The phenomenon of ‘digital’ is sometimes described as technology with a business purpose — a better way to hire a taxi, a smarter way to use public transport, an easier way to pay your taxes, a safer way to help kids at risk.
Increasingly prevalent within government, this innate business purpose introduces a different set of public interests, opportunities and risks which need to be considered and balanced by agency leaders looking to confidently transform their agencies for the digital era.As new digital links are forged, the absence of an information governance structure can amplify risks.
This requires a very different governance model to the traditional government information models of the past, one that is embedded into core agency strategy and that extends well beyond record keeping and compliance requirements that were largely administrative.
As the public sector embraces intelligent real time services, predictive analytics, complex algorithms and connected services and data, the need for good information governance has become critical.
The view from the north
Today, effective information governance is a key catalyst for improved, modernised and reformed services from the outset rather than primarily being a system of record.
In a recent discussion with Queensland State Government leaders hosted by The Mandarin and Objective Corporation it was observed governance has external and internal impacts.
Moderated by The Mandarin’s publisher Tom Burton, Brisbane’s expert panel included:
- Phil Green, Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Information Commissioner, Queensland
- Rachael Rangihaeata, Information Commissioner, Queensland
- Sonya Sherman, director of public sector industry solutions at Objective Corporation and former NSW DFSI knowledge manager.
Held under Chatham House rules, the seminar was attended by key executives from Queensland agencies.
Participants noted citizens have much higher expectations of how government uses and manages their personal data than the private sector, where data is often primarily collected for commercial and marketing reasons. And where consumers can walk with their feet to another service provider more readily?
Citizens, for example, don’t want to see their private health records used in ways they have not agreed to — yet they also expect the government to be ahead of the curve in predicting their requirements and knowing them as a customer.
There was a consensus citizens today seem ready to let agencies share and match data and information, but they also want to be able to control and influence this exchange. On occasions will want to switch permissions ”on” or “off” depending on their situation. If for example you are lost you will be more than willing to share your location.
Contextual government, nuanced delivery
It was observed that many private sector web sites increasingly offer a quite nuanced understanding of consumer privacy concerns, providing multiple settings and controls.
And while it seems younger people are more willing to share data, our experts noted research suggested younger people also have active interest and nuanced views around privacy. Many adjust their privacy settings depending on the context.
Governments are only now starting to offer user controls to manage privacy. But if gains from advanced services, optimised forecasting or predictive analytics are to be reaped at scale as they have been in business, agencies must first settle high-level principles and embed robust information governance from the outset.
By embedding sound information governance concerns like privacy, integrity, and authorised access can be harmonised with other consumer and citizen benefits enabled through collaboration, automation and process optimisation.
- Expectations around privacy are elevated
- Citizens want data about them to work to their benefit
- Trust is built defined, transparent information governance
A call has to be made
For our Queensland panel, context was the base for considering these judgments. For example, when there are kids at risk this typically trumped other concerns around data exchange. There needs to be a practical balance between protection of information and enabling timely access to those who may need it.
As new digital links are forged, the absence of an information governance structure can amplify risks.
Risk frameworks also need an ethical framework that is adaptive and responsive rather than fixed or rigid: an example is how we have now fully accepted DNA as evidence, but are now only beginning to consider the vagaries of facial recognition.
Settling these design principles using a governance model will begin to enable more industrial grade applications such as dashboards and scalable permissioning — which help frontline staff respond best in real time, rather than having to manually “check” every time data is needed from multiple agencies.
This is classic information governance which enables business processes to be automated for faster, more transparent and consistent decision making in real time. It enables the technology and systems to do the heavy lifting and frees resources to focus on frontline customer service and other priorities.
- Don’t leave governance to chance
- Build opportunity costs and barriers into risk consideration
READ MORE IN THIS SERIES
▪ Digitally transforming NSW: what public sector executives really think
▪ Trust, privacy and accessible data: can you really have it all?
▪ How can agencies promote ‘information confidence’?
▪ Joining the dots: pathways for sharing information safely across silos
▪ Building trust in government
Change and challenges accelerate
The emergence of data in massive volumes has forcefully demanded a far more sophisticated approach. Traditional record management approaches have sometimes struggled to articulate the benefits of information governance built into processes ‘by design’. But as data and information become increasingly important, the benefits of well articulated governance come sharply into focus.
The panel also observed there is an urgent need to review governance arrangements surrounding many of the technologies used for tracking and capturing data and information. This needs to happen before issues bubble up to regulators and policy makers.
CCTV footage was cited as an example where there already large scale monitoring of the community, but comparatively few protocols about its usage.
This will only be accelerated as we deploy sensors and beacons on virtually any device, creating massive amounts of data and potentially enabling large scale surveillance and tracking.
One suggestion was to introduce “impact statements” to at least have some way of assessing the broader issues of the deployment of these technologies. This would enable a privacy “in depth approach”, moving privacy from being a binary concept to one where there were potentially multiple layers of considerations.
Trust, transparency underpin expectations
From the audience it was observed that care is needed to avoid unconscious bias in these considerations. There was strong consensus that the heart of this rebooted governance approach is trust. Trust by citizens, but also trust between agencies and jurisdictions.
The early experience in NSW was that challenges in agencies trusting the frameworks of their peers sometimes slowed the push to match and exchange data. Differing expectations, standards and terms complicated common purpose and understanding.
This was also evident in Canberra where the ATO was caught up in the so called ‘robodebt’ activities when Centrelink used citizen tax data to match against Centrelink information.
- Consensus and consistency underpin trust
- Goals as well as information must be shared
Conclusion: Queensland commits to good governance
In Queensland the commitment by a series of Premiers to transparency, proactive information release and open data has helped create a strong culture of transparency.
The challenge now is to make this a mature culture as we rapidly move towards technologies that enable sophisticated, automated and dynamic exchange of data across various governmental platforms — or government as a ‘platform’.
The panel ended with a strong plea from an audience member to try to connect these new generation information management systems to performance metrics, so we can understand better and earlier the impact on outcomes we are trying to achieve.
If ‘digital’ is technology with business purpose then we need to be very clear on the purpose and demonstrate how this is achieved. The private sector has a profitability targets, but government needs to show its value in its delivery, performance and learnings.
We’d love to hear from you!
In November The Mandarin travels to Melbourne and Canberra to canvass perspectives there on how information governance can improve government. If you’re a public sector executive who’d like to attend and participate, please drop us a line using the links above.
There is no charge to attend, however seats are limited so RSVP is required.