Political engagement – Ideal Government http://idealgovernment.com What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 IdealGov evidence to Public Admin Select Cttee enquiry into government IT http://idealgovernment.com/2011/02/pasc/ http://idealgovernment.com/2011/02/pasc/#comments Tue, 08 Feb 2011 18:41:46 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2168 Submission to PASC enquiry into Government IT policy

1 .This submission synthesises some discussion from the IdealGovernment.com blog, work by Ctrl-Shift Ltd and work of Mydex CIC.

2. It makes some overall observations on government IT before focussing on the architecture and role of personal data. It envisages a “Big Society” future of more participative public services coupled with reduced expenditure.

Overall observations on cost, efficacy and design of government IT

3 .PASC enquires about the overall strategy for government IT including procurement policy and practice. Much has been written about how Whitehall and public services spend too much on IT, and the lack of efficacy, poor value for money and ever increasingly intrusive nature of government’s large central databases. The very designs conceived under the Transformational Government policy, in the climate of the “War on Terror”, create an environment in which breaches of data protection and human rights law are inevitable.

4. It’s true that Government expenditure on IT has been excessive in the last decade. It’s the highest per capita spend of any major European economy, approaching the very high per capita spend of Nordic countries which offer higher and far more e-enabled levels of social care. Reasons include large, unmanageable centralised systems, excessive supplier margins, inflexible contracts which exact punitive charges for essential changes. But above all the problem is a deeper and wider failure to ensure government IT is based on the right intentions.

5. It would be a mistake to examine IT, including procurement and practice, in isolation of what public services are trying to achieve and what role public-sector IT plays in
information-age society. Talking to officials, other IT experts and suppliers won’t be
enough; to understand the effects of public-sector IT on people’s lives you have to talk to job-seekers, taxpayers, patients, students etc and judge how their real experience of public services measures up against aspirations. This is hard to do but there are proxies: user/patient/traveller associations, feedback services such as PatientOpinion and MyPolice, commercial market research and NGOs such as Citizens’ Advice Bureaux.

6. What will emerge is that many major government IT systems are not just poorly designed; they were never designed at all. They were never rooted in an understanding of the individual’s journey through life episodes and their interactions with public services. Ctrl-Shift’s work suggests that a very high proportion of services failures can be seen in the light of “information logistics”: the right person didn’t have the right information at the right time. This causes great inefficiencies for the organisation, and is frustrating and disempowering for the individual. But it’s solveable.

7. Structured processes and language exist to make it possible for customers to help create effective services. The discipline which understands this best is “service design”.

It’s possible to design and create government IT systems with empathy, but we never did. The public cycle of identifying a social problem, forming political resolve, drafting legislation, procuring and implementing IT based services was never a “service design” process, and turns out largely to have failed as an IT system design process.

8. The final general observation is that to attack government IT expenditure in isolation is to look at one percent of the problem.

9. Amazon or YouGov prove that an organisation taking a smart approach to IT can eliminate large swathes of running costs. Government’s running costs are ten times what it spends on IT so this administrative overhead is perhaps 10% of the public expenditure problem. But Facebook, iTunes, Wikipedia and countless other examples prove that you can do quite different things or achieve results in a quite different way with contemporary technology.

10. To assess the impact of public-sector IT on public spend you need to look at public spend as a whole. The big-money question for government IT is what are the opportunities to use contemporary technology in a smart way to deliver core programmes: health, education, welfare, tax, transport, defence. Failure in strategic use of IT costs the UK far more than IT which is merely ineffective or cost more than it should. PASC should if possible focus on the big picture.

The biggest opportunity: personal data

11. The biggest specific opportunity for radical improvement in public services at low cost lies in rethinking the approach to personal data and the opportunity it affords to improve the data logistics that underpin public services.

12. The present approach in government (and across all businesses with many customers) is entirely organisation-centric. Organisations hold personal records, often many times over. We know of no study which maps the full extent of government’s holdings of personal data, or which measures the quality of that data. HMRC holds perhaps 1bn records, the typical local authority has perhaps a dozen personal records per resident (with one customer database for each line of service).

13. The theory behind these databases or “customer-relationship management” (CRM) systems was that the organisation that achieves single version of the complete truth about its customers can cut costs, perhaps outsource customer contact, upsell, drive a shrewder bargain and achieve higher profits and overall deliver a complete “personalised” service. Furthermore, customers would like this service, and trust the organisation more.

This “organisation-centric” or CRM mindset informed the last administration’s Transformational Government policy.

15. The problem is the data never lives up to expectations. The inaccuracies, omissions and duplications are such that it’s expensive to operate and ineffective in delivering services. Worse, the process is so annoying and alienating for customers that they walk away from the so-called “relationship” in droves. We opt out of direct marketing, the edited electoral roll, we try to minimise the data we release or mislead organisations with inaccurate data.

Mydex’ ethnographic research (which we can share with PASC) describes people who are somewhere between depressed and in denial about what happens to their personal data “out there”. The more they learn the less they like it. It’s the very antithesis of a “Big Society” approach. Government is a substantial and growing part of the problem.

