Government Geek Squad for £1billion savings?

Making Government faster, smarter and more personal – sounds good? Even better when the promise is of savings and benefits of £1bn. This is the carrot dangled in the latest report from Policy Exchange on the opportunities for governments if they are better data users. The author sounds a note of caution pointing out that tensions arise when the government’s wishes to ‘extract value’ from all the data they have gathered ‘collide with individuals’ wishes not to be tracked, monitored or singled out. We may not want government to get that smart and more personal – at least not on their terms. There are strong civil liberties threats to be addressed.

Protection from a Code for Responsible Analytics

Government departments have poor reputations for the way it handles data – when they are not losing it, leaving it on trains and in taxis, they are abusing it e.g by invoking confidentiality simply to hide their sins –  and so we would welcome a Code for Responsible Analytics which the Policy Exchange suggests, would have at its centre a commitment to outcomes before capabilities – which I take to mean ‘don’t do it just because you can’. Another good idea is the exhortation to fail in the lab not in real life. (Easier said than done – where is the lab? In some other country like Scotland trialling Council Tax?)

The Gov Geeks – Put Citizens in Charge

The idea is that the geeks come in as the Advanced Analytics Team who would do their job in the same way as the Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office – remind yourself who they are by looking at their report on health. The emphasis of the Behavioural Team is in altering consumer behaviours and supporting that by putting data in their – the consumers – hands. The Gov Geek team would have as their customers the Government units responsible for public policy delivery – and from that, benefits to the end users. Will it happen?

When we have talked about this before we wanted to see organisations or people who could act as data intermediaries coaching consumers in how best to use data to improve their choices. Could Geeks also contribute here by coaching the citizen consumer coaches, so strengthening their arm, increasing the pressure that the public could marshall in making arguments for change. Outcomes would be designed to deliver visible benefits to end users -the citizens.

Just the bill – not the benefit

We still think this user-oriented approach has to be stressed. After all we all now familiar with the future savings argument and it suffers from over use. All consultants use this technique.  It is a variant on speculation about the millions to be fed back into the national economy if only we found all the money down the backs of our sofas – 22 million households x 48.5p (median value of losing 1 of the 8 possible coins in circulation underneath the sofa) equals £10.6M unused and wasted. Do it now.

The snag is that people now know that to save a billion, you probably have to spend half a billion and then as we have seen too often ourselves as consultants, the report is shelved or the person driving the change leaves, goes mad or just changes their mind. Whatever the reason, the promised savings never arrive. All you are left with is the bill – not the benefit. Can trusting consumers and citizens and following their lead actually be a cheaper and more effective way than high level teams in the Cabinet Office? Are citizens choices better than the geek ones? Back to the wisdom of crowds and the arguments we rehearsed in a  previous blog piece – Crowds of Patients Get It Right.

The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive health, care and education organisations. We are ready to work with and support all those who want to make sense and a success of the new structures of patient and public engagement within the new arrangements for health and social care commissioning and providing. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.


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