WRITTEN ON June 25th, 2012 BY William Heath
STORED IN Ideal Goverment - project

Dear Government Idealists, friends & fellow travellers, and members of the global spamming community: this blog has largely achieved its purpose. Its job is done; contributors have moved on to other activities, got proper jobs or evolved in other ways.

It has been great fun, and much of it remains a great read.

Thanks to everyone who read, contributed, commented, hosted, designed etc. Special thanks to Kable, GNM and DXW for corporate help and support of various sorts.

We’ve now closed down the spam-clogged wiki and ancillary sites. They now all point here. The lower traffic William Heath personal blog is here, and the new work on Mydex designed to address personal data dysfunctions in government and elsewhere is here.

As far as government itself is concerned, the best thing is to point to the real live “ideal government” implementation being done by the Government Digital Service. Stay on their case and help keep them honest. But so far I get the distinctly promising impression they’re even better at doing than we were at thinking.


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WRITTEN ON April 4th, 2012 BY William Heath
STORED IN Design: Co-creation, Design: user-oriented, Ideal government IT strategy, Save Time and Money, We told you so...

Like a contented snore from a prolonged snooze, here’s a quick and now rare post to acknowledge the new GDS design principles:

1 Start with needs*
2 Do less
3 Design with data
4 Do the hard work to make it simple
5 Iterate. Then iterate again.
6 Build for inclusion
7 Understand context
8 Build digital services, not websites
9 Be consistent, not uniform
10 Make things open: it makes things better

It’s a great start. For digital services it strikes me as close to ideal; better than we could have thought to ask for. What we would still ask is that the notion of “starting with needs” and “doing less” be extended to policy and public services more universally.

On this basis it makes sense and feels achievable to go 100% digital for that hwich can be digitised. But it’s not just a digital thing. This is the culture we need across the board.


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WRITTEN ON January 16th, 2012 BY William Heath
STORED IN Design: user-oriented, Foundation of Trust, Greener government IT

It’s a big and timely question as government and businesses across Europe get ready to spend up to $100bn on smart metering projects. In the UK that means the intended rollout of 53m gas and electricity smart meters to 26m households at a projected cost of £11.7bn. That’s on the same scale as the NHS Connecting for Health programme or the benighted late and unlamented National ID Scheme.

Which? offers up a good intro to what the smart metering plan means for UK consumers, along with a ‘No selling, just installing’ campaign.

But there are more issues. This is a huge sum of money to commit at any time and especially now with the country broke. Will we get good value? Is the £11.7bn figure the pre-inflation, pre-ballooning costs and pre Cook’s-constant estimate (the MoD rule of thumb is to take the first estimate and multiply by pi to get the eventual real figure).

Given this move is about changing behaviour we have to ask are the incentives right across government, regulated utilities and consumers?

Then there’s the data. Which? broaches the matter. As I understand it, the smart meters generate a highly detailed picture of your energy usage. The plan is to create a new company to which all the data gets uploaded. Users can then access the data through the portal of their own supplier.

Will the system be sufficiently secure, given what is at stake? And whose data is it anyway? To proponents of individual control over individual data this looks hopelessly messy, expensive and risky.

Ross Anderson and others warned early and often that NPfIT, the ID scheme and other vanity megadatabases were headed for disaster. So we’d do well to heed what he and Shailendra Fuloria also of Cambridge Uni now write in their very helpful 2011 paper Smart meter security: a survey.

It covers smart metering issues including security, personal privacy, threats to the infrastructure and fraud. As well as being gifted with a vast brain and clear understanding of technology, Ross has achieved a whole series of deeper insights earlier than others by focussing on security economics and analysing the inevitable results of perverse incentives. In this case, the authors conclude:

…it is a fascinating case study in security economics:
systems are much harder to protect when incentives conflict, and
smart metering exposes perverse incentives galore.

Of course we’ll all have smart meters or smart energy monitoring devices. But is the government’s great smart-meter project destined to be part of the non-ideal databankendammerung?

It feels wrong in many ways. It feels every inch like the last big project trying to sneak through before a new principle takes hold: the principle that individuals should as far as possible control their personal data. That changes everything. This project looks like one for the chop.

(more…)


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WRITTEN ON December 8th, 2011 BY William Heath
STORED IN Uncategorized

IdealGov started in 2004 to talk through the gap between the reality of government IT and smart people’s aspirations of what it could be like. It was a fun conversation, many interesting people listened and took part, but government IT got steadily worse. The archive is there to read (maybe I shd get it bound into a book). But I’m now working on other projects and IdealGov is pretty much dormant.

