Month: May 2016

Widening debate on Greater Manchester’s data sharing strategy

Greater Manchester is one of the first UK city-regions to move ahead with a new city devolution deal. Other city-regions may follow their lead. As part of their devolution deal the public sector organisations in Greater Manchester are considering how to use data to improve public services. Part of this thinking has a strong focus on data sharing through a new organisation called GM-Connect. A press release and report has been released about GM-Connect.

This summary is intended to make the report more accessible and allow more people to understand the plans of GM-Connect so that they can engage with this important topic. Summarising like this can help people spot good things, bad things & missing things.

This blog is not my views. It is a summary of the report. None of the meaning has been changed, if meaning has been changed then that is my mistake. Sorry. Do let me know and I’ll correct as appropriate.

Summary of report

Improving how we use data across public services by creating a new public body, the GM Data-Sharing Authority or GM-Connect, will help:

  • support public service reform and the delivery of health and social care
  • increase how much Greater Manchester knows about current and future demand of public services
  • provide a single view of individuals and families to help the public sector make better decisions

In November 2014 £4m was allocated to create an approach to data, information and knowledge sharing across all public sector organisations in Greater Manchester. The report was developed over a 6 month period with help from KPMG and the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing. The report asks Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to:

  • create GM-Connect with an initial £500k to be spent in the first year employing four staff members and bringing in more external advice
  • create a new Greater Manchester data sharing governance group, the GM-Connect executive board, led by a Chief Information Officer

This money will allow GM-Connect to employ 4 staff and bring in external help to develop the programme and business case. The rest of the £3.5m is expected to be spent by April 2017 on technology.

The report also provides information about the principles that GM-Connect will use (for example clear accountability to lead data sharing), the things it will do in its first year (for example a business case for an index of all Manchester residents), and why it is needed (for example to improve public services).

Why is GM-Connect needed

Public sector staff frequently say that data sharing is difficult, Greater Manchester wants to make it easier.

Greater Manchester consulted extensively with local stakeholders (the list of organisations is at the end of this document). Everyone consulted agreed with this plan. Both people in Manchester and independent external advisors believe Greater Manchester can be the UK’s leader in data sharing.

The recently published report on taking charge of our health and social care in Greater Manchester says we need to share data and find new ways of working.

We will use technology to understand patient needs, and develop services more efficiently and effectively as a result. We want people to have greater access, ownership and responsibility over their own data, generating multiple ways to interact with the health and social care system and putting people at the heart of how their information is collected, stored and used. More effective use of information across organisations, driven by patient ownership, will reduce duplication and ensure more speedy access to the right services.

We want technology to support self-management, from staying well to living well with long term conditions. We need to share data and information across organisations on a day to day basis to support assessment, triage and integrated multi agency case management.

The health and social care system in GM will work with the wider public sector on the implementation of our information sharing strategy GM-Connect. As part of the wider GM reform activity, GM- Connect will own the data sharing mandate and will deliver GM wide solutions for employees and people to access, update and analyse data.

GM-Connect will not just help public sector workers it will also help residents. Following a hip operation, the family of one man had to repeat his story to ten different agencies when trying to arrange their father’s support and aftercare. The family found a wheelchair and someone to help administer injections themselves. GM-Connect will fix this problem

With GM-Connect public sector staff will be automatically notified of important life events for residents such as young people becoming adults or when an adult becomes homeless.

GM-Connect will start with a small team

GM-Connect will be a small team that will set the strategy for data sharing for Greater Manchester and help people do it by providing guidance and technology. It will have the dual role of promoting better use of data and protecting information that Greater Manchester holds.

GM-Connect’s vision is:

To create value and insight across GM: supporting improved and more efficient services and improved outcomes for GM and residents, by breaking down information silos and barriers to sharing data.

The team will initially consist of 4 people reporting to an executive board. The team will be led by a new Programme Director and include a data guardian, a data analytics specialist and an information governance lead.

