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Reflections on open data – your response to our strategy

Data matters Consultation

Today we publish our summary report of responses to our first consultation on open data. It’s been extremely helpful for us to be able to obtain the views of a wide range of our data suppliers, data users and open data advocates from across the HE sector and further afield.

The quality of the feedback provided far exceeded our expectations. Considerable time was taken to share expertise and insight - we're deeply grateful to all of you who took part.

The quality of the feedback provided far exceeded our expectations. Considerable time was taken to share expertise and insight - we're deeply grateful to all of you who took part.

As can be seen from the full consultation summary, the vast majority of respondents support our overall aims of moving to publish as much of our core data as possible as open data. Our proposed lists of open data products and schedule for publishing these are also widely endorsed. It’s good to see that our thinking chimes well with the views of our stakeholders.

Most of the concerns and issues expressed were not a surprise to us. Why? Because they are concerns that we shared when we first started to explore the expectations and requirements of open data. Over time, through research and liaison with open data experts, we’ve reached the view that all risks can be successfully mitigated, and that the overall benefits gained from a key data-holding organisation such as HESA publishing open data far outweigh the risks involved.

We’re aware that we don’t have all the solutions to these right now – but if we work together as a community, pool our expertise and proceed in a measured and thoughtful way, we believe we can get the benefit-risk balance right.

One concern expressed in the responses does stand out in particular, and we think it warrants further comment. This is around HESA publishing personal data in an open format.

HESA seeks to operate to a very high standard of data protection compliance. Let us be clear – we will not publish any open data that compromises the confidentiality of individuals.

HESA seeks to operate to a very high standard of data protection compliance. Let us be clear – we will not publish any open data that compromises the confidentiality of individuals. Period.

This means that not all HESA data can be published as open data – but we can publish extracts and summaries drawn from personal data collections that are ‘disclosure controlled’. This means that they provide useful information for users on characteristics and trends whilst being presented in such a way as to protect individual confidentiality.

Does this compromise utility for the most in-depth academic research purposes? Yes. But there are alternative mechanisms available for such users to access more detailed information that preserves individual confidentiality through use of stringent data sharing agreements and information security controls. These services will not be replaced by open data, as they are designed to successfully meet a requirement that open data cannot.

As we move to implement the strategy, one of our first priorities will be to develop our open data communication channels,

The feedback received through the consultation has helped us to shape and revise our proposed open data strategy, a new version of which will be published in the New Year. As we move to implement the strategy, one of our first priorities will be to develop our open data communication channels, as expressed in the consultation document. We want to make sure that we’re able to effectively build engagement with the wider community as we move through the first few years of open data delivery.

It’s a cliché, we know, but we cannot make this a success on our own – this applies just as much to open data as to the other activities that we undertake. As a shared service for the UK HE sector we wouldn’t want it any other way. Being part of the wider community and working collaboratively is part of our DNA.

We are very much looking forward to working with you all as we make progress on our open data journey.

In the meantime, may we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Jonathan Waller

Director of Information & Analysis