Data and integrity

Baking in integrity to make public services that are sure to rise

Wellington snow

It’s not immediately clear what June’s Transparency International Leaders Integrity Forum presenters could have in common; the paths of Peter Lennox, Chief Executive of MetService, and David Habershon, Chief Information Officer of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), probably haven’t crossed before. MetService is a State-owned enterprise geared to generate revenue through weather forecasting, whereas MSD is a government department managing New Zealand’s largest social expenditure.

Despite these differences, Peter, who has a sciences background, and David, an English literature graduate, had a lot in common to say about integrity systems as the foundation of their services. Forum attendees heard a game of dictionary bingo with words like resilience, standards, safety, collaboration, and duty of care recurring in both presentations. Here’s why:

  • Resilience: both had their service delivery tested by the Canterbury earthquakes and found ways to respond that have improved their preparedness for future events.
  • Standards: both rely extensively on technology and information for collecting, analysing, and providing services and so apply international quality standards throughout their work.
  • Safety: both serve people that rely on them to get it right and for whom getting it wrong can have dramatic consequences for their lives.
  • Collaboration: both work with others to provide services in ways that help people get on with the business of their own lives.

There’s another thing Peter and David both saw – in the digital age, giving customers a good experience with their service and keeping their trust is what matters.

Given our recent history with extreme weather, we’re likely to agree we all benefit from the MetService’s cutting-edge technology, extensive access to meteorological forecasting models, international commercial operations, high-calibre professional forecasters, and collaboration arrangements to manage natural domestic events.

Peter described (like Janine Smith, Chair of AssureQuality, did last month) how MetService benefits both from New Zealand’s strong global reputation for integrity and from being a government-owned company. Peter explained how MetService (which is unusual for being commercial among its international peers) benefits from  its commercial activities help fund and develop New Zealand’s weather forecasting and natural hazard warnings system.

In our 2013 report Learning from public entities’ use of Social Media, we featured a case study on MetService, along with other entities. We identified eight success factors for the use of social media which seem equally relevant to using data and technology to improve service delivery.

It might seem odd that David Habershon had a similar view about the benefit of the private sector for developing MSD’s customer services. But MSD is an information and technology business that, under strict data-use controls, gets data from over a dozen agencies to prevent benefit fraud. David says using this data effectively could wipe out benefit overpayments, massively reduce tax under-payment, and save hundreds of millions of dollars in the short term.

The Data Futures Partnership, an independent ministerial advisory group established to develop New Zealand’s data-use in ways that promote value, inclusion, trust, and control, says that data-driven innovation has been estimated as contributing $2.4 billion to gross value added in New Zealand in 2014. Supported by Statistics NZ, the Data Futures Partnership is a cross-sector panel of influential people who provide a collective voice on data issues.

We recently published a report that made extensive use of district health board data to understand whether people with mental health problems were being discharged from hospitals with proper follow-up plans. We produced a short video that explains how we collected and analysed this data, including how we were able to map “patient journeys”. We have a number of forthcoming reports about how various agencies in the public sector have used data and information to help improve their services for New Zealanders.

Should the public sector use data about New Zealanders just because it can? David warned that this would be false economy, observing that in the digital age people don’t subscribe to services they don’t trust. If New Zealanders lost trust in the public sector, they will stop engaging – and the public sector would lose its ability to serve. To ensure that public institutions keep the faith of New Zealanders, integrity processes must be “baked in” to our organisations, their culture, and services. When it’s safe to share and good to share data, the public is more likely to support and trust the institutions that use it to deliver public services that are wanted and supported by New Zealanders.

Read our previous blog posts about the Transparency International Leaders Integrity Forum:

Image credit: Phillip Calder (Snow in Wellington, New Zealand, 15 August 2011) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons.

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