GM-Connect will have some key principles

GM-Connect will have the following key principles:

  • Clear accountability to lead data sharing
  • There is a duty to share data that is equal to the duty to protect data
  • Build trust and confidence between residents, communities and local public services
  • Establish a user-centric approach to services
  • Support a place-based approach to service delivery
  • Increase and manage secure use of data
  • Use modern methods and technologies
  • Focus on value and impact
  • Minimise duplication and encourage reuse
  • Create a single view of data and common understanding of data sharing
  • Support Greater Manchester’s IT and Digital strategies
  • Extend data sharing to include open data
  • Data should be shared unless there is a legal or statutory reason not to do so

GM-Connect has a long term plan

The organisation will:

  • develop a business case for an index of all Manchester residents
  • use a federated data sharing model with data held and managed by different organisations but bought together when needed.
  • create a set of guidance for how to share data to solve problems.
  • support public sector organisations to make better use of data.
  • look for external funding.

GM-Connect’s plan for the first year

By April 2016 GM-Connect will create the organisation and establish a governance board, executive board and delivery team.

By June 2016 the programme of work will be defined.

By March 2017 GM-Connect will deliver some initial projects; deliver a strategic technology solution; develop a detailed business case for implementation of whole programme; make sure the data sharing strategies align with other Greater Manchester strategies and secure long-term funding.

This approach has been used elsewhere

Federated approaches to data sharing have been successful elsewhere, for example New York’s Health and Human Services programme, Canada’s Service Alberta programme and Estonia. In Estonia citizens can perform any municipal or state transaction online.

In each of these cases there has been strong political leadership focussed on services not technology but it is equally important to protect data and have democratic oversight.

GM-Connect will have governance

The report proposes a governance and delivery framework.

A GM-Connect executive board co-chaired by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority lead for public service reform and the chair of the Health and Social Care Strategic Partnership board. All members of the executive board will be advocates of data sharing.

The board will have senior cross-representation covering health and social care, the Police and Crime Commissioner and Greater Manchester police force, Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, employment and skills, housing providers, local authorities, growth, Transport for Greater Manchester, New Economy and the National Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing.

The delivery team will report to this executive board.

Annex — the list of organisations consulted when producing this report

The full report lists the names and job titles of the people who were consulted. In this summary I have only recorded the names of organisations.

  • All Greater Manchester Local Authority IT Directors and Information Governance leads
  • Bolton Council
  • Bolton Foundation Trust
  • Centre for Health Informatics and the MRC Health eResearch Centre Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network
  • Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
  • Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network
  • Greater Manchester Health and Social Care IM&T Group
  • Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Reform
  • Greater Manchester Information Governance Network
  • Greater Manchester Police
  • Greater Manchester Public Service Reform team
  • Health & Social Care Information Centre
  • Health Innovation Manchester
  • IM&T (Health and Social Care Devolution)
  • iNetwork
  • Manchester City Council
  • NHS Bury Clinical Commissioning Group
  • NHS Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Rochdale Borough Council
  • Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust
  • Stockport Borough Council
  • The Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
  • University of Manchester
  • Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust

Contacting GM-Connect

The report names Andrew Lightfoot,, as contact officer for the project.

I summarised this report to widen the debate

To reiterate stuff from the beginning. This summary is intended to make the report more accessible and allow more people to understand the plans of GM-Connect so that they can engage with this important topic. Summarising like this can help people spot good things, bad things & missing things.

This blog is not my views. It is a summary of the report. None of the meaning has been changed, if meaning has been changed then that is my mistake. Sorry. Do let me know and I’ll correct as appropriate.

City data marketplaces are a distraction, let’s improve data infrastructure

I chaired a debate at the Open Data Institute (ODI) titled “What does a good data market look like?” on 29 April. It was a timely debate.

Data is infrastructure at city, national and global levels. It is vital to our societies. It is important to strengthen it. Stable, reliable and well-maintained data infrastructure helps us make better decisions, it brings us new services and it supports innovation.

