In the 21st century, data is infrastructure. Just as much as transport, energy, water, digital communications and everything else detailed in national infrastructure plans — the managed and built environments increasingly depend upon data in real-time. The sources of this data are potentially multiple, unlikely to be within the control of traditional institutions, and increasingly complex in form. Data can improve how our infrastructure is built, managed, and eventually decommissioned, and real-time data can inform how our infrastructure is operated on a second-to-second basis. It thus follows that data is a critical component and needs to be understood as a key aspect of modern infrastructure investment, presenting new challenges to those institutions concerned with the safe and effective management (and delivery) of infrastructure.
We have seen recent national data investments — for example, the announcement in November of a new Geospatial Commission to maximise the value of all UK government data linked to location, providing a platform for delivering improved public services and creating jobs and growth in a modern economy.
Perhaps more importantly, developing data as infrastructure appears to be a clear theme for the National Infrastructure Commission, with a report published last month as part of their wider work on Data for the Public Good. Their “Data As Infrastructure” paper provides the foundation for developing a conceptual model of data as infrastructure, as well as exploring a number of important data governance strategies, formalised around four major themes based on the role that the government can take: as a Provider, as an Enabler, as a Lab and as a Smart System. These data governance strategies be implemented by various stakeholder groups, from national and local government, through to third sector and industry. Unsurprisingly, this work has direct relevance to the Cardiff Capital Region and Swansea Bay City Deals, especially in the context of infrastructure investments, public service innovation and a potential public services testbed.
Read the NIC’s full “Data As Infrastructure” paper, as well as their “Data for the Public Good” report — this work has been welcomed by the ODI, as well as the Institute of Civil Engineers, linking back to recommendations in their 2017 State of the Nation report; it also has a hat tip to previous GDS thinking on making data a public asset through infrastructure.