But guess what: I scored an invite to today’s Government Digital Service launch. I feel I don’t need to do IdealGov any more. What they’re now up to seems exemplary, rapidly closing in on ideal. I watched, learned and loved it.

_MG_0980
Francis Maude came across at the launch as informal, well-informed, tough, natural.
Photo: Paul Clarke

The government IT problem wasn’t just about competence or overspend, about the toxic mix of mediocrity and arrogance, or about greedy suppliers grown fat in the war on terror. The problem was one of intention. There seemed to be no sense of service, no empathy or warmth in what government was trying to do: just a language of coercion, targetting, and endless plans incorporating surveillance by design.

This has now changed out of recognition.

What we have in the new GDS is a team of breathtaking talent, design-driven, wearing their considerable power lightly, engaging with tenderness and respect, speaking with humility, mindful of their customers: those most in need of public services were repeatedly present in what was said.

The country is now broke. Yet this team moved into new offices in four weeks and has the best IT in the business – Apple laptops, LibreOffice, mobiles and phat pipes – and they reckon it cost 18% of what standard issue non-ideal government IT would have cost. The development work is done in house. They use standard interoperable and modular tools. Anything they in turn produce is open sourced.

Full praise to all involved: Francis, Martha, Ian, Mike, Tomski and the teams. Good to see Etienne and Emer there, and to catch up with the noble Lord Allan, Nigel Shadbolt, HarryM, Jerry, paulclarke, pubstrat and others. Tom Watson and Ruthie should have been there – you’d have both loved it.

Let’s give some credit to those who started the change in the previous administration. Let’s spare a thought for those left out of the celebrations or already dislocated by the changes to date. There will be many more; this is the start of something big. But it’s something important and exciting, and I’m much looking forward to what is to come. Beyond the glimpses we saw today of new maternity and universal credit services I’m looking forward to a new “power of personal information” agenda. Instead of giving our personal data away (far from #ideal) I look forward to the convergence of ID assurance, midata and personalised, participative online services when we put structured data and building trust on the side of the individual. But that’s another story, starting properly in 2012…

GDS Launch
In her own image: Martha Lane Fox, appointed under the previous administration as UK digital champion, was credited for her original vision and unstinting support of what has become the GDS.
Paul again (who else?)

Other refs
Martha’s blog
Mike’s blog

UPDATE

Here are Tom Loosemore’s single government domain slides, with sneak previews of what new services such as maternity pay and universal credit might look like (embedded from Slideshare, in the new spirit of openness).


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WRITTEN ON December 5th, 2011 BY William Heath
STORED IN Uncategorized

Here’s a note I sent Francis Maude’s office after a Cabinet Office “Industry User Panel” meeting at 70 Whitehall on 28 July.

Open data is good
The government’s “Open data” agenda, from the “Power of Information” through data.gov.uk to Linked data is an acknowledged success politically and economically. The government is right to seek to build on this success. The PM’s letter to Ministers is almost entirely spot on. Cabinet Office’s determination to make rapid strides towards further announcements in the autumn is welcome.

More open data: easy wins
Open, public data means essentially data about things: stats, finance, geography, physical assets eg infrastructure of all sorts. There’s a great deal more that could helpfully be released: timetables for transport and much else, locations of assets, restaurant health ratings, keying data/indices, org structures eg of local authorities/NHS trusts/education, weather data, more detailed mapping data (under open licence), Companies House data, contracts/procurement/tendering data (with reliable feeds), Ofcom data re radio frequencies. These are easy “more of the same” open-data wins.

A dangerous path: the false promise of “anonymised” data
One path under consideration (outlined at a 21 July meeting held at 70 Whitehall under the Chatham House rule) is to release anonymised individual-level health, welfare, education or census records. The suggestion is that existing wealthy “big data” companies could apply data mining and deliver added-value services with consequent economic benefit. This is presented as attractive, and the government is in a mood to remove obstacles.

It’s entirely to be expected that today’s big data companies welcome this (though they would prefer if the data were not anonymised or pseudonymised so they could be matched to their existing highly granular records). There’s a case study from the previous administration which exploits health records, and cites performance improvement as well as commercial success as a result.

This path is highly problematic for reasons the convenor of the 21 July meeting chose not to explore. Given the richness of data and power of processing available “anonymised” records are now proven to be easy to deanonymise in practice. This problem is not “philosophical” or “merely a theory” but proven in academic studies and in practice. It means that individual-level data, even if anonymised, must be treated – morally, politically, legally and practically – as personal data.

This path therefore holds high legal risk. It would undoubtedly bring political opposition as the hitherto largely Coalition-friendly opponents of the “database state” find new cause in the for-profit exploitation of an asset that is often highly personal but has been demanded from individuals as a precondition of providing public services.

