Tuesday 14 January 2014

Seven professors and a virtuous circle

Interoperability between central and local government identity assurance schemes

The project highlighted the issue of accurate data matching, specifically the matching of names and addresses originating from different sources. (p.9)

The complexity of data matching may present a significant barrier to implementation by Service Providers. (p.10)

The project has highlighted shortcomings in the user journey arising from the technical implementation of the IDA Scheme. (p.10)

... considerably more thought needs to be applied in this area [stepping up from LoA1 to LoA2] if it is to become a viable proposition going forward. (p.10)

... at the time of this project, the functionality required to deliver user data directly within the IDA Scheme [to create a new account] had yet to be developed ... The consequence is that the user is faced with a convoluted process when using the IDA Scheme for the first time. (p.11)

User experience testing was performed in a laboratory environment and involved 5 [sic] users on a one-to-one basis with an experienced research facilitator provided by GDS. Each user had extensive experience of online services including internet banking, government services and social media such as Facebook and Twitter ... The feedback from the small sample of users was generally fairly consistent. (p.12)

Most users would be very reluctant to use their social media accounts with a government site, the prevailing view being that their social life is distinctly separate to doing “business” with government. The issue of privacy and the feeling that government would be able to “see my social life”, or that government transactions would appear in their social media profiles, was of concern. (p.12)

The Hub ... users often struggled as they sought to understand how this method of signing in to government services worked. The Hub service provided the user with a link to a video clip that described the scheme and its purpose ... (pp.12-3)

Users were not clear why private sector companies were being used to carry out identity assurance on behalf of government. (p.13)

Some aspects of the registration processes proved annoying to the users ... (p.13)
GDS, the Government Digital Service, used Warwickshire County Council to alpha test IDA, the identity assurance system they have been putting together for some years now.

The alpha was reported on by OIX, the Open Identity Exchange. A selection of their findings is reproduced alongside.

Certain words and phrases stand out. "Significant barrier", for example, and "shortcomings". "Considerably more thought needs to be applied", "convoluted process", "reluctant" and "struggled". "Not clear" and "annoying".

The alpha was also reported on by David Rennie, a member of GDS, in Steering Collaboration, 26 November 2013. He says:
The alpha project was used to test integration between identity providers and the identity assurance hub and provides insights about how users of local authority services respond to the concept. The alpha found that identity assurance will support the move to digital by default, simplify and improve the customer experience and make service providers more efficient. In short, a virtuous circle of reduced effort, reduced cost and improved customer satisfaction.
You wouldn't know he was talking about the same test, would you?

The disconnect is total.

What's going on?

In their book The Blunders of Our Governments Professors Anthony King and Ivor Crewe talk about several of the causes of failure in government projects. Among them, group-think, which they blame for the Poll Tax, for example.

Group-think was given its first academic treatment apparently by Irving J Janis, a US psychology professor. Messrs King and Crewe have this to say about it (pp.255-6):

According to Janis, whose views are now almost universally accepted, group-think is liable to occur when the members of any face-to-face group feel under pressure to maintain the group's cohesion or are anyway inclined to want to do that.

It is also liable to occur when the group in question feels threatened by an outside group or comes, for whatever reason, to regard one or more outside individuals or groups as alien or hostile.

Group-think need not always, but often does, manifest itself in pathological ways. A majority of the group's members may become intolerant of dissenting voices within the group and find ways, subtle or overt, of silencing them. Individual group members may begin to engage in self-censorship, suppressing any doubts they harbour about courses of action that the group seems intent on adopting. Latent disagreements may thus fail to surface, one result being that the members of the group come to believe they are unanimous when in reality they may not be.

Meanwhile, the group is likely to become increasingly reluctant to engage with outsiders and to seek out information that might run counter to any emerging consensus. If unwelcome information does happen to come the group's way it is likely to be discounted or disregarded. Warning signs are ignored. The group at the same time fails to engage in rigorous reality-testing, with possible alternative courses of action not being realistically appraised.

Group-think is also, in Janis's view, liable to create “an illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all the members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks”. Not least, those indulging in group-think are liable to persuade themselves that the majority of their opponents and critics are, if not actually wicked, then at least stupid, misguided and probably self-interested.

It's not just the Warwickshire County Council alpha test. Once you've got the group-think idea in your head, the examples start to multiply.

For example, it is a year now since four professors published their draft review of GDS's digital strategy. They were not impressed. GDS's response? They have ignored the professors' criticisms. They have "discounted or disregarded" them.

Is that a problem? Or is it a "virtuous circle of reduced effort, reduced cost and improved customer satisfaction"?

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