Quarkside

21/11/2012

Compulsory Voter Registration: Yes, No or Maybe

Filed under: Electoral,Policy — lenand @ 9:36 am
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The question is simple.  Will electoral registration become compulsory? An answer in June 2012 from the Cabinet Office is not the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ we might have expected:

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill provides that Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) will be able to issue a civil penalty to individuals who, when required to make an application, fail to do so. There will be safeguards in place to ensure that only those who refuse repeated invitations can be fined, and registration officers will have to take specific steps to encourage an application before they can issue a fine. We expect the number of fines levied to be similar to the number of prosecutions for failing to respond to the canvass under the current system, of which there are approximately 150 per year. This will provide strong encouragement for people to do their civic duty and register to vote. It is not the Government’s intention to allow people to opt-out of registering to vote, or to opt-out of jury service. Equally there is no provision in the Bill to allow people to remove themselves from the register should they so wish. EROs will however be able to remove entries from the register where they have evidence that the application submitted was fraudulent, or is no longer accurate.

Maybe, or don’t panic, seems to be the response from the Electoral Registration Transformation Programme (ERTP).  Central policy is yet again, leave it to harassed local government EROs to decide on how to implement the Law.

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17/07/2012

IER Update – Compulsory registration

Filed under: Electoral,Local Government,Strategy,Technology — lenand @ 10:48 am
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To be fair, the IER Progress Presentation July 2012 did not use the word ‘compulsory’ for voter registration, but the meaning is clear.

  • “Opt-out” dropped
  • Civil penalty for people who refuse to register ….but ERO must take steps before can be used

This is the result of the consultation process for the Electoral Reform Act (2012).  The objective is to reduce risk of losing voters with more levers to drive registration and to build a more accurate register during the transition to the new scheme.  Believers in our democratic system should be pleased – the current method is too incredible for foreigners to believe.

We have also been given an overview of the IER Digital Service.

IER System Architecture

This separates the web application used by the citizen with two centrally controlled and hosted systems.  One is run by DWP and the other by the System Owner (Cabinet Office or DCLG?).  Local Authorities (LA1 to LA400+) are expected buy and operate a system from one of four Electoral Management Systems (EMSA to EMSB).  The lines and boxes are easy to draw, but what are the implications to the local Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and their ICT service departments?

Some more questions spring to mind:

  1.  If citizens have to register on the national site, what local credentials do they have to provide?
  2. Does the DWP verification imply that somewhere they hold a register of all voters? If so, how does this map to the national policy not to hold national identification scheme?
  3. How much trust can the LA put on the identity of the voter, knowing that DWP data is 34% inaccurate?

No doubt all will become clear in due course and the risk register will be opened up to let us all see the major concerns.   The Cabinet Office “want to talk to as many people as necessary – what forums, groups and networks do you know of that could help spread the word?

SOCITM should be high up the list of organisations to help in the impact assessment to local authority ICT systems.  The current register may have additional local uses that have not yet hit the radar.

17/06/2012

Central must go Local

Filed under: Governance,Local Government,Risk — lenand @ 7:22 pm
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“With pressure to reduce spending, it is more important than ever that central government engages effectively with local government to draw on its expertise and capability in designing and delivering good quality, efficient public services.”

 The Great E-mancipator led me to this quote from a National Audit Office report “Central government’s communication and engagement with local government“.

They were not pulling punches when they wrote, ” insufficient engagement with fire and rescue authorities was one factor that led to a major project to replace control rooms being cancelled in 2010. The project did not have the support of the majority of the end-users essential to its success, which wasted a minimum of £469 million“.

DCLG are doing more now, but are other big central government departments actively improving communications and engagement?  What is the risk of similar wastage on Universal Credit, Individual Voter Registration and all things connected to e-Identities?  They should check their risk registers this week – and make sure they have enough LA engagement.

 

 

14/06/2012

IER (aka IVR): data matching shambles

Filed under: Electoral,Governance,Local Government,Politics — lenand @ 1:45 pm
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Individual Electoral Registration (IER, and also previously known as IVR, or Individual Voter Registration) is the subject of many Cabinet Office papers. Over 400 Councils, their Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and their ICT departments are faced with one almighty problem to get it operating smoothly in time for the 2015 general election.

The lack of preparation was apparent by November 2011. The Cabinet Office have developed a framework and run a number of data matching pilots with LAs.  The results are no surprise.

“Of the data sets tested in the pilot the DWP data set had the highest match rate (the proportion of the electoral register that could be successfully matched within the national data). On average, two- thirds of the electoral register (66 per cent) could be matched within this data set.”

