9 Transforming public services|
125. Successive governments have made clear their
ambition to use IT to transform and improve public services. Technology
has the potential to radically redesign how services are delivered.
Microsoft argued that:
Whilst value can be generated by using IT to
do the same things more efficiently, much greater value is generated
by using IT to do things in a totally new way, transforming service
delivery, engaging more directly with citizens and dramatically
126. However, many of the organisations and individuals
who contributed to our inquiry were sceptical about Government's
ability to deliver transformational change of this magnitude:
Government thinking about IT appears to lack
a channel for formally evaluating "radical possibilities".
[...] It is very hard to find any forum in which Central Government
will consider them. There appears to be an underlying assumption
in IT policy that existing processes must be made more efficient
using IT, rather than looking for completely new ways of doing
things that are only now viable.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology and
the Royal College of Engineering made a similar point, arguing
that successful transformation will require the "development
of strategic objectives and system architectures that transcend
Departmental boundaries and budgets."
127. The Institute of Creative Technologies advocated
that the Government should:
move beyond the 'transformational government'
programme, which aimed to impose command and control through large
centralised databases, towards principles of transparency, openness,
and co-operation in which the individual citizen has far more
engagement with and control over data and personal information.
This point was further reinforced by Sirius, an IT
company which specialises in Open Source, who commented that
Open technologies empower individuals and shift
power away from the centre. Open technologies build social cohesion
and are socially transformative. Government should be as technologically
smart as possible, in the service of productive efficiency and
Recent initiatives such as the Skunkworks team, dotgovlabs,
data.gov.uk, and the Alphagov project suggest that the Government
is moving in this direction.
128. We have decided to highlight four ways in which
we think the Government could use technology to enable a transformation
in the way it delivers services. These are the release of public
data; shifting ownership of personal data towards the individual;
engaging users in service design; and opening up on-line channels
for service delivery by third parties.
Public data release
129. Opening up access to government data would allow
people to extract what they want from the information rather than
having to use and access it in a way prescribed by the data's
owner. The Government has placed a strong emphasis on its open
data strategy, and in particular the data.gov.uk website where
collections of public data are being published. The Government
is also currently creating a Public Data Corporation, which aims
to bring public data together in one place.
130. Alongside Government-initiated uses of public
data, such as the recently released crime statistics website,
"ground-up" initiatives have become increasingly important.
One example is the use of "hack days".
These events enable a group of developers to work on a particular
problem, based on specific data, to develop a number of potential
solutions. These rapid prototypes are intended to address a specific
problem from the perspective of the user; producing a product
based on what the service user would find useful rather than what
"Government wants, or what Government thinks it needs".
We heard that some government departments are increasingly willing
to support these initiatives, asking developers "What
can you do with our data? We do not have any ideas, we have this
wealth of data, build us something, show us something fun, something
that ordinary citizens can actually make sense of. Show us what
we can do."
131. Enabling this kind of rapid and effective innovation
relies on the routine release and general availability of up-to-date
data. We heard that some difficult challenges remain, including
information being locked inside content management systems, making
it difficult to extract in a useful form.
As a result the government often has to pay the company who designed
the system a second time to retrieve the information. To tackle
this, Professor Shadbolt, a member of the Government's Transparency
Board, recommended that government should state explicitly in
contracts that system data should be owned by the government,
rather than the companies that design or run the system:
we also need to change procurement so that when
we procure we do not forget to say, "And the data in the
system will be just available".
132. The ability to re-use data in new and innovative
ways can help to improve how public services operate. We are therefore
encouraged by recent developments, such as the LinkedGov initiative,
which aims to "make Government data usable" and
to "create as complete as possible a body of public data
that is accessible, discoverable, human-readable, machine readable,
comparable and internally linked". We welcome the Government's
acknowledgement of this approach on its data.gov.uk site.
133. We heard concerns that current licensing arrangements
pose a barrier to the access of public data. Jim Killock, Open
Rights Group, drew our attention to key pieces of data, such as
maps and postcodes, for which developers are charged for access.
