Friday 17 May 2013

Shakespeare – principles, statistics and mooncalves

He's a big topic, Shakespeare. You can't say everything about him that needs to be said in one post. But we have to start somewhere. With the foundations.

"In October 2012, I was invited by government to lead an independent review of Public Sector Information (PSI) to explore the growth opportunities of, and how to widen access to, the wealth of information held by the public sector." That's the "foundation", Mr Shakespeare says (p.3), of his latest diversion, An Independent Review of Public Sector Information.

Born in the Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon Mönchengladbach, Stephan Shakespeare ( Kukowski), just making sure we've got the right Shakespeare, is the founder of YouGov, one of the polling organisations which have replaced political principle in the tragedy which is national debate in the UK with market research.

What we need, says Shakespeare, now Chair of the Data Strategy Board, on the basis of his review and of a report by the respected Constitutional experts, Deloitte ("Deloitte analysis quantifies the direct value of PSI at around £1.8bn with wider social and economic benefits taking that up to around £6.8bn"), is more data and more data scientists.


It's those shackles again.

Yes, it's another bloody revolution, "The Revolution, Phase 2: How Britain Can Be The Winner" (p.5):
If we play it right we can break free of the shackles of a low-growth economy in which government and the public sector are seen as a resource drag and an obstacle, and they instead become key drivers of a transforming process ...

Ensuring that the process of government is optimised for progress, and does not corrupt into an obstacle to progress, requires continuous data and the continuous analysis of data.
It already has huge quantities of data, of course, so why does the state need even more? If the data the state already has isn't sufficient to turn it into a "key driver of a transforming process", what guarantee is there that even more data will achieve that transformation?

Is Mr Shakespeare any closer to answering those questions than one of the characters in his huge dramatis personae, Mr Stephen Childerstone?
A data-enabled online market place will create new services that will take your data and do some really interesting things with it.
What "new services" and what "really interesting things"?

Leave those questions hanging for the moment and let's move on.

Shakespeare complains that a lot of public sector information (PSI), is salted away in silos and needs to be consolidated and centralised in one place and, just for good measure, it needs to become real-time information (pp.7-8):
For instance, at the moment health data comes through a variety of unconnected channels and into many different silos. It is hard for researchers to gain access to its full value. Advances in technology not only now allow us to collect data at source in real time, but also enable more practical linkage and accessibility.
There could be good reasons for those silos, good reasons why the Constitution has evolved the way that it has in its fuddy-duddy principled old Darwinian way establishing legal barriers all over the place but, if you start like an intelligent designer or even a creationist, you won't see them. The good reasons. So they won't exist.

All you'll see is an unwelcome obstacle to the statistics you need to promote the quantified self space, the space inhabited by us mooncalves, the governed.

And that's the other thing Shakespeare needs. Not just breaking down the walls of the silos that warehouse weather data and the data on motorway traffic flow – recognisably public data – he needs more personal data to transform the government into a key driver of progress.

We mooncalves are so stupid. So uninformed. Which of us hasn't gone to bed, careworn, with the weight of human fallibility on our shoulders and woken up saying (p.7):
We should invest in developing real-time, scalable, machine-learning algorithms for the analysis of large data sets, to provide users with the information to understand their behaviour and make informed decisions.
And what does that imply for public sector information (PSI)?

Article E of Shakespeare's strategy says (p.10):
Privacy is of the utmost importance, and so is citizen benefit.
Phew. Our privacy is of the utmost importance.

But tarry. There are two quantities which are of the "utmost importance". There's "citizen benefit" as well. What happens if they conflict?

The answer is given in Article A (p.9):
Simply put, the strategy is: Recognise in all we do that PSI, and the raw data that creates it, was derived from citizens, by their own authority, was paid for by them, and is therefore owned by them. It is not owned by employees of the government. All questions of what to do with it should be dealt with by the principle of getting the greatest value back to citizens, with input not just from experts but also citizens and markets. This should be obvious, but the fact that it needs to be constantly reaffirmed is illustrated by the way that even today, access to academic research that has been paid for by the public is deliberately denied to the public, and to many researchers, by commercial publishers, aided by university lethargy, and government reluctance to apply penalties; thereby obstructing scientific progress.
Many researchers? Commercial publishers? Lethargic universities? Reluctant governments? Get rid of the lot of them, along with the legal barriers, in the name of scientific progress. Your personal data belongs to citizens, not to you.

This is, as noted at the start, just the overture. The prelude. But there's Shakespeare's lesson #1 already firmly established – forget privacy, you mooncalf statistics.

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