The Missing Link: The Case for Integrated Citizen Data
Proper communication is the hallmark of any number of successful interactions, from personal relationships to work team dynamics, but antiquated and disjoint government systems currently miss the boat on this point. Too often we are unable to connect the dots between systems in order to understand the holistic view of how our government services truly impact the individuals they serve.
Unique citizen identification and integrated databases across government have the potential to radically transform the way we design and implement services in the public sector. Tracking how policies and programs in certain sectors relate to other previously unconnected sectors of government will allow us to better analyze the impacts of these programs and identify key areas of effectiveness and opportunities for further investment.
The concept of “ask once” data policies and unique citizen IDs across departments begs the question: what if all aspects of government seamlessly spoke with one another in order to provide one optimized platform for all social needs? This continuity brings with it a number of benefits, including:
- government cost savings and more efficient spending
- improved policy design and more rapid iteration of programs and services
- more robust research and analysis to support policy development
- increased convenience for the citizen end user
- predictive capabilities for forecasting the needs of the society, as well as the specific needs of each individual citizen
By allowing departments to properly communicate with one another about the citizens who are engaging with them, there are a number of operational and cost saving synergies that can be realized. We cease starting from zero with each departmental interaction, and move to a model of incremental learning with every citizen interaction, across all departments. This compounding knowledge allows us to not only better serve our citizens, but also better understand what programs and systemic levers have the most impact on their lives.
Now, in order to achieve these social benefits a number of key risks and considerations need to be addressed. Namely, the issue of data privacy. There are numerous instances where shared data across agencies (and even the private sector) may lead to adverse selection or provisioning of service to certain individuals based on factors that traditionally haven’t been considered. For example, risk assessment tools used in criminal justice proceedings may have access to an even larger pool of data points that may accentuate already biased results. Ensuring that data is integrated, but also designing flexible protections to ensure only relevant and necessary data is accessible, will be key to designing a platform that is robust, yet fair.
Another issue to be considered is governmental trust. Integrated platforms are unlikely to be successful in political climates where government is seen as oppressive, exploitative, or incompetent. Forcing a single access system on untrusting citizens is likely to lead to decreased public sector service usage, thereby limiting the impact of the government and only serving to the decrease the reach of necessary services.
However, if strong privacy regulations and appeal procedures are in place, and if the government is committed to prioritizing the safety and protection of citizen data, the benefits of a fully integrated public sector system far outweigh the negatives. Intuitive user design and a compelling value proposition for citizen users will help drive immediate usage and engagement, further compounding the positive effects of the integrated platform approach. An ask once shared data policy should be implemented with a special focus placed on serious consideration and management of privacy rights: our government will be more efficient and our citizens will be all the happier for it.