He argued that this information represented "really critical
infrastructure" and that charges for this core data caused
"either social or economic barriers to people really using
He believed that licensing this data acted against the interests
of the department or organisation that owned this data. He gave
the example of designing a programme to provide consumers with
information about bus and train times:
The core business of train and bus companies
is to get people on trains and buses, but it is nevertheless quite
difficult to get the data off them to advertise their services.
So in a way, they are trying to charge or licence the data of
their train and bus services, and that attempts to charge for
the data and provide a revenue stream actually competes against
their core business of getting people on transport.
134. There have already been some welcome developments
in this area. The Ordnance Survey has released a number of its
data sets free of charge through its OpenData and OpenSpace products.
The Government is already promoting the re-use of public sector
has also recently redesigned the licensing framework and developed
a new "Open Government" Licence which aims to ensure
interoperability, avoid the need for re-users to apply for licence
and cover a wider range of rights.
135. Publicly releasing data has the potential
to transform public services radically by allowing individuals
to use data in ways most useful to them, rather than having to
use and access the data in a way prescribed by the provider. We
welcome the Government's commitment routinely to release public
data. We recommend that the Government should release live, as
well as historic, data sets where this is possible and that in
future its information systems are designed to do so by default.
136. Bringing in outside developers to demonstrate
to departments the potential of the information they already hold
is an exciting way to innovate and provide new tools and services
for the Government. We applaud the departments that have already
been involved in "hack days" and recommend that all
departments work in a similar way.
137. Government must continue to address the issue
of public data access by removing licences from its own data and
by encouraging publicly funded organisations to do the same. Placing
this information into the public domain for free is in the long-term
interest of data owners, users and the wider economy.
138. Open Standards refers to the format in which
data is published and how it is made available. Historically,
many systems used proprietary formats and interfaces. Information
could not be easily recognised by, or exchanged between, different
systems. This made it costly and time consuming to access important
information drawn from across systems, or to switch to other suppliers.
The use of open standards has a number of advantages: it makes
it simpler to access data; it implies interoperability; it allows
future access to data and documents in information systems; and
developers do not require access to proprietary software to make
use of the data.
139. The Government appears keen to tackle this issue.
In January 2011, the Cabinet Office issued a Procurement Policy
Note on the Use of Open Standards when specifying ICT requirements,
and also launched a survey to help decide which standards should
be used to organise government data and systems.
The Open Source Consortium has however expressed some concerns
about this survey, its inclusion of various proprietary formats
and confusion in other areas. 
140. Despite the Government's restatement of an open
standards policy, it does not appear to be observed during procurement.
A preliminary analysis of Official Journal of the European Community
contracts carried out for us by Helen Margetts and Scott Hale,
Oxford Internet Institute has shown that rather than specifying
requirements and standards, such as "word processing software
compatible with the open document format", procurement
notices continue to specify proprietary products and formats.
This suggests another misalignment between Government policy and
its execution in Whitehall, which may in part explain the small
scale adoption of open standards in the public sector.
141. Adherence to open standards is important
if the Government is to make data more readily accessible. It
will also help the Government avoid lock-in to any one provider.
We welcome attempts to identify the open standards to be used
across departments. However, we are concerned that the recent
Government survey indicates that the current understanding of
open standards is incomplete. The Government should prioritise
the adoption of a set of core open standards which focus on interoperability
between systems, making data available through open interfaces
and formats that allow meaningful public access.
142. Government should omit references to proprietary
products and formats in procurement notices, stipulating business
requirements based on open standards. The Government should also
ensure that new projects, programmes and contracts, and where
possible existing projects and contracts, mandate open public
data and open interfaces to access such data by default.
Personal data ownership
143. A large amount of data held by Government is
personal information about individuals who use its services. Currently
multiple departments and service providers acquire similar personal
information from citizens and store it on separate systems. This
makes it difficult to ensure that all these records are correct,
as each one has to be updated separately.
144. Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy at Socitm,
provided a personal example where to record a change in his daughter's
circumstances, he had had to deal with "10 different public-service
and third-sector organisations, all independently, all separately.
