The crucial role data plays in how public services are run has been a subject of discussion within governments around the world for some years now.
The need to improve data management and collection in Ireland was emphasised in the Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2023, which was launched yesterday (19 December).
From healthcare centres to Revenue offices, public services deal with vast quantities of citizen data, much of it sensitive.
More cohesive public service data systems
Minister with special responsibility for Public Procurement, Open Government and eGovernment Patrick O’Donovan, TD, laid out the Government’s ambitious plans for Ireland to be an exemplar in the management and use of data for the benefit of citizens.
He explained that the strategy is a key element of creating a more cohesive digital framework. “It was developed in consultation with Government departments and sets out a series of ambitious goals to deliver improvements in the area of data, and in turn help to create a more efficient and effective public service. It is a major step in delivering the joined-up government service that everyone wants to see.”
The strategy builds on existing data initiatives such as the National Data Infrastructure, which deals with the identification of people, businesses and location; and the Data Sharing and Governance Bill, which lays out a legal framework for data-sharing and government across Government.
It aims to provide a more integrated suite of digital services for citizens, improve policy formulation processes, boost protection and transparency when it comes to personal data processing, and reduce the need for citizens to provide the same data multiple times to different public services.
This stems from Ireland signing up to the Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment in 2017. This contained the ‘once-only principle’, which states that public bodies should collect data once and only once from businesses and citizens, and reuse it, rather than recollecting the same information.
Privacy is a key focus
Given the recent enforcement of GDPR, the strategy emphasises privacy by design, data security and other compliance rules that affect public service bodies dealing with citizens’ data. It said: “By adopting a privacy-by-design mindset, robust data security solutions and processes will be implemented to help foster trust between the various actors in the ecosystem.
“By treating privacy as a design concern, rather than a regulatory or compliance burden, this will ensure that privacy is considered upfront and built into these solutions at design stage, to help alleviate privacy concerns and promote data protection compliance.”
Another key principle stressed in the strategy is the linking of the open data ethos to public service bodies. “PSBs should catalogue and publish appropriate datasets where legally permissible, whilst taking into consideration Government’s obligations to protect the confidentiality of citizens and businesses.” Data interoperability and the use of APIs to enable ease of communication is also mentioned as a key area of importance.
The Government claims the ambitious four-year strategy will play out incrementally, with some long-term public service data actions included, which will likely take longer than this initial timeframe to come to fruition.
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