17. The alternative is to add a person-centric model for personal information management which can work with the existing organisation-centric model in a structured and scalable way. Many individuals have mobile phones; most of us are online with access to a computer and the Internet. The person-centric data model sees the individual equipped with structured personal data store (PDS) so they can control, manage and share their data. The PDS has additional capability. They can gain external verification of claims: proof they have a drivers’ licence, a passport, are on the electoral roll or have accounts with a given bank or phone company. They are then able to share their data for example with a pre-completed and verified form, or as a “subscribe to me” service that underpins a relationship.

18. An early stage of this is being piloted by several London Boroughs, Cabinet Office and DWP in the Mydex Community Prototype. Full learnings on the technical, legal and social implications of the “person-centric” model can be made available to PASC from February 2011, along with an initial exploration of the implications for government IT.

19. This model of online working which adds a person-centric structure to the existing organisation-centric structure has been called in the UK “buyer-centric commerce” or “customer-managed relationships” and in the US – where much of the original thinking on social networks and user-centric identity on which this builds was done – it is known
as “vendor-relationship management” (VRM).

20. The implications of this person-centric architecture for a “Big Society” with participative public services at its core are considerable. First in terms of cost saving when individuals have a convenient and trusted way to help clean the administrative content in records held many dozens or hundreds of times across public services.

People will have a “tell them once” service but under their own control and provided at no cost to government.

Public services can then be planned and delivered on the back of clean data with clear potential for efficiency. Beyond that one can envisage user-driven journeys, through health, education of job search for example where the logic, the design and function are available from a competitive market of “apps” at the user’s end rather than through huge central systems. This puts the energy and inventiveness of tech markets at the disposal of next-generation public services.

22. PASC should consider this possibility and make recommendations in preparation. This is not something which government has to “do”; it’s a fundamental change in the personal-data ecosystem for which it can prepare and which it be instrumental in catalysing.

23. There is an analogy, which is the recent history of the “Power of Information” and data.gov.uk in changing the government mindset towards public data (I this case non-personal data about things, statistics, numbers, assets, geography). This very promising
process drew on far-sighted political will and the effort – often voluntary – of a series of experts over three years.

24. PASC should consider a recommendation for a comparable new “Power of Personal Information” report or programme which looks at how government and the public sector works with personal data. This would examine the potential for what the new person-centric model could bring to the public services mentioned above but also national priorities such as the Census, voting, volunteering, child protection and CRB checks, smart energy metering and the London Olympics.

25. Pursuing this approach might entail:

– a high-level Power of Personal Information study looking at the implications and prerequisite conditions for flows of “volunteered personal information” that are possible with a person-centric model
– cost-benefit analysis or business case by line of public-sector activity
– a test or audit of readiness for each public service to work with the new model
– test of compatibility with existing legal and security requirements

26. Prerequisite also is resolving government policy towards online identity, for example
by moving explicitly towards a US-like “trust framework” model (such as was envisaged in UK policy in 1999/2000).

Both Labour and Tory manifestos included commitments to start to restore control over personal data to the individual (a sentiment wholeheartedly endorsed by LibDems but omitted from the manifesto probably for reasons of brevity). That is the personal data environment in which future government IT will operate. PASC would do a great service if it focusses government minds on the questions this raises.

William Heath
co-founder: Mydex CIC
co-founder: Ctrl-Shift Ltd
Moderator: idealgovernment.com
21 Jan 2011

http://idealgovernment.com/2011/02/pasc/feed/ 2
Tory Makeitbetter project adds a “Wibbi” dimension http://idealgovernment.com/2010/01/tory-makeitbetter-project-adds-a-wibbi-dimension/ Fri, 08 Jan 2010 20:09:52 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1971 Ha! The clever old Tories have just raised the bar several notches in our highly specific ideal-gov world. The “makeitbetter” site, where we were all invited to pile in to point out the glaring shortcomings in a leaked draft government IT strategy, has struck an unexpected positive note with the addition of an “our proposed approach” tab.

Makeitbetter+ is in line with the broader Tory publication of its draft manifesto, and crowdsourcing questions eg on the NHS using Google Moderator.

It’s still unusually informal for an official party site, a bit obscure about authorship, but it’s now open to feedback on a draft solution. The attribution is

This document draws on the work previously undertaken by Mark Thompson, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Independent Review of NHS and Social Care IT , published this summer by the NHS IT Policy Review Group (commissioned by Stephen O’Brien) of the NHS National Programme for IT, a programme that has become a byword for “how not to do it”.

Now, of course, this is a doppelganger for the CTPR Ideal Government IT strategy project #idealgits (part of the new constructive & mutually courteous dialogue #CMRD).

So how do we all feel about it?

The answer is: great. We want to make theirs better. We want to make everyone’s better. The CTPR/IdealGov IT strategy project makes no claims about being officially aligned with anyone, though we talk to lots of people.