All had a separate record of my daughter."
He argued that this situation should be changed so that each organisation's
records "would be capable of being joined in such a way
that the different service providers were aware of what others
145. Inaccuracies and poor user experience caused
by the existence of numerous independent records are not the only
problems caused by current arrangements. The Information Commissioner
argued that the volume of data that the Government stores increases
the chance of personal data being lost or unlawfully placed in
the public domain.
High profile security breaches have shown how
vulnerable our personal details can be and information systems
need to be designed to minimise information risk not solely by
including better security safeguards but by adopting privacy friendly
data minimisation approaches and ensuring the culture of an organisation
drives the protection of personal information.
A recent report by the Ombudsman into the case of
a woman who had her personal information changed without her knowledge
by a government agency highlights the problems that can be caused
by poor information management. In this case, the changes led
to her child support entitlement being reduced without her knowledge
and her personal information being released to her former partner.
146. The current approach is also expensive to run.
It is estimated that 10% of staff and 15% of the revenue budget
of one unitary authority is spent on collecting, processing and
maintaining personal data.
147. The Government has already trialled methods
intended to address some of these problems. The DWP's "Tell
Us Once" scheme allows people to inform one government agency
about a birth or death and for this information to be passed on
their behalf to other relevant agencies.
148. We also heard of a more radical and transformative
approach being piloted by the London Borough of Brent. This system
provides individuals with a secure, online personal data service
run by an independent community interest company which enables
the individual to enter and maintain their own personal data in
one place. When they want to interact with an online council service,
they can authorise the release of relevant personal information
from their personal data store.
149. This approach enables citizens to maintain their
personal information in one trusted place with every organisation
they engage with online. The Council also benefits from knowing
that it is dealing with up-to-date information. If the current
pilot proves successful, the Council hopes that it will be able
to remove many of its duplicated data systems, thereby reducing
cost and risk whilst also delivering a better quality service.
150. Letting the individual maintain their own personal
data can help ensure cleaner and more reliable records and reduce
duplication. It also puts individuals in control, allowing them
to authorise the appropriate flow of personal information to and
between relevant organisations. For example, an individual could
obtain online proof from the DVLA regarding their ownership of
a vehicle and then use that proof to confirm to a local authority
their eligibility for a resident's parking permit. Even this process
could be largely hidden from the user, with automated verification
and checking completed electronically whilst they are online,
making the whole process potentially as simple as pressing a few
on-screen buttons to authorise the data exchange.
151. There are a number of challenges to adopting
such an approach. It would require a major change of approach
shifting the focus of service design away from public authorities
and towards the citizen. Departments and other organisations would
also need to assess the technical changes necessary to integrate
input from individuals into existing services. The Government
would also need to examine the costs of such a change carefully
and consider how it would be implemented in practice.
152. This must be balanced against current legal
obligations. The Data Protection Act 1998 governs how the personal
data of identifiable living people are processed and stored. It
places a number of constraints on how long data can be stored
for, what data can be used for, how information can be shared
between different organisations, and how data are kept secure.
If individuals were placed in charge of their own personal data,
public authorities might be relieved of most of the legal and
administrative burden of keeping information secure and up to
153. Not all citizens are comfortable with or able
to use online services. Government will have to consider how to
engage with this group and make alternative offline access to
information available. This is a problem affecting any attempt
to migrate provision to an online environment and is work the
Government will need to embark on anyway if it intends to realise
its vision of having all public services become "digital
154. The Government is already developing an updated
model of identity assurance - how users verify who they are -
to streamline the way in which citizens can log into online Government
system is being developed in partnership with the same company
that has been involved in the Brent Council project.
Ian Watmore, Efficiency and Reform Group, explained that the Government's
approach was to re-use ways of checking people's identity that
What we are trying to do there is to reuse what
the marketplace is already doing. Rather than build a Government
version of that, if the banks already have a good reusable ID
assurance platform, why would we not use that to be the trusted
access to our world?
