The People and Government Data

Camden, London

In one of his most recent posts on Citizen 2015 my colleague, Larry Larkin, provides an overview of a recent study undertaken by the Pew Research Centre. The study outlined how Americans were using government data and information.

The study showed that people tended to use government data – and relatively simple data at that – only from time to time and to address a relatively simple need (like getting library opening times).  But often it’s lack of availability of data that results in citizen frustration – and citizens often aren’t even aware that this is the case.

One of the issues that governments face in terms of providing “service” to citizens is that citizens don’t consume government services in quite the same way as they consume commercial services. They tend to consume services on an as-needed basis. And they often don’t readily appreciate the relationship between data and service.

To date, attempts to make government more open and accountable have focused on the provision of information – giving data (or information) to people that want it.  Opening up data is often the result of a citizen movement and many government bodies haven’t been entirely keen to let go of their monopolistic ownership of data.  But there’s evidence that this war is being won.

But the next step for government is allowing data to be used to do things in better ways. Because often when citizens most need data they aren’t actually seeking it. Data is simply the means of providing service. In the commercial world data isn’t such a big deal. Rather it’s simply the enabler of service. There is an expectation that if one calls a contact center, for example, the contact center staff will be able to access data and answer questions quickly. Often this simply isn’t the case when citizens attempt to avail of government service.

For example, let’s assume a citizen makes a planning application for an extension to a house. Despite attempts to make the planning application process easier it’s often the case that a lack of data in the right place at the right time makes the overall service experience miserable for the applicant. The ability to submit all information via a self-help portal may be missing. The system may not be sufficiently ‘intelligent’ to be able to guide the user through all of the necessary processes for filing – resulting in incomplete or non-compliant applications. The work-flow may not create appropriate or timely communications. Contact center staff may not have the necessary information in order to deal with queries about applications. The contact center may constantly defer to planning specialists – resulting in bottle-necks.

Citizens who have to deal with these frustrations may not identify data as the main reason why a government service fails to deliver or results in frustration. But it clearly is a data problem if workflows are stunted, contact staff can’t deal with queries or systems contain fundamental bottle-necks. Data – or lack of it – results in poor performance.

It’s for this reason that the ‘government as a platform’ (GaaP) movement has to be the next big thing in government. GaaP is all about getting the data where it needs to be by thinking about processes and data calls. This is a poor definition of GaaP – and not strictly accurate. But I’m trying to make the point that without data in the right place at the right time services can be highly frustrating and utterly inefficient.

On the subject of GaaP, John Jackson of Camden Council in London was featured on the GDS website recently – and discusses how the concept is now very relevant at local government level too. John spoke at our Citizen2013 conference.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Peel
Editor, Citizen20Series and MD, Quadriga Consulting.I am responsible for all site content and have overall responsibility for site editorial, as well as site membership.