There are voices arguing that we need to move beyond the open data portal. Nesta have argued that the Mayor of London should build a city data marketplace and Hitachi are building one in Copenhagen.

At the ODI we are keen to learn — and to share what we learn — so we arranged a debate to discuss the idea of a city data marketplace. The panellists were Eddie Copeland the Director of Government Innovation at Nesta; Leigh Dodds a founder of Bath:Hacked and ODI associate; and Yodit Stanton the founder of Open Sensors, a startup building IoT data infrastructure. Questions were taken from the audience in the room whilst those watching the live-stream asked questions via the #ODIFridays hashtag.

Chairing the debate firmed up my views.

A city data marketplace is just another centralised website, we need to move beyond that model and improve how we can discover data on the web. At the same time we can build a better market for data and spend more time experimenting and learning about the role of governments and cities in that market. A better market for data can help strengthen our data infrastructure.

Better and more open data infrastructure will help both cities and the organisations that work in them solve problems and deliver services.

A city data marketplace is different to a market for data

A city data marketplace has previously been described as “an online marketplace that connects organisations and individuals that have useful data with those that want it.”. During the debate it was also described as an “appstore for data” and a “TaskRabbit or eBay for data”. The marketplace would support both open data and data shared for a fee. It would support data publication and exchange between the public and private sector. A city data marketplace is in one place, on one platform and focussed on a city.

The data spectrum.

By contrast, the market for data uses the web where organisations publish data and APIs. The market for data supports the full data spectrum. Like the city data marketplace it includes both open data and data shared for a fee; and supports data publication and exchange between the public and private sector. The traditional open data portal helps people discover public sector open data in the market for data but the market for data is mostly decentralised, just like the web. The market for data already exists.

Data marketplaces have failed before

Leigh Dodds shared his experience as product manager of a company that tried and failed to build a sustainable data marketplace.

He related the tale of multiple other organisations that have tried or failed with only those focussed on specific sectors, such as social media data, living to tell the tale. The debate did not surface other examples of successful data marketplaces, certainly not one that supported more than a single sector. A city supports multiple sectors.

The debate recognised that existing web publishing capabilities and search techniques were not always making it easy to find data in the market whether it be published by governments, city authorities or businesses.

Laura Koesten, a PhD student based at the ODI, is researching this problem. It is a hard one. As Benedict Evans has observed “All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation“.

There were some user needs that people thought weren’t being met by data portals

The debate discussed some user needs that existing open data portals may not be adequately meeting. I was unconvinced that a city data marketplace would help meet these needs any more than the existing market for data.

Even seemingly simple needs such as discovery are affected by a number of factors including the literacy of the person searching for data and how the data has been described during publishing.

More complex needs such as sharing a common problem to get others to help fix it — whether the problem be in banking, housing, jobs or education — is similarly complex. It requires a range of on and offline activities that can take years to complete. Whole new institutions might need to be built to fully address a problem.

There is a team at the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) that are researching the user needs for the portal. Opening up that research and considering it alongside research on city data portals will help everyone learn more about what needs exist so we can design better services to meet them.

The role of government was unclear

The panel discussed the role of government. The views included government building and hosting a city data marketplace, using the marketplace to publish its own data, using the marketplace to buy data, encouraging use of open standards and recognising that the data that government holds is data that it holds on behalf of society.

In general, the role of government in a data marketplace or a market for data was under-discussed. As the chair I take full responsibility as we ran out of time! I think this would have been the most important bit of the debate.

I believe we need to think harder about government’s role

Our governments have chosen to actively shape technology markets: for example by encouraging the uptake of open standards and open source. They are also being active by choosing to use and publish open data.

The UK government, like many around the world, recognises that “It is critical that businesses have the ability to create new and innovative products without being hampered by cost, by licensing conditions, or the inertia caused by uncertainty and doubt.”