155. The Minister emphasised that by doing this the
Government would not be creating "a kind of national database",
instead it was investigating how it could use information that
people had already provided about themselves to verify their identity
when they accessed Government services. This new approach to identity
could form a complementary part of the new model of personal data
156. Giving control of personal data to the individual
has the potential to improve data quality while reducing both
costs and risks. Individuals are used to controlling their own
data with private sector companies, such as Amazon and with utility
companies. Moving to a model where the citizen maintains their
own personal data with an independent, trusted provider and then
can choose whether to authorise the sharing of that information
with other organisations is an ambitious vision that will need
to be trialled extensively. We also recognise that there may be
legal constraints and concerns about privacy which could act as
a barrier to implementing such a radical reform. We therefore
recommend that the Government, working with the Information Commissioner,
review potential barriers to the personal data model and explore
the ways in which this model could best be developed.
157. We welcome the work being done to create
an integrated identity assurance trust model for simplifying access
to Government services. We suggest that Government consider integrating
this work with the personal data model. This could represent an
important step, placing responsibility and control of personal
data with citizens in their interactions with public and other
User engagement in service design
158. Another way we believe that Government could
transform the way it delivers public services is by using technology
to involve users in the design and continuous improvement of its
services. The IfG's System Error Report advocated the continual
involvement of users during the design of a new system.
Such feedback need not be limited to the initial design process
alone: technology offers Government the opportunity to refine
and improve the design of its services based on the real time
flow of citizen feedback.
159. Our witnesses did not believe that the Government
was currently doing enough to engage users when designing services,
and that too frequently the needs or convenience of central Departments
were placed above those of citizens. Dextrous Web, an IT SME,
argued that this "failure to base solutions on real user
need [...] and to engage those who will actually use a solution"
was one of the reasons for the continuing failure of IT to deliver
better public services. Similarly Professor Margetts told us that
are not focused enough on what citizens and consumers
are actually doing. That is the one thing that the internet has
done: it has allowed companies to know, to understand their customers
and be able to treat them accordingly.
160. Mydex, an IT community interest company, argued
that a number of IT systems appeared to have been designed with
no understanding of how they would be used by citizens. "They
were never rooted in an understanding of the individual's journey
through life episodes and their interactions with public services".
161. Our survey of government departments, asked
how extensively users were involved in the design of their services.
The responses varied greatly, with some stating that they had
adopted "user centric" design principles and
engaged users in order to gather their opinions, others stating
that they used periodic surveys, and others that they regarded
the idea as "not applicable".
162. It is self-evident that the people using
systems, be they frontline officials or members of the public
are best placed to provide suggestions on how to improve them.
User feedback should be directly integrated into the design of
new systems and the development of existing systems and processes
to ensure continuous improvement. We recommend that Departments
exploit the internet and other channels to enable users to provide
direct online feedback both in the design of services and in their
ongoing operation and improvement.
Open delivery of online Government
163. IT-enabled service delivery is predicated on
the Government specifying its requirements and then procuring
and operating solutions. An alternative model would enable individuals
and external organisations to host and design systems that linked
into online public services. Tim O'Reilly, a technology publisher,
has noted that "
the secret to the success of bellwethers
like Google, Amazon, eBay, Craiglist, Wikipedia, Facebook and
Twitter is that each of these sites, in its own way, has learned
to harness the power of its users to add value to [... and] to
co-create its offerings."
This open model has proved highly successful for companies such
as Facebook, which also allows a range of third-party developers
to innovate around its open platform. The majority of applications
on Facebook are not designed by its employees but by independent
developers whose applications integrate with Facebook's core services.
This open platform model provides an interesting insight into
how future Government services might operate better: enabling
Government information and services to be provided to citizens
where and when they need them. "In this model, Government
is a convener and an enabler rather than the first mover of civic
164. Mr Hughes, Vice-President of Hewlett Packard
Enterprise Services, argued that the Government should follow
this approach and "allow people [...] outside of the Government
cloud to write applications to integrate into back office Government
He went on to say that it would "be a great way to drive
up adoption of Universal Credit by having applets that the Post
Office, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose could utilise on their
Craig Wilson, Hewlett Packard's Managing Director, expanded on
this line of thought and argued that the Government should consider
allowing others to host Government's online services and that
this would be preferable to having all services hosted at a single
The idea that these communities are going to
be drawn to a Directgov website for all this kind of interaction
is quite an old fashioned idea.
