Reponse to Damien Blakes’ post on

Damien Blake written a good piece on regarding his view on how to address the Electoral Register.

Much of what he says has merit as a short term solution. He suggests that we scrap the register (no problem there) and rework it from scratch (again, no problem there) rather than limp on with a defective register.

Damien suggests that my writings will eventually find their way into undergraduate or post graduate theses.  I too look forward to the day that clear thinking about the fundamental best practices of Quality Management applied to Information form part of University curricula at undergraduate level and post-graduate level, much like the practices of Manufacturing Quality Management gained acceptance. In the US this is already beginning to happen, and I have been involved in curriculum development work with an Irish University in a similar vein.

What I have written is based on a number of years (best part of a decade) working in complex Information Management environments and on the shared experiences of other practitioners in the Information Quality Management space with whom I have spoken at conferences (internationally), and with whom I work on a regular basis as a Director of the International Association for Information & Data Quality. The techniques, methodologies and approaches I put forward are based on my real world,practical experiences in applying best practices that have been proven in other industries and disciplines.

Damien’s further goes on to suggest using the PPS Number and associated data to register people – preferably automatically. What Damien has suggested here is a process change to address root causes of poor data quality. Excellent. That is what I have been writing on… well at least as far at the review/change of processes goes. I’ll come ot my concerns with his proposal in a moment. Well done for thinking about the root causes of the problem and how the processes can be changed to address it. Top of the class that man.

Damien’s suggestion doesn’t address the fact that there is no legal obligation on anyone to register to vote, and it could even be argued that one has a constitutional right not to register to vote. Automatic voter registration based on a “Single View of Voter” may not be a runner. Also, the Data Protection Commissioner has limited the uses that a PPS number can be put to – however I am sure legislation could get around that. The Digital Rights Ireland site has a nice paper on it about the ‘scope creep’ in the use of PPS Numbers that I’ve referenced in an earlier post.

Ultimately, even if we scrapped the Register in the morning and rebuilt it in a shining pristine form, the simple fact is that name and address data degrades at a significant rate. In the absence of clear controls and processes to manage and maintain that data at an acceptable level of quality we will find ourselves rapidly returning to a situation where the Register is unreliable – Scrap and Rework is not the route to a high quality Information asset. It is a step on the journey, and an important process – but in the absence of process re-engineering to address root causes of defects and deficiencies the inevitable result is more scrap and rework.

Damien’s proposal to use the name/address/citzenship data associated with the PPS number would serve to reduce redundancy of data (multiple copies of the same data held in multiple data stores) but it may run into Data Protection issues. But as a change of process for the management of Electoral Register data to address deficiencies in the existing process it has merit. But should you have to be a tax payer or a recipeint of State benefits in order to vote?

Damien’s suggestion for a Statutory agency or a reallocation of resources/roles to task someone with maintaining the Register. Again, I am in wholehearted agreement. What Damien proposes here is a review of the Governance model for this data to give clear accountability, authority and mandate and (I would surmise) a standardisation of processes, controls and toolsets for managing and measuring the quality of Electoral Register data. I fully agree with the general thrust of Damien’s proposal here, although the specifics of what that Governance model in my view should be aligned with the requirements of the process and the requirements of the controls necessary to ensure the quality of the electoral register – simply assigning a role with a stroke of a pen does not deliver quality improvements.

I agree with Damien that the process for voter registration and for maintaining that data should be a simple as possible. Clear definition of processes and business rules to support ‘flow-through’ registration and data maintenance are part of the Information Architecture design that should underpin any long term solution. Simplicity of process  could be part of the ‘customer expectation’ against which the quality of the process (and the information it produces) could be measured. However a simple ‘customer’ interface that sits on top of chaotic processes riddled with deficiencies and absences of controls to ensure the quality of the Information will not achieve the full objective of a simple to operate set of processes or functions that deliver reliable and high-quality Electoral Register information.

Damien is right. We need to start again. We need to start again in terms of the information in the Register. We need to start again in terms of the Governance model that is put in place to manage this Information Asset. We need to start again in terms of the processes that people follow to create, update and maintain that information to ensure that we achieve our objective of a reliable, accurate (within a margin for error) Electoral Register. We need to start again in terms of how we think about the ‘architecture’ that this Electoral Information is held. We need to start again in terms of ensuring that we adopt appropriate technologies and strategies to address identified weaknesses in the processes for managing our Electoral Register data.

However, to focus just on scrap and rework simply solves the problem of today. Addressing the root causes in the processes and governance as well as conducting scrap and rework on the data solves today’s problems and prevents those of tomorrow.

I’m glad Damien and I are in such agreement on the principles, even though we may differ in our view on specifics (specific solutions aren’t my goal here – raising awareness of Best Practices was my intention). I hope he can find the time to attend the Information Quality Master Class that is being held in the RDS on Friday where a person with even more years experience in this domain than I will be sharing his knowledge with delegates

3 thoughts on “Reponse to Damien Blakes’ post on”

  1. Daragh.

    I’m glad we can agree on so many points.

    One of my biggest annoyances about the electoral register is the duplication of effort and of data. A great deal of effort goes into keeping data up to date for the Dept of Social Welfare, the Revenue Commisioners, and many other Government agencies. It takes a large amount of effort from local authorities to keep the register even as up to date as it currently is. The data is available, and it is kept up to date, so I would hope the Govenment would be able to hook in to it.

    On your point about the legitimacy of Automatic Registration, I would accept that this is open to question. I believe that voting should be somewhat compulsory (together with the right to spoil your ballot or return a blank vote, and improvements in access to the polls). I would like to see the Government connect receipt of state services (eg subsidised education, social welfare) to citizens making at least the basic effort to turn up at the polls (or submit a postal or proxy vote, for those unable to make it on the day). That’s a topic for another day, and may serve only to distract the debate. If it does, I apologise, but it connects with my views on automatic registration.

    The PPS number has the potential to streamline the delivery of state services, and all interaction of citizens with Government. We need to assess this with regard to all the issues including Privacy, Data Integrity and Value For Money. I’m afraid we’re going to see money thrown away on a project on the Electoral Register, which will then need duplicated effort when they move to assess the real value and potential of government use of the PPSN.

    Unfortunately I will be unable to make it on Friday, as I am hosting a charity event in Letterkenny for the Donegal Hospice. The talk would be beneficial to my MSc programme. I also missed the recent Web2.0 event in Dublin.

    Again, thanks for addressing my points. I’m glad we can agree on so much (although much of what you said still goes over my head!)

  2. Damien,

    It is unfortunate that you can’t make it because you’re the first person from your party to contact me about this issue and you seem to have given a lot of thought to the potential for ‘joined up thinking’ that manages citizen information across the traditional silos of Departmental functions.

    As for it going over your head -you dived in at the deep end, you’ll learn to swim in time!

    There are a number of good sites you can reference for information on Information Quality Management (the Irish Community of Practice for the IAIDQ run in association with the ICS).

    There are some broken links on at present as I am transferring from our old host but we have downloadable presentations that explain a lot of good stuff about Information Quality Management.

    I will be posting some links to good reference books also in time.

    In particular, I share your concern that we are going to burn money on scrap and rework without tackling fundamental flaws in the process. That’s why scrap & rework doesn’t add value in the long run and only fixes today’s problem, not tomorrows.

    Next time you are coming to Dublin, let me know and I will try to hook up with you if you want to learn more.

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