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Demos: 'iPads' for all frontline public sector staff

Government needs a Tesco Clubcard mentality

05 March 2012 - A report on the Government's use of data published today by the think tank Demos recommends that all frontline public sector staff, such as social workers, police and health visitors should have 'smart phone or iPad-style' data stores that can keep track of service users and their specific needs.

Ahead of the Information Commissioner's Office conference this week and following debate about Google's data-sharing policy, Demos publishes The Data Dividend calling on Government to take a more radical approach to coping with big data.

The report argues that constantly updated information on at-risk families could prevent costly mistakes.  An encrypted data-base combining health and social care services could:

  • Target intervention by social and health workers

  • Prevent overlap of provision

  • Limit abuses of the system

  • Minimise the occurrence of public sector workers missing or overlooking serious problems

  • Put an end to burdensome form-filling and back-room administration

Almost 20 years after customer loyalty cards became commonplace on the high street, the report argues that Government has failed to keep up.  It points out that while over 16 million people hand over valuable personal information every day with their Tesco Clubcards or Sainsbury’s and Homebase Nectar cards, Government has no equivalent method of quickly capturing everyday data.

Demos recommends the adoption of pilot project modelled on a successful scheme in Berlin, which gives civil servants access to databases when visiting care homes for the elderly and hospitals in deprived areas.

Max Wind-Cowie, co-author of The Data Dividend said:

"The public understands the benefits they get by handing over personal information to Tesco and Google – it should be the same with Government services.

"Whether it's keeping track of frequent truants, or recognising that a child has had unusually frequent trips to the doctor the value of joining-up services is incredibly high.

"Equipping front-line public servants with iPad-style devices would ultimately save money through minimising error and targeting services more effectively."

Other recommendations from The Data Dividend include:

  • A two-way flow of information to and from public services; providing people with accurate and empowering information, and capturing insight and opinions from the public

  • Government must move beyond transparency alone; where possible, data generated in the name of the public should be available to the public.  But where this is not possible, it should not prohibit improved services through secure data storage

  • Incorporate data-analysis skills across the curriculum; for school children to appreciate the transformative powers of data analysis it should be applied to real-life and diverse scenarios, not just restricted to maths

Graham Kemp, head of public sector at analytics solutions provider, SAS UK, sponsors of the report, says, "This report highlights the data gap between the public and private sector. People are obviously happy to give out their personal information to companies like Tesco when they can see the benefit. The government needs to do more to encourage the public by demonstrating that the information it holds can be used to improve frontline services. If the government is to deliver on its promise of open data and more citizen-centric services, real-time access to data, powered by analytics, must be at the heart of its information strategy."

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