It does claim, with good reason, to be a big tent (watch this space). And it does have the offer of being presented to all three major parties.

If the UK ends up with a new administration with a rubbish government IT strategy after the next election, it won’t be for lack of ideas, or for lack of effort on the part of the public-sector blogosphere posse.

Consultation on MPs’ expenses http://idealgovernment.com/2010/01/consultation-on-mps-expenses/ Fri, 08 Jan 2010 12:16:12 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1969 The new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has a consultation up on MPs expenses. Do it, people! If we don’t fill it out now and feed back, we can hardly complain if we don’t like how MPs’ expenses work in future.

It’s a deceptively simple looking web site which is easy to use but pretty thorough in the feedback it invites. Designed, delivered and hosted by our friends at The Dextrous Web – nice one!

#Idealgits: how we need to do section one http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/idealgits-how-we-need-to-do-section-one/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/idealgits-how-we-need-to-do-section-one/#comments Mon, 28 Dec 2009 10:08:19 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1956 Britain’s ideal government IT strategy (#idealgits) first needs a plain top-level statement of the role of technology in the context of the society we’re trying to become. We’re going to try to set this out here.

It has to address the big issues directly and succinctly.

This means it has to support the overriding economic and commercial needs of the country, and the big social agenda: war, peace, climate change, poverty.

It needs to be medium-term, and to establish key principles and objectives that will hold good for a decade. Detailed, operational planning that sits below it that provides the detail of how to deliver those objectives.

An ideal government IT strategy doesn’t do the politician thing of claiming Britain is going to lead the world. e-Government isn’t a new Empire, and CCTV isn’t the Royal Navy.

Instead it cheerfully takes the best ideas available around the world. Consitutionally we want to be as smart as Holland. We want ourpublic sevants to be as at ease with FoI as Scandinavians. We want the customer service ethic of Canada, the web savvy of the US or Australia.

This means taking the ideas of people like Clay Shirkey, Tim O’Reilly, Kim Cameron, Stefan Brands, Doc Searls. We’re already working with our own Tim Berners-Lee and Marth Lane-Fox who are doing great work. We’re bringing in more Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo, and we need more Paul Hodgkin and the perspective of exemplary young CIOs like James Cronin and Mike Bracken.

Economically it has to work at three levels:
– we’ve proven to ourselves in the last decade IT and consulting can be a bottomless sink for taxpayers’ money. We need to spend very shrewdly and effectively on IT
– Notwithstanding, the opportunity to cut administration costs is 10 times larger than the opportunity to cut IT spend.
– The savings opportunity if we streamline or reinvent public services is 10 times as large again.

This means if our IT strategy enables NHS 2.0, or welfare 2.0, or education 2.0 the opportunity for savings is two orders of magnitude larger than what we spend on IT in Whitehall today. But that does not mean we’re going to propose spending more on IT to achieve that. We don’t think it’s necessary. More to the point, in the present climate, spending more simply won’t wash.

Then our ideal government IT strategy reviews and fuses these, and expresses it in a uniquely British way. There’s no shoutey smugness, no groupthink or doublethink. The odd cartoon or joke is fine. It will form an exemplary part of the new “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” (#CMRD).

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/idealgits-how-we-need-to-do-section-one/feed/ 4
Time to say what we want from government IT http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:54:19 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1942 It’s time to say what we want from government IT.

Let’s do this together. Let’s say “wouldn’t it be better if” about how tech affects transparency, costs and the quality of public services and how they affect our lives.

@ntouk and I have long since been fed up with what one senior Whitehall official yesterday called “this £trillion attempt to drag us into 1983”. Many of us have had a go at the draft government IT strategy on the Opposition’s makeITbetter site. Officials across Whitehall are now furiously revising it, so let’s hope the final published version is better.

Meanwhile we can speak freely. We can look to the realities of the wider world, and we don’t have to pretend that everything to date has been fine. Now it’s time to find our voice and say what we want.

The Centre for Technology Policy Research and IdealGov are launching a six-week competition, which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party. And everyone can, like, bring stuff (as we did to mypublicservices).

Practicalities. Please add any comments of suggestions about the process to this post. The final crowd-sourced “White paper of Wibbi” will be created on an open wiki here. Please feel free to register and edit, or to add comments at the end.

Party: IdealGov and CTPR are chipping in £1000 to the launch party to which everyone who has contributed is invited. There will be prizes including signed photos of our very own tech mandarin Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

Political engagement:An Opposition front bench team has already agreed to listen attentively to our results. We have also extended invitations to Labour and LibDem leaderships and to officials to attend the party or have the results presented. [UPDATE: Big news: still on day one and we’ve now also heard back that this will get presented to a LibDem front bench team and to the people drafting the Labour manifesto. This is subject to the project attracting enough substantial input of quality. So this is now definitely an opportunity to put good ideas in front of all three main UK parties. We’re also up for inviting SNP, Plaid & Greens to launch party. Everyone needs a good government IT policy.]]

