Electoral Register on Oireachtas Report

The coverage of the Dail Committee meeting on Oireachtas Report this evening was a little disappointing. They only covered the Minister’s speechifying on the topic and didn’t show if there had been any debate or challenge on the topic from any of the Opposition politicians who sit on the Committee such as Labour’s Eamon Gilmore.

My feeling is that anyone who has been following my posts on this site and is familiar at any level with the scrap & rework concept would have found a few open goals in what Dick Roche was putting forward.

  1. Use of ‘relevant databases’ within Local Authorities – this amounts to a process change to address a root cause (well done Minister). However there may be data protection issues given that data can only be used for the purposes for which it is captured – this fact was glossed over by the Minister. In addition, just because one has a second surrogate source for reality it doesn’t mean that it is any more accurate or complete than your ‘problem’ dataset. Furthermore, what tools do Local Authorities have available to them to actually match across these datasets quickly and accurately (short of manual efforts)? The Minister has been somewhat quiet on the ‘how’.
  2. The Minister referred to using ESB databases to update the register on the basis that we all use the ‘leccy. Again, this is not a complete surrogate for reality as it would hold the details of only one, at most two, individuals at an address. That data may not match against the Electoral Register for a variety of reasons (different spelling of names, use of aliases or akas (e.g. John Vivian├é┬áSmith may be listed on the ESB bill as J.Vivian Smith or just plain old Vivian Smith or just J Smith)) – Again Data Protection issues (and commercial considerations) exist here but were glossed over by the Minister.
  3. Finally, Minister Roche is plowing ahead with the plan to give records of deceased persons to Local Authorities. The data will be sent in Excel format. There are issues with that idea that I will address in a later post (once I have gotten my thoughts on it ironed out) but in the meantime the question that arises is simply this – once the Local Authorities have their Excel spreadsheets of names and addresses of the deceased, how will they go about matching them against the Electoral Register and flagging matches for action? What is the process that will operate to convert raw data into actionable information?

This issue is a national crisis. The Government seems content to operate on a scrap and rework basis with no real thought leadership or strategy. It is all well and good to identify potential sources of data against which the accuracy of the register can be checked, but in the absence of clear processes to use that information or the capability to process it all that Local Authorities will have is more data and a Minister who’s approach has been to criticise and berate and to effectively manage by sound-bite. Provision of ‘ring fenced’ budget and 3rd party data sets will not enable Local Authorities to perform their duties re the Electoral Register any better if there is no understanding of what needs to be done to address these problems in the long term.

Where is the action plan to assess root causes and address the core deficiencies in the Electoral Register process? Where is the leadership in terms of thinking and in terms of control of the processes?

I wonder what the boys and girls over at Digital Rights Ireland would have to say about the ESB providing its billing database or customer relationship management database to EVERY Local Authority (in excel format perhaps)?

My suggestion of 2 weeks ago still stands…

  1. Scrap the current register
  2. Mail everyone on the current register and request that they re-register
  3. Use that register as the appropriate data set for the Draft Register
  4. In parallel assess Root Causes – involve Local Authority staff (not County Managers but Revenue Collectors, Librarians – anyone with a role in the process) to identify the root causes – even go as far as to talk to (dare I say it) Citizens to find out what is broken in the processes
  5. Develop a plan to address those root causes, addressing governance issues and Information Architecture issues as well as cultural issues.

Scrap and Rework without corresponding review and improvement of processes will not solve the problems in the Register, it will merely postpone them until a later date.