The future of data

Big Data

I recently presented and facilitated a summit event for 100 people to explore the future of clinical data management using a suite of creativity and innovation techniques with my colleague, friend and associate Steve Gorton.  The issue of data management is complex and contentious.  As an illustration of this, the NHS recently withdrew a strategy to sell patient data to interested parties, after it asked the public to opt OUT of an imposed strategy rather than to opt IN. This serious misjudgement of public opinion has caused outrage and has required the NHS to reconsider its strategy. It is self evident that the collection of large volumes of health data has potentially huge health benefits if treatments for diseases can be found from this. However the strategy also has some potential downsides if moral hazard creeps in, with insurance companies using the data to hike insurance fees for certain classes of people, the potential for it to be used in recruitment and so on.  It seems that the reaction is made up of a number of concerns for ‘data leakage’ coupled with concerns about who owns the data and therefore who can benefit from its sale to third parties. Treatment of this topic as if it is a benign issue has cost the NHS a lot of money and an equivalent amount of credibility. The topic is complex with many unknown and unknowable parts.  It’s what Steve and I call a ‘wicked problem’:

Wicked problems - uncertain ends and means or both

Wicked problems – uncertain ends and means or both

So, what did the clinical data management managers make of the session? Rather than providing a suite of creativity tools, we offered them the chance to immerse themselves in three ‘creativity states’.  All good proprietary creativity techniques are based on some underlying ‘states of mind’, which occur naturally when people are in the mode of ideation. The three we offered are shown below.  These were found to be easier and quicker to access than the recipes for creativity offered by the product based creativity consultancies.

Three creativity principles from Human Dynamics

Three creativity principles from Human Dynamics

To bring these alive delegates explored “The future of clinical data management”.  They were asked to produce the most interesting and most unusual ideas to unpick the topic and “drain the Clinical Data Management swamp”. One theme was “Defining the role of clinical data management so everyone understands where the future lies”.  Why?  Because it is felt the rest of the system does not have much awareness or understands the key role that Clinical Data Management plays within the developmental process. Our first step was to break the wicked problem down into some more manageable chunks given the short time allocation.  This is how we ended up:

Digesting a wicked problem into more manageable entities using expert facilitation

Digesting a wicked problem into more manageable entities using expert facilitation

The headline outputs that are shareable from the session broke down into the “Most Interesting” ideas for further development and the “Most Unusual” ideas to act as provocations for more detailed thinking:

Wonderful and Wierd ideas for future development

Wonderful and Wierd ideas for future development

Most interesting: “What would be the outcome if Clinical Data Management  were to go on strike?” – developed from the reversal principle – this produced a rich seam of ideas, some of which have real value to the participant’s own companies if developed

Most unusual:  “Redefine and develop the brand so it remains current and up to date (like the annual Formula 1 team rebranding)” – developed from the projection principle.  This pointed participants to consider ideas in the arena of PR and marketing, not natural areas of strength for the profession

Whilst these require further development (and the groups went on to develop a broad range of more specific ideas within the event) the aim was/is to get people thinking wider from at least two perspectives and come up with some really practical and pragmatic ideas that generate traction.

This type of approach enables people, teams and organisations to stand back from the “wickedness” and begin to separate “the wood from the trees” and disperse the fog of confusion.  Importantly it is about creating value to help things happen quicker, for less investment and more satisfaction within the role.

Steve teaches Peter some new chords

Steve teaches Peter some new chords from the fog of confusion ….

Would you like to find out more about how these and similar approaches allow you think further and faster outside current wisdom and experience?  We’ll offer a pack of materials to help you.  Just mail us at


About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.


8 responses to “The future of data

  1. Thanks for sharing. I love the idea of approaching creative thinking through state of mind rather than process.


    Alison Wheatly
    Aspire Development Ltd
    Tel: 01422 241964
    Mob: 07836 613985
    Address: 2.15 Holmfield Mills Business Centre, Holdsworth Road, Halifax, HX3 6SN
    Message sent via Mail Server, and is scanned by Sophos Pure Message and believed to be CLEAN.
    Emails sent are confidential, if you receive one in error, please delete a.s.a.p. and advise the sender of the error.


  2. Medical record data is always going to be an issue with the public, partly on this occasion as it was down to bad timing. The whole Snowden thing, reports of the government selling data for way below market rate per head of population (Facebook value was 50-100x what our government friends were charging).

    Couple that with one or two really big data leaks, whole government databases uploaded to Google docs (Google will have it indexed and mined) and you all the elements of a privacy nightmare. The perception was, “we don’t care about your privacy”.

    The second issue is more psychological, the power of habit. The restrictions on the NHS data were really that limiting when you boil it down to a few key elements, postcode being one of them. With a postcode your probability levels increase sharply and with some associated digging around you’d be able to figure out who’s got a condition based on a postcode and some prescription records.

    Look at it this way, if Foursquare can easily mine and pinpoint the four places you frequently check in to then over a period of time they can reasonably predict when you’ll be there, what time and who with. It only takes a few key variables.

    Trust building is the first step on any data project, who are the stakeholders and what are their objectives then who’s the data provider and what are the benefits to them. It’s really down to a simple win:win for all parties involved.

    Not everything in my mind needs to be open data, NHS records are one of them. Random segments of prescription data, league tables and so will enable the community of developers do their own high level analysis but anything that goes far deeper like insurance company prediction mining requires much more thought and control. The day will come when realtime-fine tuned quote data based on realtime patient information.

    Priority one is the trust issue.

    Nice post sir.



  3. You can look at others doing the same sort of thing. Tesco/Dunn Humby sell the Clubcard data to suppliers for a hefty old fee which in turn means that suppliers can hone their supply chain for the coming months (though I appreciate in some suppliers have longer lead times on products).

    With some proper planning and thought you could refine what patient data goes where with the strong written proviso that data can only be used within certain confines of certain products.

    The key phrase is “stakeholder planning”, much of the talk in the media is about ALL data going to specific companies for analysis or made open for all to analyse. Even I don’t think that will work in the long term, most health trusts can’t sync their data across departments let alone collectively to the path of true open data.

    We see to forget with legacy that there’s a lot of underpinning work with getting things clean and ready before it’s made available for use. This usually takes up 80-90% of the project time. We’ve got a few years yet.

    Thanks for the kind comments Peter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.