The panel discussion on using “Using Big Data analytics to solve the problems facing government” at the New South Wales (NSW) OpenGov Leadership Forum in Sydney on the 13th of September, covered definitions and meaning of big data, its value, the role of IoT and mitigation of concerns over security and privacy. The importance of clear, unambiguous communication with citizens regarding the use of their data could be essential for governments to successfully unlock the value inherent in big data and improve their citizens’ lives.
The discussion was moderated by Mohit Sagar (left), Editor-in-chief, OpenGov Asia. The panel featured (from left to right, after Mr. Sagar) Dr. Zoran Bolevich, Chief Executive Officer, eHealth NSW, Allan Henn Director, OneGov, Department of Finance Services and Innovation NSW, Peter Reichstädter, Chief Information Officer, Republic of Austria Parliament and Klaus Felsche, Former Director of Analytics, Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Mr. Felsche started the conversation by giving a simple definition of analytics, saying that is about value derived from data in the context of business processes. He said, “The field has changed dramatically in the last few years. The development cycle for IT and analytics is now less than 6 months. We have moved on beyond the long 10-15 year development cycles. Stuff that we are not able to store before, analyze before can now be analysed, stored and processed cheaply. That means that our data scientists, analysts and business users today can start making use of that data.
And more importantly, even though you might not know exactly how to do it, working out how to do that is now achievable because several open-source software tools are available. They enable low-cost experimentation and exploration until you are convinced that you have a good business case and go into a full production industrial process.
You can now predict the future much more accurately than you could do before. You don’t have to wait for the annual report to come out to find out what went wrong during the last financial year. You can see things as they are happening. The really exciting thing is New South Wales is the enabling tools and mechanisms put in place to facilitate this type of work.”
Mr. Sagar asked Mr. Reichstädter to give his views on the massive amounts of data being generated. In reply, he talked about using the data already existing in different organisations and agencies. He spoke about natural persons, non-natural persons and the object in the context of the data.
Mr. Henn said that open data sharing was just beginning to happen in the NSW government. The government is working on dashboards now to report its performance to the public. This is how we can make the government’s operations more transparent.
It could bring benefits like you go to the hospital on a Saturday night and be looked at by a doctor within a couple of hours instead of having to wait most of the evening. Imagine if your CTP (Compulsory Third Party Insurance rates could be halved. These are opportunities in government to improve services to the public and data sharing is going to enable that.
Dr. Bolevich talked about the proliferation of IoT devices in healthcare. There have been smart devices in medicine for a while now. But now some of those niche technologies and devices are becoming mainstream. The exciting frontier for healthcare is how to use data analytics to predict disease outbreaks.
Mr. Sagar highlighted the variation in the prices of IoT devices, performing the exact same function, but probably having huge differences in terms of security. He asked if enough attention was being paid to securing data.
Mr. Felsche said that nothing is or can be ever be 100% secure. The key is an informed trade-off. He continued, “I am going to give some information about me. Because I perceive that I am going to receive more benefits in return. I have one of those wearable devices. If it connects and rings the ambulance saying that I have fallen over and haven’t gotten up for 5 minutes, I would be happy to make the privacy trade-off.”
Government has to be a model for behaviour and ethics in contrast to private industry. Private corporations can utilise some form of implied consent and go ahead on the basis of that.
The conversation veered to the generational differences in concept of privacy. Millenials are willing to share much more data on social media channels and otherwise and the connection seems more important for them. They do not appear to care that anything posted online will never go away. Right now, society is in a state of flux regarding privacy.
What will happen if people find out that government is doing something with their information that they were aware of? The costs to the US government of Snowden’s leaks provide a revealing example. Ethics need to be considered.
Dr. Bolevich spoke about the responsibility of the healthcare sector to care not just for patients but also for patients’ data. The better they are able to protect the data, the more the trust there will be in the community.
Mr. Henn brought up the user experience of services in relation to trust. “We get feedback online from the public and we act on that. We change systems in response to that. But to keep building the trust, we need to maintain integrity, ensure that we have adequate controls. It is about making it easy for users and keeping government accountable.”
Mr. Sagar used the example of the Scandinavian governments to demonstrate the possibilities from high level of citizens’ trust in government. They expect speed and reliability in delivery of services and they are willing to work with their government for that. There are trust deficits when it comes to governments, in many other parts of the world.
There was an audience question on how can people ensure that with all the new information they still have the informed consent, when they haven’t anticipated or haven’t been told that their data is going to be used in a certain way.
Mr. Henn reiterated government’s concerns over protecting data. Wherever the data is coming in, into whichever data lake, the government will take all appropriate measures to protect it. Also, a lot of the analytics projects do not use private or personal data. They are mashing a lot of data together and coming up with reports and predictable forecasts for government decision-making.
Mr. Reichstädter added that in Austria, they are focusing on the classification of data, separating it into different layers. It also provides insights into what kind of data sets could be matched up and combined and what can be shared. It is a big cultural change and the ideal fully informed trade-offs are some distance away.
An audience member asked about the possibility of setting up ethics boards in government, like those monitoring research in academia.
Mr. Felsche replied that though there are no ethics boards, but there is a formal risk assessment, in order to evaluate that if the judgement goes wrong, then what will government be exposed to. But he would be interested in seeing formal, ethics-focused initiatives, may be driven externally.
But how do citizens come to understand that the processes of allowing the use of their data is safe, is fair and well-balanced.
Mr. Felsche replied talking about the need to simplify privacy statements, with minimisation of opaque, unintelligible, legal jargon and obscure provisos and safeguards. Current privacy statements are very difficult to read and understand. People will forgive honest mistakes or missteps. What they won’t accept is attempts to obfuscate. Clear messaging is key.
Read the full report on the New South Wales OpenGov Leadership Forum here.