The government uses data about people to make policy and spending decisions. At the present, government is committed to the adoption of an Investment Approach at a high level: this is a methodology for the treatment of public service spending as an investment that yields ongoing value throughout a person’s life. It requires rich, integrated, longitudinal data about people to fuel the analytic tools that are being developed to assess the effectiveness of government investment.
There are several core objectives and ideas behind the Data Commons approach as these relate to the government’s Collective Impact work. The Data Commons working group accepts the findings of the New Zealand Data Futures Forum that New Zealand’s data sharing ecosystem needs to be high-trust, inclusive, controlled by its participants, and of high value to those participants. Our work aims to take those principles and turn them into a practical roadmap for how to build an ecosystem.
Citizens using the Data Commons as their preferred platform for data sharing have ultimate control over the use of that data, including right to forget. In this high-trust environment more people are likely to contribute more (and more accurate) data, and more marginalised people are more likely to engage with this kind of platform than with a government data-sharing platform.
If a citizen is in control of their data relationship with potential service providers and innovators, those providers and innovators are more likely to have access to citizen data which will drive more innovation, collaboration, and use. This avoids ownership and control by centralising interests such as big business or government, and allows the citizen to form a direct relationship with potential providers of new services. The innovators don’t need to ask permission of monopolising interests (such as the Ministry of Education), but rather have to form a high-trust relationship with the person whose data it is.
The value of this to government is that more marginalised people are more likely to put more accurate, more complete, and more interesting data onto the platform where the government can use it under limited licence to achieve its objectives of monitoring investments and developing policy and planning solutions. Because citizens are in control of their data, they are more willing to share more of it with government for their own value, because they know that they are still in control of it.
The government is likely to have only de-identified access to integrated data unless this suits the citizen. This means that coercive uses, such as detecting fraud, policing, and child protection, are unlikely to be possible using the Data Commons, but will have to be undertaken using traditional sources of data.
Overall, more lives will be saved, more economic value delivered, more children helped.
Health and social outcomes are likely to improve by an order of magnitude where citizens have control over their data and can trust that it will not be used coercively, since this will allow them to form relationships with trusted parties (such as the Salvation Army, their GP, their teacher, their bank, their budget advisor, their fitness instructor). The personal value created for them by allowing their integrated data to be used by trusted parties will help them meet many of their needs. The few lives that would be saved by coercively trolling through the Data Commons to find child abuse or fraud will be vastly outweighed by the benefits to other children who will be able to engage trustingly with their GPs, mental health providers, etc., to get what they need. There is a high cost to the whole community when coercive uses of what would otherwise be freely shared data erode trust and the ability of citizens to form good relationships within and across their communities and with their providers.
Digital information about citizens will increase by several orders of magnitude in the coming years. Whilst up until the Internet, probably only the government and some businesses such as banks were collecting digital information about people, the situation has changed: we have personal sensing devices, the Internet of things, electricity providers, heart rate monitors, car GPS and driving performance monitors, and a host of other forms of data.
This data will be more accurate than government data. Some of it will be nearly real-time. It will be more content-rich. It will be more highly personal. There will be more data about people who do not typically engage much with government – precisely what is required to understand deprivation and what works to address it. Government data is minimal, largely focuses on servicing, and is likely to be less accurate since people and government officials both collude in collecting it badly. It is probably data about only 2 to 10 per cent of a person’s life depending on whether they are a high or low user of government services.
The government is only one sector or interest group that has an interest in personal data. People need to be have data-sharing relationships with a wide range of interest groups such as non-government providers, financial institutions, friends and family networks, high-tech entrepreneurs, digital virtual assistants, etc.
In summary, there are many groups of people with an interest in integrating and reusing data about people to target things at them (personal uses of data) and/or to generate insights about groups of people (non-personal uses).