But it’s also not the most effective way to unleash the economic power of the data.

Much more promising path: unleashing the power of personal information
The far more promising next step is to unleash the economic power of personal data in responsible collaboration with individuals. This is entirely in keeping with

• the Conservative manifesto promise to restore control over personal data to the individual
• the emerging Cabinet Office ID assurance programme which replaced the benighted national ID scheme
• the BIS/Cabinet Office Mydata policy which sees structured data returned to individuals
• policies on empowerment, personalization, participation and self-service in health, education and jobs

This depends on the individual being equipped with a personal data service to allow them to manage, verify and share their personal data online under their control. Such services are rapidly becoming available, from dozens of startups around the world. Mydex is one, and the UK is to date the only country to have shown such a service working live.

When individuals control their own shopping, health, finance and general administrative data with a personal data store they can make it available in a manner that is permissioned, structured, scalable and discoverable. Data of this sort is called “volunteered personal information”: personal, permissioned, verified where necessary. Small examples today are the online search term, monetized to good effect by Google, or shared personal social data monetised by Facebook. When the individual has a proper platform and control over their personal data they can realize the fuller value of their correct name, address and contact details (which saves huge administrative costs when shared correctly), their real needs and the questions to which they seek answers, their future buying intentions, and all the feedback, criticism and advice they can offer.

This means immense savings (personal data holdings at DVLA or health services can be cleaned up removing huge ineffiencies; census data could be submitted virtually free, as often as ONS needed it). But it also opens up the sort of ambitious economic growth agenda the Government seeks.

The value of these flows of volunteered personal information is estimated at £20bn/year in the UK by 2020.

So what should Cabinet Office do short term?
The answer is do what it’s doing, but explicitly join the dots between various initiatives:

• ID assurance
• midata (formerly Mydata)
• Restoration of control over personal data to the individual
• Personalised, participative public services with more self-service

Make clear that government understands and respects the distinction between “open data” (about money, assets, infrastructure, stats, geography) and personal information including anonymised or pseudonymised information. Consider a new “power of personal information” agenda which unleashes the power and value of volunteered personal information under the explicit control of the individual. This is the ethical and legal way to do it, and politically and economically the most attractive.

What not to do
Do not heed the call to market “anonymised” individual-level records data as if this were open data. It isn’t. Any attempt to do so will compromise the good work and reputation of the authentic open data initiative. It will bring serious legal and political consequences. And it misses the bigger economic opportunity of volunteered personal information.

William Heath
4 August 2011
(more…)


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WRITTEN ON July 28th, 2011 BY William Heath
STORED IN Uncategorized

Over at Mydex we asked ourselves the question: what current government initiatives would be transformed by the emergence of a new personal data ecosystem?

We’ve tried to list as many relevant initiatives as we could. But there are undoubtedly more: do please add names/links in comments.

For some the introduction of structured user participation, with customers equipped with a personal data service such as Mydex seems to us essential. The service absolutely needs to put the individual at the centre. Individuals need to be able to gather, manage, verify and share their personal record. Only the addition of an individual-centric model to the existing organisation-centric model can deliver speed, convenience, privacy personalisation and choice to the individual, and cost savings and efficiency for the organisation based on better online authentication, cleaner data and feeds of personal circumstances and preferences.

1. The PDS is pretty much prerequisite to getting it done

NHS “Dallas” delivered assisted lifestyles:
ID Assurance – the individual has to acquire proof of claims and act as point of integration
ID pilot 1: HMRC “one click” business registration
ID pilot 2: Skills Funding Agency learner’s passport – because lifelong education record segues into lifelong career record, and individuals will need to provide digital proof of qualifications
ID pilot 3: NHS Healthspace – because health data needs to be shared under the patient’s control for various health and related purposes
ID pilot 4: DWP Universal Credit
ID pilot 5: Electoral Registration – because this is the core identifier for so much else
BIS Mydata. Where’s the individual going to put their data downloaded under Mydata if not in a PDS? Also: downloaded “Mydata” (such as bank and utility bills) is exactly what the individual needs as supporting evidence for proof of claims
DWP transforming labour markets – because the individual wants to model their skills and experience against jobs available, and the career record segues from the education record
Growth review – open data agenda – because the “Power of Personal Information” unleashes new economic growth even bigger than the power of open data
“Digital by default”/Race Online 2012 – because the last 15% to go online will include those asked most often for the most personal data, and are least well placed to understand implications, so need most protection
NEST workplace pension reform – the whole problem is the pension data needs to be portable by the individual. Having a PDS transforms portable pensions.
DWP TellUsOnce – because equipping individuals with “tell anyone once” is far more powerful and cost-effective than customised internal paraphenalia. Plus it covers private and voluntary sectors as well as public sector.
NHS Healthspace – the aims of the Health White Paper (self-service, empowered patients, choice) are only deliverable if control over the record is returned to the individual
ONS Census reviewSubmitting data from PDS to ONS is frictionless; fast and free unlike the £480m 2011 Census which is due to deliver its results in 2012-2013
HMRC/DWP Tackling fraud and error (pdf) Needs a model in which individuals can acquire and deploy proof of trustworthiness alongside existing “everyone’s a suspect” model
HMRC/DWP real-time information (pdf) Can’t be done without integrating around the individual
Smart meters Far better that the usage data reside with the individual for reasons of choice and privacy

