Irish Electoral Register… a reprise

OK. It looks like somebody in the Dept of the Environment is either thinking things through or reading this blog or a bit of both.

In the Dáil (Irish Parliament) yesterday the statements from the Minister Dick Roche were interesting:

  1. Local Authorities had recently been given regular access to electronic files linked with the General Register Office containing information on deaths in their areas.
    • OK – so that addresses one of the points I raised in my last post on this topic. However, do to the files that can be accessed contain sufficient information to allow Local Authorities to accurately match against their electoral register data? Access to data is half the battle. If that ‘raw material’ input to a process does not meet the needs of the process then it is worse than useless because it gives the impression of meeting a need without meeting the need.
    • Do the Local Authorities have the resources (people/technology) to manage a process of clashing these data sets? What is the process?
  2. The Minister called on Local Authorities to make a concerted effort to improve the electoral register in their areas. He stated that “updated and consolidated guidance” was being given on how to do this.
    • In an earlier post I called on the Minister to provide refreshed training to Local Authorities and to provide leadership. To an extent this is starting to happen. However, improved training and guidance on the operation of a process that is broken simply means that the broken process will be followed more accurately.
    • Admonishing the ‘workers’ is not an approach to managing Quality – Deming clearly shows this in his “Red Beads” experiment. See here for a good description of this experiment.
  3. The Minister also indicated that arrangements to delete names of the deceased…
    • This one puzzled me a bit because the earlier point (1) would suggest that that was already being done? Again – Access to data does not equal Information until the data is acted upon through some process. tsk tsk Minister – those are exactly the droids we are looking for!
  4. A proposed Information Campaign was mooted by the Minister
    • Again this is something that I’ve been pushing for in most of my posts on this topic – Deming advises managers to ‘invest in training’.
    • However, training people in a defective process is not likely to improve the quality of the final deliverable. What is broken Minister? What needs to be done differently to improve the process – I refer you back to the Red Beads. If the process is set up in a way that does not ‘build quality in’ then no amount of incentivisation or training will improve the quality of the outputs of that process.
  5. The use of Enumerators in the short term seems to be getting pushed off the agenda
    • Obviously somebody has realised that there will be a lot less enumerators after the 21st of May.
    • The preparation of the next Register for 2007/2008 is being mooted as a time for their deployment – this is good. It gives time to fix the rest of the processes that may be broken and get a sound understanding of the root causes so that once the register is cleaned to a baseline level of completeness and accuracy the ‘data drift’ can be controlled to prevent the current need for a total scrap and rework of the register.
    • The fact that an early start will be taken is also commendable… however starting without first looking at the processes that have produced this level of non-quality (10% to 20% of the population – a large error no matter what way you cut it).

The Minister resisted calls for a Watchdog organisation as requested by the Labour party. Now, at the risk of being hung drawn and quartered by my family…. I agree with the Minister. A new organisation is not needed.

However I disagree with the Minister’s dismissal of a need to change the governance model. The ‘stovepiped’ model that currently exists (with Local Authorities responsible for their patch) is part of the problem. A General Register of Electors managed by a centralised authority may be required to consolidate our ‘single view of voter’ and manage the issues of population mobility etc. Furthermore, a function would be required to monitor the statistical trends in the data for error trends (completeness, consistency, accuracy, breaches of business rules – like “dead men can’t vote” etc). The role of Local authorities may need to change – rather than being the ‘data owners’ they may become ‘data stewards’ responsible for the capture of information from their areas and ‘on-the-ground’ spot checks and audits for accuracy.

None of this requires a new organisation. It requries a cross functional governance model that breaks down the traditional stove-pipe view of the world. The General Register Office could be the ‘owner’ of a centralised Electoral Register. The CSO could provide the analysis and measurement function. The Dept of the Environment could perform the co-ordination function with representation at a steering board from Local Authorities and personnel skilled in Information Quality Management principles.

So I call on the Minister..

  1. If your department has been reading my blog, let me know – quote me in the Dail, something to show you care.
  2. Learn from the Red Beads experiment (if you want a live demo, let me know -I’d do it for free as part of my civic duty as a citizen)
  3. Start putting in place some leadership and a clear strategy to continuously improve the processes around and ergo the quality of our Electoral Register and the governance for this critical information asset.

To Opposition TDs, please stop taking easy potshots. The low hanging fruit is easy to pick but rots quickly. Now that the Minister is setting out a longer term stall (because the quick fix isn’t feasible) the opportunity is there to start driving an Information Quality Management based approach – to ground the artillery barrages in dail debates in clear strategy and proven methodologies. And if you’ve been reading my blog… a mention in Dail dispatches would be nice!


Come and see Larry English, world thought leader on Information Quality Management at the ICTEXPO on the 5th of May