I am a data/information quality nerd. Yes.. I admit it. However, increasingly I find that the awareness I have of Information Quality best practices gives me a different insight into items in the headlines. Recent coverage by the Sunday Tribune (an Irish sunday newspaper) about the problems in the Irish Electoral Register is one example. Simply put… there are more people registered to vote in Ireland than would meet the criteria to be voters. A lot more people. 800,000 is the estimate put forward in the media.
Â This is a topic I’ve touched on before over at tuppenceworth.ie – albeit in a slightly different way and a long time ago.
Â In the papers, the Minister in charge – Mr Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, described the work of some local authorities (the local administrators of the Electoral Roll) as being “less than satisfactory”. My Information Quality senses pricked up at that because it belies a misunderstanding of how to ensure quality in a process, in particular an information process.Â W.Edwards Deming put it best in his 14 points of Transformation for the organisation when he called on managers to institute leadership (not, as the minister has done, pass the buck down the food-chain), to instill pride in workmanship (not, as the minister has done, criticise the workers), to stop managing by slogan (not, as the minister has done here by pointing to some workers and holding them up as an example of what is to be achieved) and most importantly of all to seek constantly to improve the means of production (not ignore the problem).
Â A suggestion for the Minister:
- Take time to talk to the Local Authorities to see how they are doing the job. Seek to adopt/promote those practices that produce a ‘good’ electoral register across those areas that are less good. Do not do this on a blame & shame basis but on a collegiate basis to promote the ‘greater good’.
- Look for variations in approach that might lead to differences in quality – standardise the process and invest in training for data administrators and the public where appropriate
- Examine the process for managing the Electoral register. Is it still ‘fit for purpose’? Does it cater properly for such things as population mobility (it is estimated that up to 30% of the population might change address each year – I’ve move address 3 times in the last 6 years). If the process cannot handle changes of this nature (ie, it will allow a person to be registered in more than 1 location at at time) then the process does not meet the expectation of the legislature, the Constitution or the People (not to mention the Marketers who buy sections of it) and should be changed
- Do not dismiss the issue as being a problem for other people. You are the minister in charge who sets the strategic ‘tone-at-the-top’ with regard to Local Authority matters. Your role should be to lead and provide the mechanism to co-ordinate.
- Don’t immediately assume that the solution to this problem will be costly – most of the initial work will not require external consultancies or new IT systems. The initial steps will invariably require people to stop and look at what is being done and will require a statement that this is an important issue that the minister has a personal interest in and wants to start putting a strategy together to address.
- Don’t keep siloing the problem – that may even be one of the reasons we have an overstatement on the electoral register of nearly 25% of the population.
The existence of ‘orphan’ records on the electoral register – people who are registered to vote in more than one location is a clear and present threat to our democracy, particularly given the declining trends in voter turn out. There is no legitmateÂ reason why elected officials within our democracy would not want to act on this issue. The minister needs to provide leadership on this – what has he got to loose by being a leader defending the quality and integrity of our democratic processes?