2. Policies/activities that share the philosophical basis of the PDS

Big Society and BigSoc networkIf you want participative active citizens they need control over their data and to be empowered to get stuff done online.
Comprehensive spending review: this requires across the board savings.
Gov.uk (formerly AlphaGov/BetaGov) – if the individual sees only structured data driven by the circumstances and preferences in their PDS, that’s the last web site government ever needs
Community Budgets
Social Impact Investment bonds eg Social Finance
eg MoJ probation
Open public services white paper
Local Direct Gov

3. Generic innovation activity where the implications of the PDS/new personal data ecosystem would have major impact

Data.gov because linked data driven from the PDS opens a new realm of possibilities
DWP Innovation Fund
DotGovLabs Innovation hub
Technology Strategy Board many of whose current projects are around innovation in identity
Nesta “creative councils”

Is that a reasonable start? Are the categories about right? How much more is out there?

When you join up the dots between all this, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that personal data stores and a new, user-driven personal data ecosystem underpin a whole raft of transformational opportunities in public services.


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WRITTEN ON July 21st, 2011 BY William Heath
STORED IN Uncategorized

For some weeks we’ve been hearing further around the Public Data Corporation idea: for commercial partnerships to monetise new categories of government data sets, and a possible expo to sell public data this autumn. Sir Bonar even dictated some Tweets on the matter to his ever-efficient secretary Patricia.

This matter prompts more thoughts, after I was today invited to quite possibly the wrong meeting in Whitehall. The agenda was about boosting the economy, and the question was: what government data sets does business want?

I made a series of sincere contributions, but they seemed to strike a dissonant note. So I’ll share some reflections here (tho the meeting was held under the Chatham House rule and therefore I shall be scrupulous to mention no names or affiliations).

The release of public data since the Power of Information work and Rufus Pollock’s seminal report on the economic benefits has been a rare old government IT success story and a credit to all involved: previous administration (Tom Watson again!), present administration, and officials throughout. But there’s still more to do.

1. What public data do we need released as open data?

Today’s meeting heard that data.gov.uk has “0.01%” of government’s data holdings. That’s no sort of real measure, because no-one knows how much data government holds. An audit is said to be under way but evidently not yet complete.

What do we still need? The lovely @hadleybeeman did a straw poll with the LinkedGov team and came up with:

  • Infrastructure stuff
  • timetables for transport and indeed anything
  • locations of stuff
  • restaurant health ratings
  • Keying data/indices
  • structure of local authorities/NHS trusts
  • weather data
  • more detailed mapping data (under open licence)
  • Companies House data
  • contracts/procurement/tendering data (with reliable feeds)
  • Ofcom data re radio frequencies.

    Cheers Hadley! There’s plenty more data about stuff, facts, inanimate objects, statistics and numbers we still need to make open in a structured way. There’s loads more financial detail needed, far deeper than COINS goes (good start as that is).

    2. What’s the problem with releasing anonymisd data?

    But the offer from government to big data companies (and this is why I say I was in the wrong meeting) is substantially for data about people. The message is: which data sets that government possesses would most improve your business; tell us what you want, because we’re in a mood to clear obstacles out of the way.

    This included talk of anonymised or pseudonymised primary care records, individual-claimant-level benefit data (anonymised); individual pupil level data about attainment and attendance (ditto). This is what the big data industry wants, with the caveat: “if it’s pseudonymised, we can’t append our own granular data”.

    This was not the place, we were told, to have a philosophical discussion about why releasing “pseudonymised” data is problematic. But..but..but…..This is like being told by lemmings, as they rush towards the edge of a cliff, that this is no time to have a philosophical talk about the nature of gravity. “Deanonymisation is just theory” we were told.

    Certain Tweeps and others take issue with that. @craigperko, for example, who works in the power sector, sees deanonymisation every week: “If you have a limited number of participants, even small details can say who is who.” He refers to this paper and to Schneier’s writeup of it in Wired.

