transformation in the public sector, and digital, AI and data skills development, to ensure data standards are prominently featured in development plans.

3.8 Provide improvement support to others who are developing data infrastructure across Scotland's public sector.

Role of the Data Standards Team in Improvement:

  • To ensure the proposed actions occur and that actions retain a focus on the reuse of public sector data assets.
  • The DST will create the community of practice and develop a process that supports ongoing engagement.
  • The DST will work with the community of practice to undertake research and development activities and coordinate all improvement actions.
  • The DST will encourage the community of practice to engage with governance and adoption activities as appropriate.



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