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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Big Data Has Been Getting A Run In The Last Few Weeks But I Sense A Large Dollop Of Skepticism.

This appeared last week:

Benefits from big data at risk from untrustworthy, bungling politicians

By Ross Gittins
18 November 2018 — 2:00pm
The digital revolution holds the potential to use mere “data” to improve the budget and the economy, and hence our businesses and our lives. But you have to wonder whether our politicians are up to the challenge.
In a speech last week, the Australian Statistician, boss of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, David Kalisch, said the new statistical frontier is “data integration” – you take two or more separate sets of statistics and put them together in ways that reveal new information. Things you didn’t know about how bits of the world work.
This is just exploring the huge, still largely untapped potential of computers to manipulate a lot of figures and produce useful information about what’s going on in this field or that. But it also involves new statistical techniques for combining data in ways that make sense and don’t mislead.
(This, BTW, raises a bugbear of mine. Digitisation, which allows us to measure any number of aspects of a company’s performance cheaply and easily, has given rise to the enthusiasm for “metrics”. But bosses who allow their metrics to be chosen and presented by people who know a lot about IT but nothing about the science of statistics, or who draw conclusions from those metrics without any knowledge of stats, are asking to be led up the garden path. They never know when the metric is answering a different question to what they imagine.)
Kalisch says “Australia does not have a strong tradition of rigorously evaluating outcomes of government programs and policies”. That’s putting it politely. The Americans do (because Congress insists on it) and so do many other countries – even those backward and poverty-stricken Kiwis do.
Why don’t we? Because too many ministers and department heads fear the embarrassment if rigorous assessment showed a program was a waste of money, as many would. And also because Treasury and Finance don’t bother pushing it – perhaps because program evaluation costs money upfront, and only saves money down the track.
But that’s only one reason we risk failing to exploit all the benefits of big data analysis. The biggest is the very real probability bully-boy politicians and over-zealous agency heads try to ram through data aggregation schemes over the worries of people concerned about breaches of their privacy.
Consider the hash they’re making of My Health Record where, among other things, the instigators are relying more on slick ads than honest explanation. Consider the long running attempt by the masterful Alan Tudge, the department and the Centrelink PR man to deny there was any problem with robodebt, until the full extent of the fiasco – and the hurt it caused many innocent victims – could no longer be concealed.
Then consider the way Tudge used the shield of Parliament to reveal very private information about a woman who'd had the temerity to criticise him. And he escaped uncensured.
The full article is here:
I have to say when you add census fail, robo debt and the myHR it is pretty hard to have much confidence in Federal Government execution and delivery capability. As for the scope creep with the use of Telco data just serves to remind that Government does not do trust well over time.
This article rehearses the issue well:

Digital manifesto: ‘trust deficit’ must be overcome to realise ‘Vision 2025’

By Stephen Easton • 22/11/2018
“It is an enormous journey — one that will ultimately impact every government department, and every Australian.”
So says the federal government’s new Digital Transformation Strategy, which sets an ambitious goal of making all its public services available online by 2025 with as little need for phone lines and shopfronts as possible.
“You will have access to alternatives if you are unable to access services in a digital way,” promises the new policy brochure, launched yesterday at the National Press Club by the Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation, Michael Keenan.
The minister hopes the vast majority of everyone else, however, will see the benefits of “seamlessly integrated” services, organised around their “needs and life events” so they don’t have to deal with as many government bodies separately, and flock to them.
He imagines Australians being so impressed with the convenience, logic and simplicity of these new ways of interacting with the state – and so confident that the government respects their privacy and is capable of keeping their personal data secure – that they get themselves a myGovID digital identity credential, and happily interact with increasingly advanced robotic assistants that already know all about them.
Working through the new Australian Digital Council, the federal minister and the Digital Transformation Agency are also linking up with state and territory agencies more than ever, towards replacing the forms and phones calls associated with births, deaths, marriages, new business ventures, name changes and so on, with a few clicks or taps on a touchscreen.
This optimistic vision of “government that is easy deal with” is the first of three elements that make up the “Vision 2025” of digital government, which has finally coalesced almost four years after the digital agency was first established inside the Communications portfolio.

An optimistic future and a difficult present

Of course, Keenan and the Coalition may not be in government in seven years, or even at the end of the two-year “roadmap” attached to the strategy. There isn’t much that a Labor government could reject as a terrible idea; the opposition are more likely to question whether it is realistic and achievable, based on the current state of play in federal service delivery.
In Keenan’s main portfolio of Human Services, there is massive room for improvement right now by any reasonable standard, especially in call centres, and has been since before the Coalition came into office, but the investment it would take to fix this completely is unlikely to materialise.
The opposition makes a general promise to “ensure that government service delivery is appropriately resourced to deliver quality and timely services to Australian citizens” in its national policy platform and says human service delivery must “fair and equal” above all. It says it also intends to make savings through digital delivery, and redirect them to “intensive case management” for people who need it and support for “digitally excluded” citizens.
It appears the current plan is to continue outsourcing more call centres, throw as little funding as possible at solving the difficulties of phones, counters and desks, and move ahead into a much cheaper era of digital virtual assistants and quick transactions done entirely online, as soon as possible. Keenan emphasised that the cost of paper-based processes can be orders of magnitude higher than fully digital versions and they take much longer.
The digital strategy document contains various narratives that purport to explain what things are like now, and what they will look like in 2025, if the strategy comes to fruition.
There’s one about “Alison” who needs support from Centrelink while looking for work, which is surprisingly honest about the fact that going through this process in the present is often difficult, frustrating, confusing and anxiety-inducing.
On the other hand, Alison’s experience still glosses over how bad Centrelink customer service has become, according to audits, advocates for welfare recipients, opposition members and members of the public sector union. If Keenan’s critics wrote her story, she would repeatedly hear a busy signal on the phone, before eventually getting through but then waiting for an inordinate amount of time, and hanging up before she ever gets to speak to someone.

The ‘trust deficit’ is real and must be overcome

The second pillar is “government that’s informed by you” — which refers to making better use of the information citizens provide, and linking up the data about them already held by government agencies. This very quickly leads to back to biggest issue of all: privacy and security.
“Let me assure you from the start, we will go about this the right way,” Keenan said in his speech.
“We will ensure that privacy, safety and security are built into the very core of every single thing we do. Privacy and digital transformation are not mutually exclusive: in fact, digital transformation can strengthen privacy.”
Not everyone believes him, of course – a point Keenan acknowledged more openly than any of his predecessors, agreeing with Press Club director Steve Lewis that the government clearly has a significant trust deficit to deal with.
Lots more here:
To me the issue is a real need for the Government to actually get real, listen and actually move forward in an evidence based fashion. It also needs to really take the public along with it while properly explaining what is going on.
I will wait in hope to see clear evidence of sustained improvement, before trusting Government any more than I need to.
I suggest you do the same!

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