Using data to drive policy in e-government

John Barron, CIO, Office of the Revenue Commissioner, and chairman, Programme Committee, opens the 2016 Public Sector IT Conference.

8 December 2016

“How might we use data to drive policy?” the government CIO Barry Lowry asked the attendees of the Public Sector IT Conference 2016.

Lowry said that currently, about a quarter of the Irish population rents accommodation, but it is not known why exactly that cohort do so, because, he asserts, we have never asked them.

“It would be wrong to make the assumption that everyone who rents does so because they can’t buy a house,” he said. “We need to ask people what they want, what they find useful and what they need.”

Lowry made the comments in the context of the National Data Infrastructure (NDI) initiative, emphasising its importance in the overall Public Sector ICT Strategy.

The NDI is of major importance, he said, to harness the power of individual’s data for a better user experience, as well as harnessing the power of collective data for better policy making. It will assist more open and transparent government too, which is of increasing importance as more and more services are made available.

Furthermore, the NDI will facilitate alignment to Digital Single Market, while helping to deliver modern government, and improve data management and security, said Lowry.

Lowry said that the progress of the Public Sector ICT Strategy, combined with the NDI, is “starting to create an environment where government is transparent and pushing data out here”.

Lowry cited several examples of good e-government, and citizen services, from Estonia where there had been little, option post-independence, but to go digital, and Denmark where the provides information and service access for potential immigrants.

Lowry quoted Andrus Ansip, former prime minister of Estonia and now vice president of the Digital Single Market for the European Commission, “The digital transformation of government is key element to the success of the Single Market”.

“It is harder to create a digital single market than a physical one,” said Ansip.

Anazon and government
Lowry posed another question, asking “How would Amazon do government?”

Citing Amazon’s level of trust with its users, as well as its usability and acceptance, he gave the example of how an Amazon user can make a single purchase with minimal information footprint, or they can create a profile for a lasting relationship.

With one, the transaction is a simple, one time interaction from which minimal details are recorded, for the other, a profile is created that allows a rich experience in future dealings. Lowry said this should be a model for citizen engagement with eGovernment.

This transparency and level of service is achievable, said Lowry, on the basis of shared services, with particular respect to information.

He said, however, that this would not necessarily mean moving everything to the cloud.

“I don’t agree with governments that put everything in the cloud, because it just kicks the can down the road,” Lowry.

He said the build to share element of the national strategy was “not outsourcing or consolidation,” but rather a logical rationalisation for both greater flexibility and access for all sections of government.

Seamus Carroll, Department of Justice and Equality spoke about the upcoming General Data Protection (GDPR) regulation, and emphasised points relevant to the public sector.

Carrol said there was a distinct need for “consistent application of data protection law in digital single market,” in light of data provisions being struck down, showing the need for updated and fit for purpose instruments.

There are benefits for business, said Carroll, despite the breadth of the regulation and its likely burden of compliance. He said that “benefits will arise from more streamlined and less burdensome procedures”. But also, that the private sector will benefit from “more harmonised application of data protection law across the EU digital market”.

Absolute right
Carroll pointed out that while the GDRP improves the rights of the individual in terms of how their data is collected and used, data protection is not an absolute right.

Citing Article 85, and Recital 153, Carroll pointed out that member states must “reconcile the right to the protection of personal data pursuant to this Regulation with the right to freedom of expression and information, including processing for journalistic purposes and the purposes of academic, artistic or literary expression”.

Another important aspect, for the public sector said Carroll, will be data pseudonymisation. This the action by which the most identifying fields within a data record are replaced by one or more artificial identifiers, or pseudonyms.

“Pseudonymisation,” said Carroll, “will be important to make research, such as health research, compatible with the legislation.”



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