This initiative is formally adopting the principles of #CMRD, the “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” called for last week by Michael Wills and first practised at an Intellect/Identity and Passport Service event this week.

Above all, we need to state in plain lay terms the role of contempory technology in future public services should be. Specifically, our work will need to cover off the main headings:

– governance of public-sector IT
– technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
– procurement of technology and tech-based services
– design that works for front line staff and users
– basis for participative public services
– public data
– personal data
– trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
– political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
– and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money.

This is not a time to splash out. The country’s broke. So first we need to spend less on IT, existing contracts notwithstanding. But then it’s two orders of magnitude more important that our IT plans support far more efficient public services.

Suggesting we deploy hundreds of PA consultants (or Deloitte or whoever) to mooch around filling out timesheets and expense claims for absurd day rates is not going to get you invited to the party. But any suggestion that draws the best expertise available into the gift economy (and by no means are all consultants nitwits) is most welcome.

This project is not a platform for venting anger at wrong headedness or past mediocrity (whoops! did I just do it? Old habits…) Take that frustration but use it to say what you want in the spirit of the #CMRD. Please bring your beliefs, principles, and passion, but the IdealGov and CTPR moderators will give short shrift to anything actionable or which reeks of partisan preconceptions. Scepticism is justified, but cynicism not.

We may need a “babies and bathwater” section to set out for controversial systems such as CfH or the ID Scheme what must go but what also should be retained. We should give praise where due, eg for Power of Information work. And our suggestions must be practical enough to keep the lights on, ie to keep essential services running uninterrupted while new and better plans emerge.

Contributions from all stakeholders are welcome: officials, industry, front line staff, anyone who speaks from personal experience of public services. Pertinent Art is always welcome, because it can speak to our condition so powerfully.

We last did this in 2004, remember. Now its time to do it again.

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/feed/ 16
Michael Wills: “Courteous & mutually respectful dialogue” (#CMRD: was “It’s time to Move Beyond Rhetoric” #IMBR) http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/michael-wills-its-time-to-move-beyond-rhetoric-imbr/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/michael-wills-its-time-to-move-beyond-rhetoric-imbr/#comments Thu, 10 Dec 2009 18:01:54 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1932 In a speech yesterday Michael Wills (whom I dont know myself, but he’s Labour member of Parliament for Swindon North, and a Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice) called for a new, more courteous and respectful dialogue over government’s use of personal data.

IdealGovernment has wanted this for years. But – as he himself proves – it won’t be easy. Let me get some things off my chest. Then let the new era of civilised and mutually respectful dialogue commence.

I don’t agree with everything Mr Wills said, so I’ve taken his speech and commented in line. Attention conservation notice: this is quite a long post

Databases lie at the heart of this revolution. They offer the opportunity to improve dramatically the efficiency and responsiveness of public services. Take the Tell Us Once project, for example.

But the TellUsOnce problem won’t be solved by databases. If it was, you could have solved it by 2005 (as you promised you would in 2000).

OTOH a VRM platform would show this problem solved for so little money that the invoice wouldn’t even cross your desk – a fraction of the cost of yesterday’s “One Place” web site (which in turn you could have had for free a decade ago if you had practised respectful and courteous dialogue and listened to Stef).

The increasing sophistication of data management has sparked serious public concern about privacy and civil liberties

We’d be fine if the approach were sophisticated. It’s the crudeness, combined with raw power, that concerns us.

Go onto Google UK and search for ‘UK government big brother state’ and you get one and a half million entries.

WTF? Is this how we gauge if it’s of public concern? As a joke maybe, eight years ago. Oh look: go onto Google UK and search for: ‘Wills eejit or ****?’ and you get 1.21m entries. Does that make it the question everyone is asking?

He talks of ‘striking a balance’ between security and liberty. He’s no Benjamin Franklin. It’s not about striking a balance. It’s about getting it right because we need both privacy and security in the systems which underpin essential public services. Mr Wills claims that kids can’t get free school meals, that voters can’t vote without data sharing by public bodies. This is absurd. He says hardly any constituents complain about surveillance but they demand CCTV in their hundreds.

To reconcile all this we need, he says

“democratic discourse, rational and mutually respectful discourse, wary of anyone, on any side of the debate, who claims a monopoly of wisdom. These issues are complex and difficult and resolving them will require intellectual rigour, a willingness to learn from experience and to engage continually with alternative points of view. Only through such a democratic iterative process can we hope as a society to resolve this issue satisfactorily.”

Hurrah. This could be straight out of the Ideal Government guide to, well, ideal government. We like that.

Sadly, such a rational, respectful discourse, so essential to the creation of public policy on this crucial issue, has been largely absent in recent years, replaced all too often by reciprocal caricaturing and stereotyping, with understanding and respect all too seldom present. And this matters.

This is true too. I must say I welcome his recognition of it, and his acceptance that

Government must take its share of the blame for this failure of discourse.