But the plans in Copenhagen and the ones that Nesta have floated for London include a marketplace that helps people buy and sell data. Paid for data often has a licence that restricts how you can use it: for example some Surrey councils can’t publish planning applications as open data because of their data supplier. This reduces the value that people can create from the data. Governments and cities that are open-by-default should not be encouraging paid data models.

As Jeni Tennison recently said:

Using data to make a decision is like travelling on a series of roads. To get from point A to point B without open data is like stopping at toll booths at each road junction.

Some journeys you just wouldn’t want to make because they are too much of a pain. So some decisions you will not be able to make because that data is too difficult to access.

Perhaps people think it is necessary to pay to get the private sector to provide data but many businesses, whether it be large enterprises or startups like Guru Systems and Open Sensors, and, as Yodit pointed out, the customers of Open Sensors are making the same choice as governments. They choose to publish some data as open data as it helps their businesses grow, solve problems and deliver services.

Good governments and cities will, where it is useful, use this open data to improve their services. Better ones will go further and encourage more open data.

Government could encourage mobile phone operators to publish the aggregated footfall data that they use for network planning or credit card companies to publish aggregated consumer spend data that they already collected and aggregate. Cities could choose to encourage taxi firms or, in the future, driverless car operators to publish aggregated open data such as traffic congestion or road maps. More open and collaborative mapping models can reduce costs for businesses and the public sector.

To take London as a specific example: the Mayor has responsibility for transport. Wouldn’t aggregated open data from private sector transport firms help a city meet the needs of citizens regardless of who owns the tube train, bus, black cab, car, or bicycle they happen to use? A more efficient transport market is better for the citizens that use it, the public and private sector firms that provide services in it, and the politicians that have democratic responsibility for it.

By encouraging a more open data infrastructure governments and cities won’t just deliver more efficient public services they will support innovation, transparency and accountability; help everyone get better services and grow our economies in the process.

We need to think more about our market of data

I came away from the debate unconvinced by the idea of a data marketplace as it was described. I do not think that our market for data needs another centralised website owned by a single organisation. The web is at its best when it is as open and decentralised as possible, so is our data infrastructure.

The debate did help me deepen my thinking about the market for data and its importance for the future though. If we are to strengthen our data infrastructure and make it as reliable and open as possible, so that it can help support innovation whilst respecting better principles for personal data usage, then we do need to improve that market and encourage it towards openness. Rather than building city data marketplaces perhaps our cities should experiment and learn how to improve the market and their data infrastructure by getting open data out of more organisations and making it easier to discover.

I’d love to hear more thoughts on this topic and talk to other people thinking about and, ideally, helping build better markets for data and more open data infrastructures.

Drop me a note or leave a comment if you can help.

Will blockchains or Beyoncé change the world?

A version of this post, with minor changes, was originally published back in January 2016 at Marketing Magazine.

My thinking on blockchains has evolved but it is clear that many of the current ideas flying around are still nonsense whilst others show a lack of awareness of the damage that could be caused by loss of privacy or an undebated transfer of power by control over the blockchain and the data it holds.

As James Smith of the Open Data Institute said in this lecture in March 2016 we risk good ideas and good uses of blockchains and other forms of distributed ledger dying in the hype cycle. We also risk wasting a lot of money on marketing ideas.

It would help us all if we were more wary of hype and helped blockchains, and other technologies, progress through the hype cycle.

Blockchain was only invented in 2008, starting off as technology to underpin the cryptocurrency bitcoin, but it’s rapidly becoming famous.

The original piece at Marketing Magazine. It’s a long story why it ended up there.

It provides a way to store information so that many people can see it, many people can keep a copy of it, and many people can add to it. It is very difficult to remove information, and this can create trust in the stored information. In the bitcoin system, for which blockchains were originally designed, anyone can access and add information to the blockchain, though other systems are more restricted

There are some voices expressing a desire, or need, for a little caution but there are many others calling for full steam ahead. Recently blockchains appeared on the front cover of global magazine The Economist with a tagline of “the trust machine” and a statement that blockchain technology ‘could transform the economy’.