    The classic paper on this is by Paul Ohm: Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization @futureidentity, a respected analyst, points out “the Netflix stuff didn’t look very theoretical to me…” @craigperko stops work to fires off a series of 140-character blasts:

    The big issue we find is when a small number of people have a specific detail. Anonymizing fails if rare data remains id-able. Aggregate data only anonymises if the aggregation erases that rare/semi-unique data COMPLETELY. Pseudonymized data is not anonymized. Not even vaguely. It’s a matter of how many deanonymizing attacks there may be, and how important it is to prevent them. Pseudonyms are a weak defense which is suitable for protected internal databases with low leak probabilities….Sorry, you kind of got me ranting. If a psuedonym-based database is leaked, many of the pseudonyms will be easy to crack.

    Thank you @craigperko. Her Majesty’s Government needed to hear that: rant on Sir! And he does:

    In essence, pseudonimity is suitable for limited-release data in secure situations. (However, in my opinion, that level of protection is too weak for medical or legal situations.) (And certainly not suitable for public data sets.) Oh, uh, forgot: deanonymizing for us is mostly the issue of home owners being away or having particular habits. That’s our common experience with it. It’s on our minds a lot. Getting someone robbed (or screwed by their power company) because we’re showing their data is… not a great plan.

    Good man.

    So. Even if you’re trying to do something good, like achieve better health outcomes, create a longitudinal study of drug effects, reduce welfare mispayments and improve public services such as education the present government would be ill-advised to rush into releasing individual-level data sets. The mild-mannered Chris Graham would have a thing or two to say. Caspar and all the best-informed folk in the digital rights world would be apoplectic.

    Open data is an area of real progress. There’s potential for real progress on personal data too. But if the Coalition wants to bring a No2ID-like campaign down on its head with the added twist of privatising to unaccountable organisations what it was unacceptable for government to do, this wholesale release of anonymised data to big data corps is the fast track.

    3. What data does Government need to release to make the new personal data ecosystem work?

    So what is the correct way to release personal data, and what will it achieve?

    Answer: we need to link the data policy discussed to day with Cabinet Office’s ID Assurance, and with BIS’s Mydata (of which key players present today were not really aware). And we need to take account of the new emerging personal data ecosystem. It goes like this.

    With ID Assurance individuals can log in securely to online services. Under BIS’ Mydata initiative, they’ll be able to download records from businesses. They need to be able to do that from public services also: health records, education records, job-seeking etc. They also need to be able to acquire tokens: proof they own the car or car drive from DVLA, proof they have a passport from IPS, or proof they’re on welfare from DWP so they can easily get the best energy tariff.

    That’s the data we need from government to make the new personal data ecosystem work. The market will be ready to equip the individual to deal with all this, whether its new big company services or personal data ecosystem startups like reputation.com, personal.com or the work we’re doing at Mydex.org. Then individuals can control whether they share data for longitudinal health studies, statistical or research purposes or whatever else. And this will save huge sums through improved data logistics, and also unleash a huge new – disruptive – torrent of economic activity. We’ll get there.


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  • WRITTEN ON February 8th, 2011 BY William Heath
    STORED IN Political engagement, What do we want?

    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


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    WRITTEN ON January 14th, 2011 BY William Heath
    STORED IN We told you so...

    Look at this buck-passing after a classic org-centric data #fail:

    The Parliamentary Ombudsman has criticised three government agencies for a “data sharing blame game” after they failed to put a citizen’s data problems right after a complaint going back to 2006.

    In a report published by Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham, the agencies are found to have collectively failed to deal with a data mistake, which led to a woman’s personal and financial information being wrongfully disclosed to her former partner, and her child support payments being reduced without her knowledge.

    Classic case of why Transformational Government is Kafkaesque as well as Orwellian.


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    WRITTEN ON January 10th, 2011 BY William Heath
    STORED IN Policies, Uncategorized, What do we want?

    It’s good to see Ian Hargreaves setting out on his independent review of IP with a blog.

    The focus of my review is to identify any ways in which this IP system may be inhibiting innovation and economic growth, perhaps by making it harder for young internet companies to develop new products and services in the software sector or in creative industries. If we can find the choke points, we can then think about how to ease them.

    As the review goes on, I will be blogging here to talk about our work. I’d like to share questions with you as they arise and to invite discussion.

    Can’t say fairer than that. He starts out asking us all what we’d like to see the review achieve (see my tuppenceworth below). Idealgov has always focussed more on public-service efficacy and ID-nitwittery side but government’s role in copyright is also far from ideal. So leave him a comment! (more…)


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