Mr Wills’ spin doctors had leaked his speech to a class-obsessed tabloid journalist David Aa. I can see now that when I saw the next bit in that hostile context I misread it:

Too often, we have been overly defensive and dismissive of criticism. Government believes it is acting benignly and legally and has not adequately recognised the fears of those who believe this is not the case.

Mr Aa is paid to be annoying, and it works. In my irritation I took the extract to mean that government was defensive and should be more assertive, but Mr Wills’ point here (and the context makes it clear) is a more subtle one which I welcome.

He then says companies make mistakes too. True, but we withdraw our business from them when they are mediocre. They’re not entrusted with passing laws, taxing us, and trying to run public services. He goes on

Where government gets it wrong, we are learning to hold our hands up and take immediate steps to put matters right. The loss of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs disks triggered radical reforms of data security in government.

Her Majesty’s data was not on that disk. Mine was. Nevertheless, horrified, many of us welcomed that loss, because it finally started to show how bad things had really got.

Did it trigger radical reform? Well, it certainly triggered half a dozen reports from tame senior officials and management consultants. It triggered episodic bans on Blackberries and memory sticks, and the glueing up of USB ports. But we have yet to see the radical reform we need which is to restore control of personal data to the individual.

When we recognised that data sharing provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill had been too widely drawn we immediately withdrew them.

It’s true. Eventually they did. This would be a good moment for Mr Wills to thank the selfless NGOs who campaigned so hard to rectify this awful mistake he was trying to make. But instead he speaks of

opponents…too quick to assume the worst of government without any evidence to support their assumptions, replacing argument with rhetoric.

But…but…but how then did the unpaid NGO volunteers successfully win the argument against your proposed policy and show it was so ill-conceived? Do you recall how hard you and your officials resisted?

Michael: you and your colleagues will find this cultural change you call for harder than you yet realise. But as long as you try, and appear sincere in your endeavour, we will support you every step of the way. Have we all taken on board the rules you call for? No rhetoric. OK. No rhetoric.

To reject all the benefits that databases offer the public, simply because a mistake might be made, is to strike the balance in the wrong place.

1. Name the benefits. 2. This isn’t about striking a balance, it’s about doing it the right way.

Should we really avoid trying to do all we can to prevent another Soham tragedy?

Oh, please leave the memory of those poor girls in peace! Why blame your poor personal data practices on them, and on the equally unfortunate Victoria Climbie? Michael: this is rhetoric.

Or stop doctors accessing vital medical records?

Doctors can have it with my permission. I choose not to share it with bureaucrats and the forces of law and order. That preference will not endanger society.

Or fetter the provision of welfare entitlements, such as free school meals, for the most vulnerable?

Just get your act together. Deliver the services to which people are entitled, without hoovering up their data when they are at their most vulnerable and brewing it up into HMG’s patent toxic soup.

Basic principles for protecting the use of data are that it should be proportionate and necessary

Indeed. Furthermore, that in the absence of a specific and lawful purpose there should be informed consent. Assuming that 12 year olds understand this and are cool about it is not sufficient. Allowing hundreds of thousands of officials access to childrens’ records or to identifiable medical data is unlawful, just as taking and retaining the DNA of innocents has proven to be.

But you acted all surprised when you lost the Marper case. And you’re behaving as if we had a proper implementation of the EU data protection directive, and are acting all surprised that Europe is taking enforcement action against the UK.

We don’t live in a database state as much as a database society.

Yes, but we’ll sort ourselves out with the Twitterverse. Government runs the state part of it. That’s what you’re screwing up, because of the history of groupthink and the poor dialogue you rightly point to. That’s what we want whoever wins the next election to sort out. Hey! It could be you! Maybe.

They deliver real benefits for the public and it skews debate about the challenge they pose to all of us if anyone ignores this or pretends otherwise.

Let’s see if we can find real evidence for these benefits, because there’s a strong case to be made that the database state is designed to serve an unholy alliance of administrative convenience and security fears.

Meanwhile it is becoming everywhere apparent that a wholly organisation-centric “CRM” approach to life is nothing like as advantageous to the public, or indeed to large organisations, as it was sold as being by the management consultants which Alistair Darling has just banned.

What’s it costing you per data subject to keep records up to date in WUYJ, MIAP, BusinessLink, ContactPoint, eCAF, CfH? How accurate are the data? How complete? And how much duplicated? How much is explicitly permissioned by the data subject? Is it proven to a legal standard that in every case government is holding only data which is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society? Can you demonstrate clear auditable and informed consent?

But, like all technologies, databases can do damage if misused. The issue is not whether to have them but how they can be deployed without damaging privacy.

Ah! Phew! Hooray!

It’s a question of balance and the challenge is how to strike it.

No it’s not! It’s not about balance, any more than climbing to the moon on a ladder is a question of balance. I don’t care how good your balance is: it’s the wrong way to go to the moon.

You get accurate data at lower cost and personalised services without privacy intrusion by putting people back in charge of their own data. The Internet works at both ends, you know. You just can’t have every part of public services grab every piece of data they can about everyone, take away the barriers to data sharing, then hope to create an accurate picture of everything such that you can eliminate fraud, keep the public safe, and provide personalised services. Try doing the maths.

