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Turning government outside-in for better services


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Harnessing personal data stores can contribute to public trust and better outcomes from digital services, writes Patrick Stephenson, managing director public sector at Fujitsu UK

People are not widely impressed by the way digital public services have developed in the UK. A comment that stood out from a recent survey by Fujitsu – essentially because it reflects many others – was that “the digital experience is usually built around the department rather than the consumer”.

Our message at Fujitsu is to turn the whole of government outside-in so that it works around the citizen, with a new approach to service design that harnesses personal data in a way that builds public trust while ensuring organisations understand what individuals need.

This is a big challenge. There have been pockets of excellence in digital services, such as those developed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, but they are exceptions rather than the norm, and a better approach depends on people being comfortable with public authorities using their data. Many people are uncomfortable with giving away their data, may well withhold it if they feel distrust, and need a stronger sense of control before they will begin to make it available.

The key is in developing a system that makes clear they own the data and have the ultimate control over its use, sharing it with organisations for a specific purpose, deciding if they want it to be retained or deleted after use, and having the right to be forgotten.

We have been looking at this closely, drawing on our experience of working with the Government of Estonia in its long term development of digital services – widely seen as one of the world’s success stories in the field. Important elements of this have included the national X-Road data exchange, widespread transparency in the use of data, and the strong concept of a digital citizen – something which is currently lacking in the UK.

In response, we have developed a vision of ‘Citizen Z’, a reflection of the digital natives of Generation Z who account for a growing proportion of the population. They expect services to be simpler, better and digital, with expectations divided into four components: that the services will be tailored to life events and episodes; they will only have to provide their information once; they have the right to be forgotten; and they expect their data to be portable and accessible.

Building blocks

In turn, there are a series of building blocks for services that match their expectations: that they are interoperable; secure; based on open standards; open by default; make use of digital identities; come with the secure exchange of data; and harness personal data stores.

The latter is the component that enables citizens to place their data in a secure online space and release it to a specific organisation as and when they desire. They can decide whether to leave it with the organisation or ask for its removal, and make it clear when they do not want to be remembered in any way. It can be made available only for a specific live event or left in the organisation’s hands for future use, and shared between public sector agencies if necessary.

If it provides the transparency in the Estonian system – so people can view their data, amend it where necessary, see who has used it and why – it will do a lot to build trust over the long term. The personal data store can play a major role in turning government outside-in to provide better digital services.

This could provide the scope to harness more personal data for new and existing digital services, providing a degree of personalisation that will meet the expectations of Citizen Z while strengthening public trust.

Looking to Causeway

We are looking at the potential for this is in specific programmes such as the Northern Ireland Causeway project, which has been developed over the past 15 years to meet the vision of sharing information within the criminal justice system to be accurate, consistent, up-to-date and accessible electronically by the staff who need to use it.

It has successfully integrated information flows from a number of sources – including the Prison Service, the Courts and Tribunals Service, Forensic Service Northern Ireland and niche users – taking them into the Causeway data sharing mechanism aligned to the criminal record database and common data store.

This has provided the infrastructure for 840,000 criminal record searches, 4.8 million incoming and 8.2 million outgoing messages. It has also delivered benefits of around £1.2 million per year in savings, increased accuracy of records, an end-to-end system understanding, the ability to better share data and improve collaboration, and a justice system that works more quickly.

This has involved plenty of difficulties and there are still challenges around security, system interoperability and standard naming conventions and processes. But the development of the Causeway has seen steady improvements, driven by a continual desire to make it better and a willingness to rethink how the data is used.

There is scope to make it even better in areas such as linking it up with victim support. This is raising the question of how we could bring the personal data of crime victims into the Causeway system to support the justice process and provide them with personalised support.

We are looking at how we could use some of the integrated systems with personal data stores to develop hybrid solutions for personalised services, which in turn respect the terms of the General Data Protection Act and protect the privacy to the people involved.

Initiatives such as this are creating new possibilities in digital services, promising to win the support of citizens by placing them in control of their own data. It has the potential to turn government outside-in to provide better outcomes for all.

To find out more about Citizen Z, take a look here

Learn more about how to use data for the public good from our recent Data4Good 2019



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