Is the fame justified or are we falling for the hype machine? And what does this have to do with Beyoncé and feminism?

Fame and the hype cycle

Gartner Research have a nice visualisation called the hype cycle. It is not scientific but it neatly shows some of the stages that technologies typically go through. There is a peak of inflated expectations before we work out how to actually use something and it becomes widely adopted and productive.

Gartner hype cycle image from Wikimedia by Jeremykemp, CC-SA-3.0

The hype cycle is neat but it is not great at showing time or failure.

Time: Sometimes it can take decades for a good idea to become widely used. We’ve been hearing about internet television since the 1990s and yet it’s only recently that Netflix have managed to use the internet to launch what might be the first global television network.

Failure: The hype cycle does not show the technologies that fail and disappear. Perhaps they are replaced after years of use (so long floppy disk) or perhaps they struggle to get adopted in the first place (farewell Betamax). People might spend billions on new technology but much of it was a waste of money. This is not necessarily because the technology was a bad invention: it might simply be another solution to a problem that was already solved.

There is a third problem with the hype cycle. It can be tricky to tell if a technology is on its way to the plateau of productivity or whether it’s still on the first slope. That’s the one that leads to the peak of inflated expectations.

The blockchain institute

One way to differentiate the peak of inflated expectations from the slope of enlightenment is when people start to weed out daft ideas for a particular technology and instead focus on more useful ones. This might be tricky. It is possible to see almost any problem and think that blockchain technology will help. Working out which problems the technology can usefully help to solve requires careful thought.

If you look on twitter you will find that someone set up a Blockchain Institute. Perhaps this official-sounding institution will come up with some good ideas for the practical applications of blockchains? A quick look through its twitter mentions shows people thanking it for sharing conferences and blogs, criticising it for not crediting images, including it in conversations, connecting it with friends, and asking it questions.

After this article was first published it was even ranked #59 in an, automatically generated of course, blockchain who’s who.

The blockchain institute was ranked 59 in a blockchain who’s who

But the real problem is that humans trust the code. I went to an event where someone told me the Institute had a slightly quirky take on blockchains but had interesting things to say. They asked me if I knew who was writing the tweets.

But the Blockchain Institute is a computer program. Not only that, it’s a program that tweets nonsense.

I did not write it or set it up but I can see what the program is doing. It replaces the word blockchain with Beyoncé and bitcoin with feminism.

If it sees a tweet that says “blockchain is a star because of bitcoin” it changes it to “Beyoncé is a star because of feminism”. There is no new content. The computer program does word substitution. Nothing more complex. Yet people are struggling to spot that it’s simply copying other people’s thoughts, words and ideas and — for some reason known only to its creator — adding in a bit of extra Beyoncé and feminism.

This is not a good sign. People are trusting opinions that come out of a machine without spotting that it’s a machine, thinking about the motives of the programmer or that the opinions don’t actually make any sense.

This, and the many ridiculous ideas for using the technology, are reasonable signals that blockchains are heading towards the peak of inflated expectations. People still don’t understand blockchain technology, what it might be useful for and whether it adds anything to the existing suite of technologies and organisational models for storing and sharing data. Disillusionment will surely follow.

Beyoncé and feminism are changing the world

It remains to be seen whether over time we will see blockchain technology become productive and deliver real value or whether blockchains will fail. Blockchains seem to be moving through the hype cycle faster than many other technologies but some things never escape the hype cycle and never become productive. We need to be more wary of hype. We need more research, trials and successful implementations to find out whether in this case it is justified.

In the meantime I do recommend keeping an eye on the Blockchain Institute. Whilst the technology world continues to struggle with gender balance and social media is being used to abuse and troll so many women it is useful to have regular reminders of the revolutionary impact that feminism has had on society and that Beyoncé and feminism are changing the world.

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