While this might appear like a radical suggestion,
it is effectively the online equivalent of locating post offices
inside other shops, such as supermarkets, to increase their accessibility
165. Facebook emphasised "the value of creating
a web environment that is structured by building specialized applications
on an open platform".
One of the major advantages of an open platform model is the entrepreneurship
and flexibility it fosters. As the basic structure of the website
is open for development, companies and public agencies can call
on a wide variety of web expertise to create the more specialised
applications, features, or tools required to suit specific needs.
This also fuels flexibility of development: if one application
built on an open platform no longer adds value or needs to be
replaced, another can be created without requiring that the underlying
system be rebuilt.
166. We see a clear opportunity for Government to
adopt this model. IT enabled public services should be provided
on an open platform with open interfaces. Government should provide
the necessary open infrastructure that empowers people inside
and outside of Government to innovate. Making this happen will
be part of the transition we have mentioned above from an organisation-centric
view of public services to one based on the needs of the citizen.
There are obvious parallels between this approach and the Government
desire to open up the delivery of public services to non-state
actors as part of its Big Society agenda.
167. Government should open up online service
delivery to non-public sector organisations and explore ways in
which public services can be offered through other websites, applications,
devices and providers. This should be developed by providing an
open Government platform around which others can innovate and
improve, built on the principles of open data, open standards
and open source.
168. In doing so Government will need to address
issues of liability for the external delivery of Government services.
Moving to a model where third parties provide online Government
services will require clarity about where citizens should turn
for help when they encounter difficulties, as well as clarifying
who is accountable for service delivery.
165 Ev w139 Back
Ev w1 Back
Ev w121 Back
Ev w22 Back
Ev w46 Back
"Public Data Corporation to free up public data and drive
innovation", Cabinet Office, see Error! Bookmark not defined. Back
See Error! Bookmark not defined. Back
Q 245 [Mr McGreggor] Back
Q 118 Back
Error! Bookmark not defined. Back
Error! Bookmark not defined. Back
Q 245 [Mr Killock] Back
Error! Bookmark not defined. They also have other products for
which they charge. Back
National Archives, The United Kingdom Report on the Re-use
of Public Sector Information, 2010. PSI encompasses a wide
range of information, including national and local legislation,
statistics, local planning, transport, education, local services
and tourist information. Back
Ibid, p 6-7 Back
POST Note, Open Source Software, June 2005, Number 242 Back
Ev 121 Back
Error! Bookmark not defined. Back
Ev w136-137 Back
Analysis carried out for PASC by Helen Margetts and Scott Hale,
Oxford Internet Institute Back
Q 278 Back
Q 279 Back
Ev w 42 Back
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Fourth Report of the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Session 2010-11,
A Breach of Confidence, HC 709 Back
Data supplied by Mydex/London Borough of Brent Back
Local Government Delivery Council, Case Study: Tell Use Once,
Data Protection Principles, Standard Note SN/HA5820, House
of Commons Library, 6 January 2011 Back
"Cabinet Office outlines Gov-portal 'ID assurance' plans"
The Register, 19 May 2011. Back
"DWP prepared alternative to ID Cards for Universal Credit"
Computer Weekly, 27 May 2011. Back
Q 564 [Mr Watmore] Back
Q 564 [Mr Maude] Back
IfG, System Error: Fixing the Flaws in Government IT, March
2011, p31 Back
Ev w98 Back
Q 38 Back
Ev w82 Back
Responses from departments to PASC written questions during the
"Government as a Platform, Tim O'Reilly. In "Open Government.
Collaboration, Transparency and Participation in Practice."
O'Reilly Media, 2010, p11. Back
Ibid, p13. Back
Q445 [Mr Hughes] Back
Q445 [Mr Hughes] Back
Q445 [Mr Wilson] Back
Note to the Committee from Facebook following a site visit. Back