You know all that great “Power of Information” work the government has done on opening up APIs and letting public data out? Sometime soon a Secretary of State or a PM will announce, in a second such major policy shift, that the really big prize is in how we work with personal data. Government will relinquish the desire to own and control it. You will open up government APIs and let people’s structured, scalable private data in, under thier control. You will leave people in charge of their own lives, which is how reality is because we have to put all the pieces together anyway.

I repeat: this is not a question of striking the right balance. It’s about creating a secure platform for personalised services and new value. Getting it wrong, which we described in our report Database State, wastes vast amounts of money and of people’s time; it fails to deliver good customer services and breaks the law. We the taxpayer are thus intruded upon, failed by public services, caused to waste endless time sorting it out. We’ll have to pay to get it wrong and then pay again to see it all put right.

But where we should have a constructive dialogue, we have all too often an impoverished discourse where slogans substitute for evidence.

Too true. I’ve seen so much of that from government politicians and officials. I’m so weary of it. So many of us are so weary of it. But it cheers me up when NGO-world gets creative and cheeky. I love the pertinent art, the campaigning. Not just because it’s often witty, but also because it’s based on a deeper truth, coupled with a better sense of human nature, than your officials have served you up with.

The Rowntree Report on what the authors called the Database State is a good example of how the public discourse is flawed.

It shows how bad things have got. It’s pretty shocking that the fact that much of what you’re constructing falls outside what it is legal to do in Europe should come as such a surprise. It has taken you a full NINE MONTHS to reply to it. Did you really not consider these questions before you embarked on Transformational Government, and mixed up the security agenda with the public-service agenda? Was that wise? Don’t shoot the messenger here.

This could have made an important contribution towards meeting the challenges of new technology. The subject matter was important and its academic authors have a distinguished provenance.

I think you’re building up to shooting the messenger.

However, a detailed reading of the report reveals it was riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings and reached conclusions without setting out the evidential base for doing so.

Argh! You just shot the messenger!

So opaque was its methodology that it has taken months to work through it to respond in detail.

Stop shooting! Remember, this is the new era of respectful dialogue!

The methodology is clear as day. We wrote up 46 large databases (with precious little help from government). We discussed them against European criteria for legality. During the course of the work the Marper judgement confirmed that the DNA database was indeed illegal. We gave all our references.

I’ll get on to the government’s response in due course. It has taken their however many dozens of staff nine months to reply, so working at the same pace I should be ready to reply by around 2030-2050.

I hope that all those who read the original report and provided publicity for it will do similarly for today’s response to it.

I’m sure they will if it’s interesting, credible and passes the Mandy Rice-Davies test.

It is important that we now move beyond rhetoric

I think I may find myself quoting this again, perhaps frequently We may need a new acronym to go alongside Wibbi: IMBR.

new and detailed dialogue between all concerned to ensure that we seize the opportunities of this new information age while protecting ourselves against its risks. So when government is considering how data might be used for the public good, the voices of users and practitioners can be heard. That requires an open, constructive approach on both sides.

Yup, we all sign up to that. High bloody time.

To that end, I am announcing today that the Ministry of Justice will host an event early in the New Year to consider how we approach the data sharing aspects of reforms to the electoral register.

Alright then. But not in Feb; I’m in Iran.

He goes on to talk about cross-referencing the electoral roll with the NI number. Well, you need to do something to make this process more secure. Not so sure about the NI number: it might suddenly look as if we have 80m registered voters in the UK.

Those identifiers will not be available to the public, for obvious reasons – they are solely for the electoral registration officer’s use.

Not obvious to me at all Michael – I think you have organisation-centric assumptions engrained so deeply you’re not even aware of them.

I also intend to jointly host an event with Delyth Morgan from the Department for Children, Schools and Families which will focus on ContactPoint.

Clearly it would have been helpful to have this dialogue before you specified the system and started spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on it with Cap Gemini. So when we say “better late than never” it is with quite a heavy sigh.

We can never be complacent about databases – the challenge in getting the balance right

No it’s not about balance! It’s about getting it right!

But we can only do this on the basis of a rational and mutually respectful dialogue between all concerned. I hope the measures I have announced today can be the start of such a dialogue

Indeed. IMBR. I think you, your speechwriters and spin doctors will find this a major cultural adjustment. You’re clearly not there yet. But we will support and uphold you in your attempt to do just that, and for my part (I cant speak for anyone else) I shall try to do the same.

Was this whole long rambling post worth doing? Is Mr Wills going to get his act together and sort this out? I checked out his currency with one of Westminster’s most effective and reliable lobbysists. The verdict: “I wouldn’t expend too much effort on trying to enlighten him.” I find that harsh. He’s still a Minister after all.

