WRITTEN ON December 6th, 2008 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Foundation of Trust, Power of Information, What do we want?

The ever-vibrant and fertile FIPR lists point out two antithetical news items today: (from the Guardian)

Christine Gilbert admitted to failings in Ofsted’s oversight of Haringey council, acknowledging that officials in the local authority where Baby P died were able to “hide behind” false data last year to earn themselves a good rating from inspectors just weeks after his death. Ofsted’s assessment of local authorities’ children’s services last year consisted of a checklist of the information managers had to provide to demonstrate, among other things, that they had adequate social workers and were assessing children promptly. Managers in Haringey misled Ofsted by providing inaccurate data, the chief inspector said.

Well, ethnographic observation suggests this is how public services work. Ask profesionals for pain-in-the-arse information and you get copious rubbish. Ask any NHS doctor.

Poor baby P leaves to the world he lived in for two violent years this insight: you cannot manage recalcitrant and difficult human situations just by crunching data.

But that wont stop them trying. Jacky points to this “efficiency measure” which will in her words let

the NHS Information Centre to extract data on individual service users from databases of people receiving social care from local authority databases and use it to report on the efficiency and effectiveness of social
care, to save local authorities the bother of understanding and interpreting their own data. Given the powers suggested as part of the Queen’s Speech this week, social care departments may be unable to prevent this, and the document above suggests that much of the exchange will be controlled by the companies who write and maintain the software used by social care organisations.

Now, I’m not throwing Mike Charnley-Fisher (hi Mike!) into this absurd blame machine created by the media for every public servant close to Baby P. Baby P was killed by immediate family & friends, not by Haringey Council, that unfortunate doctor now suspended or any other public servant. But I will take a lot of persuading that we have our priorities right sucking sensitive data out of social services via Dr-Foster-like mechanisms of dubious propriety into great data churning engines instead of pouring resources into front line services.

There’s nothing in this 15-slide presentation about anonymity and protecting the rights of individuals. They talk of “breakdown by client” of all this data. They’d better mean “by authority” and not what we would normally mean by “client” which is a person. If – heaven forbid – they mean what their words seem to imply they mean (and there are no reasuring words to assert the contrary) then I’m going to really fly off the handle. They talk of “transaction level extraction”. But nothing about the foundation of trust. Clearly intended for a different audience, inside the green zone of groupthink, protected by the mindguards.

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