WRITTEN ON June 28th, 2009 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Design: Co-creation, Foundation of Trust, Identity, Political engagement, Transformational Government, We told you so..., What do we want?

Bang. That makes a hat-trick of Ideal-Government agenda nails hit on the head by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition this week. Liam Maxwell’s CPS pamphlet ‘It’s ours – Why we, not government, must own our data” is a must-read. And a tonic.

Essentially it’s a long-overdue VRM manifesto for government IT, which also places a lot of emphasis on design. We’ve always felt that better design and (from the moment Adriana first introduced me to it in 2007) VRM will set this lot straight faster than anything else.

As Maxwell sets it out:

A clear choice is emerging for the future of government IT:

− Either to continue with the Transformational Government
agenda. This relies on the State holding, in the words of the
Treasury’s adviser, a “deep truth about the citizen, based
on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights”,
with huge centralised databases directing public services
to the point of need (as judged by the State).

− Or to abandon expensive and failing centralised IT
projects and yield control of personal information to
individual citizens. This is the approach that has been
increasingly effective in the private sector.

At Ctrl-Shift we look for the transformation of Traditional Customer Information (TCI) when it is joined by Volunteered Personal Information (VPI). This is made possible by a VRM utility such as Mydex. The organisation-centric communications paradigm is joined, and hugely enhanced, by the pesonal communications paradigm of VRM.

The paper is very strong on the question of design, and the fact that user-centric design is spoken of but not practised.

Of course there are nits to pick. VRM is far from yet proven in the private sector, which has a great deal to answer for in its shortcomings of how it handles personal data just as government does. I don’t think you can do away with the central databases entirely or promise to halve government IT spend, as Maxwell suggests.

Take the example of UK education, which spends around £3bn a year on IT. Almost all of that is spent through schools, further and higher-education. The whiteboards, the learning materials and coursework, the admin systems – all are largely unaffected by VRM. It’s at the centre where VRM does its detoxing work: the national databases of children, learners, obesity and attendance records. The data sharing plans. This is what pours concrete into the heart of our relationship with the state – a relationship which is meant to serve us and offer us choice and personalisation. But concrete is cheap. These cost at most a couple of hundred million a year. We wont save much money on IT by inviting learners to start to use a personal portable education record, especially if we still need most of the the central systems.

What we will do is start to release immense value. Learner-driven education can be far more flexible and adaptive, and support people through lifelong learning far better than education administered by central databases of Traditional Customer Information. It could cut a staggering amount of waste, creating a user-driven “just in time” education service.

So we can’t halve IT spend. But we can release far more value than that medium term.

It’s wonderful to have VRM squarely on the UK government agenda. I recall a similarly forward-looking pamphlet from another Liam in 1996 – Liam Byrne. Look what happened to him. Now, after the Neville-Jones and Cameron speeches this looks like co-ordinated action. It’s been a good week.* This is cross-posted to/from ctrl-Shift.co.uk, the blog of my new company which looks at VRM.

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