Data makes government agencies more dynamic, more responsive and more open to change.
This was the consensus of the three panellists today who discussed all the ways their organisations were using data to provide their ‘customers’ with a positive and meaningful interaction with government. Chris Bennetts, Executive Director, Digital Products and Services, Customer Services, Transport for NSW sees data ‘as our engine to engage with the community’.
Rethinking the approach to citizen experience
Anne Lyons, Assistant Director General, Information Policy and Systems, National Archives of Australia said that data is allowing governments to ‘rethink the way they do things.’ She gave the examples of how the National archives used data to get the community involved in a transcribing project:
‘We have quite a bit of data at the National Archives. We have used public engagement to solve one of our issues (having a lot of material that needs to be transcribed and filed). We set up a programme called the arcHive, where we get members of the community to transcribe documents. Crowdsourcing, is much cheaper and people really like it. Citizens transcribe all of those lists. Translation of handwritten documents. The public doing it is much much better. Last year we had 81,000 documents transcribed by the public. We could never have achieved that by ourselves.’
Peter Buckmaster, Director, Digital Services, Department of Education NSW interjected and said, ‘crowdsourcing, open data, these are things that government would have done in the past [Lyon’s example] really illuminates how we are really changing the way we are doing things.’
Putting the user at the heart of your approach
In his own department Buckmaster describes the mental shift that has taken place. ‘We are really focused on citizen-centred design,’ he said, ‘to me that’s constantly checking in with the user and seeing how the services are being used and testing testing testing. Now the mentality is to get out to market quickly. Fear of failure is being diminished, now you want to get your prototype, test and learn.’
The governance of data
However, all agreed that a significant part of the user experience was to ensure the integrity of the data they were using. This was a particularly big issue for Lyons who acknowledged ‘a big part of our role at the archives is to ensure the authenticity and the reliability of the information. It’s not merely about the security of the information, but it’s also ensuring that you have the true stuff, the real stuff. Much of what we do is verifying that, I think that’s a large part of the governance of data.’
Another significant issue is the personalisation for governments, who are aware that they need to walk a fine balance between being relevant and dynamic and by being cautious and careful with the security of data. Buckmaster noted that ‘Personalisation is about being contextually relevant. If I think about the classroom, I think the best example is a child being able to walk in with their iPad for a music lesson and the classroom suggests the instrument to play, the music sheet that is appropriate for their level, even the configuration of the space.’
He does suggest that this needs to be balanced with care and sensitivity. ‘The public need to be aware that cybersecurity and the upholding of the safety of their data is a major concern for us.’
Better services, a better dialogue
Data helps these agencies better the lives of their citizens by providing a way to think differently about their approach. It gives them a level of insight into behaviours, as well as a mechanism to reach out and ask for community input, ultimately culminating in better service, a more efficient approach and a more satisfying dialogue.