Let us give Mr Wills credit for officially ushering in – if not yet himself exemplifying – the era of mutually respectful and courteous dialogue about the right way for government to work with personal data in public services. From the moment I click on “Publish” on this post I undertake to exemplify it myself. Hurrah!

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/michael-wills-its-time-to-move-beyond-rhetoric-imbr/feed/ 3
Aaronovitch: you’re talking t*rd mate http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/aaronovitch-youre-talking-trd-mate/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/aaronovitch-youre-talking-trd-mate/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2009 06:08:17 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1916 Murdoch’s tabloid columnist David Aaranovitch has stepped up as first cheerleader in Michael Wills’ long-promised riposte to our highly successful and influential Database State report earlier this year for JRRT. He’s no doubt well paid to use forceful language, and strike provocative poses. But he doesn’t get it.

What the hell has Facebook, the greatest of all public noticeboards for the inner landscape of our dreams, got to do with surveillance? Oh Lord, oh Lord, how much of this stuff the entitled middle classes can turn out without blushing.

David: Facebook holds and shares the details of 350m people in ways almost none of them understand. It’s an extraordinary and largely positive phenomenon. But have you ever looked at how it works and considered its implications? This is not a class thing.

He detects a “fashionable paranoia about data and surveillance” and dismisses the concerns raised in Database State as semi-apocalyptic.

My worry that that the report’s authors, far from being dispassionate in their assessment of 46 government databases, had in fact been chosen as much for their ready-made opinions as their expertise. Looking back I understated the problem. Four of the six authors of the report were almost better described as parti pris campaigners than experts.

But David, we chose ourselves. Our affiliations are clearly stated and blindingly obvious. When you rang me and vented at me for 10-15 minutes you had no idea who I was and hadn’t read my blog. Google exists, you know? Even though your boss seems to wish it didn’t.

It seems to have taken you *nine months* to work out the well-documented good work Terri Dowty does. Now you “reveal” it as some great hidden truth. Is this the valuable journalism Mr Murdoch says we’re all going to want to pay for on-line? Don’t you understand it’s perfectly possible to be a campaigner and yet to be well informed? Why do you think people become campaigners FFS? Through wilful ignorance? Because they read facile columns full of class-obsessed and fashion-conscious invective?

You’ve managed to work out Michael WiIls works for the government. But you’ve eaten up his chocolate-covered waffle without a sceptical glance.

Mr Wills also accepts that government must take blame for the poor level of debate because it has too often been “overly defensive and dismissive of criticism. Government believes it is acting benignly and legally and has not adequately recognised the fears of those who believe this is not the case.”

This is tripe. The poor level of debate on technology in public services isn’t because the government hasn’t been shoutey enough. It’s because the government is too assertive and indulges in groupthink, failing to take other views into account. At a shallow level they have a good intention, but they fail to realise the less desirable consequences of their ill-thought-out implementation.

I wouldn’t say there’s a deep underlying malevolence, but the poor manner in which they engage with others who have a different good intention is tantamount to malevolence. Your own article illustrates this very well.

Central to this is their documented failure to listen effectively to the views of scientists (not that I claim to be one, but two of my co-authors are) and also of service users and front-line practitioners. This is why NHS CfH has failed, as even the government now admits, and why the ID Scheme and ContactPoint will fail.

But [Wills’] overall point is this: proper use of new technology by the State allows a far more effective delivery of services to those that need them and a much better level of information about what is happening in society so that needs can be predicted and met. For the poor at any rate, such benefits are more than speculative.

This is true. But would David or Michael understand what proper use of technology is? Do CCTV cameras everywhere, ANPR, centralised databases, state-issued identifiers and audit trails and the removal of barriers to data sharing constitute proper use of technology by the State, allow effective services, and help all of us? That’s the debate we need to have.

We’ve been having it here since 2004 David. Did you ever join in, or were you too busy striking a contrarian pose to whatever was fashionable that day?

Wouldn’t it be better to have user participation in a design process of co-creation? Of course it would, as we’ve said here since 2004 and as the government has belatedly acknowledged in its Smarter Government white paper published yesterday.

Perhaps this is why, unnoticed by the Rowntree report, bodies such as Barnardo’s and the NSPCC had welcomed the Contactpoint database. They, at least, were not operating on the libertarian assumption that almost everything the State does is malign, or that an exaggerated notion of privacy always outweighs something that, to be old-fashioned, we might call the “public interest”.

We didn’t write about this in the report, but it’s not news to any of the authors or indeed to anyone who has taken an interest in this. The untold story is just how and to what extent funding arrangements for these charities has changed in recent years, the extent to which they are now dependent on state funds, and the political price exacted for that dependence. Are there any quality journalists around who might like to look into that? Be warned: it would require research, and not just opinion.

Aaronovitch gripes on about the census and how important it should be accurate. More than five years ago on IdealGov I wrote about how the Finnish census, which is register-based, is so much better than ours and also so much cheaper it can be done annually. It’s because the data quality is good and levels of trust in government are high. What’s more the Finnish government works constantly to try to earn ever higher levels of trust. David – we want something much better than what you’re asking for.

