Citizen engagement

August 3, 2010

I’d hate to fall out with William Heath but one of his latest posts about the private sector holding citizen data I found challenging from my situation as an experienced IT worker, government employee and representative on various local government IT bodies, plus a long association with the voluntary sector.

One of the conundrums of government is that is delivers a lot of different services, some of them of critical importance to the well-being of many people. The data it holds is frequently necessary for that service delivery. Every time there is an issue where one arm of government, perhaps the police, is not privy to something held by social services, there is uproar about the lack of data sharing. Every time someone, usually in central government and frequently detached from the person-in-the-street, loses some data there is also uproar.

William’s solution appears to be to give citizens control  of that data. Can anyone in their right mind see a child abuser or someone with mental health issues maintaining their data correctly? I’m not saying the state is any better at holding the data than the private sector, but they do not have the same interests. The private sector has to make a profit. How will it do this but by charging potential users of the data for access to it?

With the approaching G-Cloud and Public Sector Network there is a big debate about who holds what data where. The ‘blue light’ services are emphatic about the need to have data at their finger-tips, they also know from many recent cases that this has to be shared relatively easily and quickly with others, as does child protection data, mental health records and much other data from other sources.

If the concensus answer is not to share data then don’t come out with screams of outrage when children die from neglect, abuse or attack. This is an extreme example of data sharing, but there are a lot more less critcal ones where data sharing is beneficial to the data subject.

Let’s try and view this in the round, rather than constructing some sort of shoddy data edifice that will crumble at the first push!