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How joined-up govt data can protect children

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A global expert says connecting government data streams can help solve thorny policy problems including many confronting South Australia such as identifying and protecting vulnerable children.

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Albert Seubers, head of global strategy IT in cities for digital services group Atos International, has been brought to Adelaide by the State Government’s investment attraction agency to speak at the Australian Smart Communities Conference in Adelaide this week.

Ahead of his keynote address today, Seubers told InDaily that breaking down “silos” of data from different agencies was a powerful tool for improving the lives of citizens and allowing governments to deliver better services.

He cited a pilot program that Atos had developed, which allowed the Welsh social department to identify families and children at risk and offer support, while protecting the privacy of those involved.

Previously random checks on vulnerable families were replaced with “flags” gathered from data generated in the education and police department IT systems, which were then integrated with the social department’s call-out system.

Seubers said the kinds of data that could lead to a flag being raised might include a police report on an adult behaving badly in the street, or a child coming to school without breakfast.

Once enough of these signals are detected in the data, a call to the family in question is prioritised in the social department’s regular schedule of call-outs to families at risk.

To address privacy concerns, Seubers said the social department staff making the calls do not know whether the call-out is part of the routine process or is due to the system identifying a potential issue after a series of incidents had been detected.

“Using this flag system, these addresses are inserted into the call system to make sure they are prioritised,” he said.

“People (making the calls) don’t understand if it’s a flagged address or a regular call.”

As a result, the social worker will call the family and proceed with the normal style of open questioning, which seeks to discover whether the family is coping or needs additional support.

“It doesn’t 100 per cent guarantee everything will be solved, but it does allow you to help a lot of families before it really goes wrong,” Seubers said.

The savings of the project, which took six weeks to put together, are estimated at 20 million British pounds.

Seubers said it’s one example of how sharing data can help policy outcomes. Similar benefits could be gleaned in other areas, such as traffic management or more efficient energy use.

“Government needs to start breaking down solos and sharing data between departments,” he said.

Saubers is a believer in putting data to use to check its validity, rather than a government department, for example, waiting until they are 100 per cent sure of its quality.

The way to do this, he believes, is for governments to engage with citizens and ask them to participate in checking the accuracy of data.

“Looking at a few decades ago, the government thought it knew best for its citizens,” he said. “Today, citizens need to feel that we are at the centre of mind for governments when they approach us.

“Share the data, and the people will tell you what’s wrong.

“Be transparent, be honest. Start to use the data and (any) lack of data quality will immediately be there – start using it and the citizens will start helping you to fix it.”

He believes city administrations can also use data better.

His keynote address today is about data as a “new currency” to finance cities of the future.

In fact, he believes IT has become a “utility” which is just as important to the life of a city as energy, water and food.

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