Non-Government organisations joined public servants in a packed all day “hui” intended by Finance Minister Bill English to convince the Government agencies to start sharing the huge volumes of data they hold on New Zealanders.
Mr English wants the data shared so that social services can be directed more specifically towards at risk individuals and groups.
But public servants have been reluctant to share information – perhaps worried that the more they empower the non-Governmental groups, the more they are likely to take over social serviced delivery traditionally undertaken by state agencies.
The pressure now to share the information is coming from the non-governmental sector.
Debbie Sorensen, the CEO of Pasifika Futures, an NGO which includes former All Black Michael Jones on its board, said that describing people as simply being Pasifika was unhelpful.
“”When we talk about the admission rate to prisons as a Pacific rate it is very unhelpful,” she said.
“We know from our community that that rate is made up of a large component of young Tongan men.”
That knowledge was critical for service providers like hers.
“To design a suitable intervention, in order to improve outcomes, we need to know who those young men are and the families they come from.
“Being Pacific is nothing.
“There is no country called Pacific.
“When we want to talk meaningfully about what we do no next we need to break that data down and understand it a lot better.”
It is precisely that direct involvement in the community and knowledge of it that has made this Government so keen on buying social service deliveries off non-governmental organisations like Pasifika Futures.
There is also a political motive here too.
One senior Minister has called having the NGO sector do more as “creeping privatisation”.
But it was clear from a keynote speech from Finance Minister, Bill English, that he is finding pushback from the bureaucracy in supplying the data to the NGO’s.
“Access to data shouldn’t be the exclusive reserve of government – but that’s what it largely is because in many cases access is being decided ad hoc,” he said.
“Iwi, NGOs, and Pasifika – many of you here today – have told us getting information out of departments is not easy.
“It’s a negotiation. Agency by agency. Official by official.
“You’ve told us contracts are entered in to as if each negotiation was the first, with the each negotiation’s success dependent on who you are talking to.”
Mr English said that just saying “no” as an approach to data security had meant we have made only limited use of all the data the Government had gone to the trouble of collecting.
“Data has no value if it is not used,” he said.
“So let’s fix the system.
“Let’s reverse the presumption and make data sharing the norm rather than the exception by clarifying the rules.
“Because, actually, it’s your data.
“Specifically, the data we hold belongs to the people, and the whanau that you are working for and with.
“Some of you here today have spoken of data sovereignty.
“You, as citizens, and collectively as Iwi, Pasifika and NGOs acting on behalf of citizens, own the data held by public agencies.
“We agree with you.”
Mr English said along with a number of initiatives involving Treasury and Statistics the Government was also reviewing the Privacy and Statistics Acts.
But the point of sharing the data is to empower the non-governmental service providers to not only cost the services they sell to the Government more accurately but also to intervene more effectively in the social sector.
This is central to the Government’s social investment philosophy on social services which is being implemented in full for the first time in the coming Budget.
But the social investment approach makes the provision of solutions contestable and Mr English says the data is helpful to the NGO’s and private providers in costing their services.
“They tell us often that the way the Government pays for services is improving but it still has quite a long way to go actually to get results,” he said.
He may have raised a few eyebrows on the banquet hall when he described some proposals from the departments in the current round that had failed to meet the social investment criteria as “dumb”.
Later he said these were propositions that required throwing money at something but couldn’t show how the money would actually improve things.
“You’ll get propositions like we should spend more money on at-risk youth and launch a programme for at-risk youth.
“That’s no good unless you know which kids where who can actually connect with them and whether they can show that they made some difference to a 17-year-old with a whole lot of problems.
“Just launching a programme, which is the traditional method, to impress the public doesn’t change that young person’s life.”