DCMS hires Gaia Marcus as Head of Data Strategy

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez September 17, 2018
Summary:
Gaia Marcus is currently the Data Strategy Lead at Parkinson’s UK, but will be joining the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to create the UK’s new National Data Strategy

Data dcms
Following the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) takeover of data policy and governance, it has now appointed a new Head of Data Strategy - Gaia Marcus - to lead the creation of the UK’s first National Data Strategy.

Marcus currently works as the Data Strategy Lead at charity Parkinson’s UK and, according to her LinkedIn, has previously worked at other charities, including Banardo’s and Centrepoint.

Announcing her appointment to the DCMS role on Twitter, Marcus said:

She also did a call out for data people she should be speaking to, by adding:

Background

It was revealed by diginomica/government back in February that the Cabinet Office would be losing central control of the government’s data policy and government functions to DCMS, in a move that was seen to be coordinated by then Secretary of State Matt Hancock and the government’s previous Chief Technology Adviser Liam Maxwell (both have since moved on to new roles elsewhere).

The decision proved to be a controversial one, with many observers, and ex-Whitehall digital chiefs, claiming that moving data control out of the centre would make Whitehall harder to reform.

For instance, ex-Government Digital Service (GDS) chief Mike Bracken weighed in and said:

“In the UK system, the centre means Cabinet Office or Treasury. To take data policy out of the centre and move it without mandate or clear explanation to a weak departments with no track record of delivery or cross-Whitehall power – known as the Department of Fun – run by a Minister who was forced to change the data privacy settings on his own app doesn’t make sense. It is surely a mistake to make such a move for political expediency or, alternatively, to perpetuate departmental games in Whitehall.

“There are pressing needs to develop data policy, whether it be in GDPR, social media regulation or privacy, but those can all be done without removing a key central lever of control. These problems are unlikely to be fixed by throwing responsibility as far away from the centre as possible.”

Diginomica/government also recently highlighted that DCMS, alongside the Head of Data Strategy position, is also recruiting for a Head of Data Economy. It hasn’t been confirmed whether this position has been filled or not yet.

In joining DCMS to head up data strategy, Marcus will likely have a broad brief, one that includes the government’s work on artificial intelligence, data protection, open data, Brexit and the use of data to create better digital services in Whitehall.

GDS has long spoken about the creation of data registers, which aim to serve as canonical sources of truth, to underpin data sharing across departments and to support its work towards creating ‘Government-as-a-Platform’. However, little has been said about the development of this in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if Marcus pursues this and brings it back to the fore.

Support from the top

Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary at DCMS, recently gave a speech at techUK’s Building the Smarter State conference, where she spoke about the department’s future role in data. Owen joked that she has been in her role for five years and is now on her “sixth Secretary of State”, but added that during time the department has grown massively. Owen said:

“When I started it was 330 people, now we are nearly 1,300. We have done that by basically taking over bits of Whitehall. Mainly bringing all the various bits that we are doing together with digital with the work we were doing previously with creative industries, media, broadband and telecoms. We are all in one place now.”

Owen added that whilst the Cabinet Office is concerned with data and service creation internally across Whitehall, DCMS is more interested in the impact of data policy for the whole economy. She said:

“But in DCMS we are more concerned with the whole economy - policy, digital policy - for the whole economy. That’s very much what the digital strategy is about. We now have the last bit that’s come into DCMS earlier this year, which is data policy for the whole economy as well. We announced in June that we are also going to develop a national data strategy - to unlock the power of data in the economy and in government. We need to build public confidence in the use of data.

“I think we have a strong record in the UK on data. And the data strategy will build on and work its way into the overall digital strategy, the digital charter and the Industrial Strategy. That is intended to help us develop the industries of the future, like artificial intelligence and digital services.”

My take

I don’t know Marcus personally, but she received a warm welcome on Twitter from lots of respected people working in the field of data - which is always a good sign! I also find that people that come from a charity background are particularly savvy and have an empathy in service design that is sometimes lacking in other sectors. That’s promising.

That being said Marcus has a huge challenge on her hands in navigating the political circus that is Whitehall and there is plenty to be done on the data strategy front, after years of it being somewhat left behind. We look forward to following Marcus’ work closely and tracking the development of the forthcoming National Data Strategy.

And of course, congratulations Gaia!