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:
You wouldn't know he was talking about the same test, would you?
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.
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"?