Governments must engage with the community, and each other, in order to build trust around data use.
Data experts from the public sector, universities and non-government organisations stressed the importance of data sharing and transparency and its role in building better public policies at the joint Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) conference, Breaking the data silos, in Canberra.
The conference was a chance for 300 primarily public sector delegates across health and human services sectors to hear from experts, including speakers from Google, AIHW and the Grattan Institute, about the benefits of big data in terms of interagency collaboration and community consultation.
Barry Sandison, AIHW CEO, who opened the conference, said that it’s important to build and maintain social licence when it comes to data, especially in the wake of the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
“We all walk a fine line when we’re dealing with people’s lives. It’s an honour to be able to dive into it, but it comes with great responsibility,” Mr Sandison said.
Liz MacPherson, Chief Data Steward at Statistics NZ, followed on from this point, labelling data as the “lifeblood of decision making and the raw material of accountability”.
“It involves trust [and] confidence,” Ms MacPherson said.
“Social licence is built, earned, but has to be re-earned over and over again.”
The conference featured a series of health and welfare concurrent sessions, where public servants from health and human services agencies and departments shared case studies and observations from their own work.
Professor Ian Anderson, Deputy Secretary of Indigenous Affairs at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet discussed the need to reshape Australia’s data system in order to better serve Indigenous people.
Professor Anderson called for greater cross-jurisdictional data sharing.
“We have one of the best data systems in the world. It is however questionable as to whether we put that data to work,” he said.
“It is only through sharing data and changing the culture of data use that that we can make data work for us.”
Stephen Duckett, Health Program Director of the Grattan Institute addressed the difficulty of data sharing in the current environment, despite the awareness of the range of data available.
He suggested we need to “blow up the silos” in order to improve policies.
“Linking silos could improve the quality and usefulness of data,” he said.
The conference prompted a wide-ranging discussion in-house and across social media, especially on Twitter, where #breakingdatasilos trended Australia-wide.
ANU professor Genevieve Bell delivered the keynote address on day one, warning that the rise of data would not necessarily make society more democratic or more equitable unless we consciously redesign social structures, and governments work to ensure people are treated as citizens as well as consumers.
Professor Bell’s thought-provoking address touched on elements of the future which are “already here” and analysed why governments and individuals need to learn how to deal with a loss of privacy.
“The future is not some other country that you can just land in, there are bits of the future all around, we just need to look for them,” Professor Bell said.
ANZSOG Dean and CEO Ken Smith closed what had been a very successful and focused conference by suggesting the possibility of a community of practice for data experts in the health and human services field supported by ANZSOG and AIHW, with the aim of building social licence and improving cross-jurisdictional collaboration. This has been a successful model of collaboration between ANZSOG and the National Regulators Community of Practice. ANZSOG will also review feedback from participants to determine next steps in consultation with the sector. A subsequent report will be posted on the views of participants going forward.
In his final address, Professor Smith argued that we “have to make data speak to data more easily”.
“By opening up, and being more transparent whilst at the same time protecting privacy, we can strengthen our data sets whether sourced from the public or private sectors. We also need to welcome productive input about how to use these data sets so that we can tackle increasingly complex social problems.”
View photos from the Breaking the data silos conference below.