Oddly, the Rowntree Reform Trust, which is largely run by Liberal Democrat grandees, gives as its objectives the promotion of civil liberties and social justice.

There’s nothing in the least odd about that. What are the objectives of your employer News International? To prop up the UK tax base? Hardly. At least the JRRT pays it’s full share of UK tax. That’s why it can act as a campaigning organisation.

I think the libertarians, the aged hippies and the privileged have taken over the argument and that their cultural preferences have tilted the balance against social justice. Of course, the rich have themselves; the poor have only the Government

So the well-paid and powerful columnist can fire off a broadside of ad-hominem and ad feminam attacks, but miss the fundamental point. The poor and needy have every bit as much right to dignity and privacy about their affairs as the wealthy. But now they have no choice but to submit their data to insecure and often ineffective public services.

Informational self-determination – enshrined as a right for example in the German constitution – isn’t a class thing. It should be for everyone, whatever Michael Wills says, and whatever David Aa says. Pfff.

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/aaronovitch-youre-talking-trd-mate/feed/ 10
The owl of Minerva first flies at breaking dusk http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/the-owl-of-minerva-first-flies-at-breaking-dusk/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/the-owl-of-minerva-first-flies-at-breaking-dusk/#comments Mon, 07 Dec 2009 16:18:42 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1914 In light of the Smarter Government launch Ive been racking my brains for that Morike quote. Can only find Hegel on the German Wikipedia

die Eule der Minerva beginnt erst mit der einbrechenden Dämmerung ihren Flug (Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts)

But that’ll be it. As dusk beckons, Minerva’s owl takes flight. After many years, and with a sense of twilight all around, some sensible principles on open data, co-creation and user-oriented design come in to play. We start collectively to understand what we want from ideal government.

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/the-owl-of-minerva-first-flies-at-breaking-dusk/feed/ 1
Australian Gov 2.0 taskforce draft report: Engage http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/australian-gov-2-0-taskforce-draft-report-engage/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/australian-gov-2-0-taskforce-draft-report-engage/#comments Sun, 06 Dec 2009 23:49:39 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1910 There’s a commentable draft of the Australian Government 2.0 taskforce’s report Engage now online. The central recommendation is:

A Declaration of Open Government by the Australian Government

Accompanying the Government’s announcement of its policy response to this report, the Australian Government should make a Declaration on Open Government, stating that:

* Public sector information is a national resource and that releasing as much of it on as permissive terms as possible will maximise its economic, social value to Australians and reinforce its contribution to a healthy democracy;
* Using technology to increase collaboration in making policy and providing service will help achieve a more consultative, participatory and transparent government;
* Online engagement by public servants involving robust professional discussion, as part of their duties and/or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged;
* The fulfilment of the above at all levels of government is integral to the Government’s objectives including public sector reform, innovation and utilising the national investment in broadband to achieve an informed, connected and democratic community.

Looks like they’ve done a powerful job. Great move to be outward looking and seek advice globally. I was meant to help with this but have been utterly supine. Time to make up for it before 16 Dec, which is the comment deadline.

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/australian-gov-2-0-taskforce-draft-report-engage/feed/ 1
What of long-term IT contracts still being signed under Labour administration? http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/what-of-long-term-it-contracts-still-being-signed-under-labour-administration/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/what-of-long-term-it-contracts-still-being-signed-under-labour-administration/#comments Sun, 06 Dec 2009 12:09:47 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1905 From The Times

Francis Maude, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, has written to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, calling for a moratorium on the £100bn of government IT contracts in the pipeline.

This raises a load of questions. What’s the list of contracts? Is it complete and definitive?

One can imagine suppliers are lobbying hard to to rush through signing contracts for all they’re worth, before the party’s over. But what is the sense of urgency of Labour Ministers? Do they perceive a “moral duty” to press on with ContactPoint, CfH or the ID Scheme? Or is there a deliberate “scorched earth” policy to make life as difficult as possible for their likely successors, to maximise their political discomfort?

How are the officials behaving, I wonder. Would they press on with their pet schemes, or merely implement what remains of the will of the present administration? Clearly signing major contracts ties the hands of the likely new administration, unless there are break clauses in the event of an election (and I’ve never heard of such). Clearly, too, it’s likely to embed the politically controversial tendency towards a centraslised, authoritarian database state. So an incoming Tory administration could truthfully say “our hands are tied”.

The authoritarian control phreaks will have won, and PA et al will have walked off with our cash. Both would be irreversible.

UPDATE: As I was writing that the Beeb carries a story saying they reckon Labour will axe CfH

Chancellor Alistair Darling said he would be halting parts of the scheme in Wednesday’s pre-Budget Report as it was “not essential to the frontline……You know, for example, the NHS had a quite expensive IT system that you know, frankly, isn’t essential to the frontline…It’s something that I think we don’t need to go ahead with just now.”

http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/what-of-long-term-it-contracts-still-being-signed-under-labour-administration/feed/ 1