This is typical for the quality of data matching between local and central government data bases. The experience with the Child Index (aka ContactPoint) and the Data Connects work contains innumerable lessons that have not been learnt. More effort should have been placed on developing an implementation framework that assumes that data quality will be poor.   We all know that 90% of data cleansing effort goes into error handling and the Cabinet Office should not assume that data matching will be good enough.

The fact is that quality isn’t good enough is reinforced by the March Electoral Commission report. To quote:

“The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.”

In effect we have lost at least two years in the programme. It will be no surprise if this is proclaimed as Yet Another Government IT Failure (YAGIF). It will not be a failure of ICT, but a failure of mandarins to understand how LAs operate.

A Cabinet Office key finding is:

 “Generally, the level of public interest or concern regarding the pilots was reported to be low”

A cynic might think IVR can fail without embarrassment – Electoral Reform is in the portfolio of the Deputy Prime Minister.

15/05/2012

IER: Matching Mayhem

The Cabinet Office recently published a number of papers on the  Introduction of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.  With barely a third of electors bothering to vote in local elections, what is the likely impact of any new processes in increasing the number of voters?  It does not feature in any of the documents.  Reducing fraud and increasing accuracy seems to be the driver – not democratic accountability.

  • It is a widely held view that the current system for registration is vulnerable to fraud and a public perception that this allows electoral fraud to occur.
  • Individual Electoral Registration (IER) should therefore improve the accuracy of the register and allow people to register in different ways. 

The preferred option is to pre-populate the electoral register with electors who can be validated against public data sources in 2014/15 and then require the remaining electorate, future house movers, and new voters to register (and have their registration validated) from 2014/15 onwards.

As previously reported by Quarkside, the scary part is the data matching against public data sources by 400+ local authority Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). “…confirmation is expected to pre-populate the register with 57% of the eligible electorate“, leaving 43% to be found by other means.  This assumption is derived from the 2012 Electoral Commission report on Data matching schemes.  Delving deeper into this, we find a startling recommendation that

  • The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.

Not only that, the poor quality of the matching data showed:

  • … the average match in the pilot areas using Department for Work and Pensions data was 66%.

And everybody knows, the highest costs are the result of solving poor data quality problems.  Has this been factored into the Cabinet Office calculations.

  • The process, as tested in these pilots, was labour intensive with significant work required to analyse the data. Those involved felt that the level of work required would not be sustainable in the future.

The prognosis is not good – but we shall battle on regardless of all the warnings emanating from Local Government EROs and computer service departments.  We need a secure, consistent, governance framework that can be followed by all Councils – at a price the nation can afford.

22/11/2011

IVR: Invisible Voter Registration

Filed under: Governance,Politics — lenand @ 9:38 am
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IVR, or Individual Voter Registration, will have a huge democratic impact if it is implemented in time for a General Election in 2015.

The scale of the administrative changes should not be under-estimated.  The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Report noted that electoral administrators had raised concerns that the lack of detail from Government means that  “as every month passes, it is going to get extremely difficult to ensure that the system is totally workable and that the necessary IT systems that will support that system are in place

As Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said: “The [Missing Millions] report is welcome reading for anyone interested in our democracy. Westminster was sleepwalking towards a catastrophic drop in voter registration. We’re pleased politicians have finally woken up to the problem. These missing millions are avoidable, and the government must now take heed.

The message may have reached Westminster, but has it reached the all the implementers yet?  Local Authorities will be in the front-line via their Electoral Registration Officers.  No doubt many of the 400+ EROs will be aware of impending change, but are their Leaders of the Council?  And are their IT services planning for the necessary changes?  From additional evidence of one chance meeting in Whitehall yesterday, the answer is “No“.

 

 

28/10/2011

Secure money saver

How many confidential or official documents must be sent by the post? Bank statements, payslips, licence renewals, invoices,… Why can’t they be sent electronically? The over-riding reason is to guarantee a real address.

The “Private and Confidential” sticker is irrelevant once it has been delivered to the household, but the sender has done as much as they can – or have they? Shouldn’t the recipient have the choice of asking for such documents being sent to a secure, encrypted, email inbox?

The benefits to the recipient are:

  • Password, or token, protection to keep mails private and confidential.
  • Correspondence filed electronically
  • Readable from any location
  • Fewer paper cuts

The benefits to the sender, often public sector organisations, are far greater:

  • Reduced postal charges; 12 payslips a year must cost at least £2. That’s £2000 if you have a thousand pension payments to make.
  • Guaranteed delivery; there’s an audit trail to see if a document has been delivered and opened.
  • Interception free delivery and fewer non-delivery complaints to manage.
  • Ability to implement closed invoicing and payment processes with minimal intervention from administrators.

So here is a business proposition for the Local Authorities  (LAs) or the Post Office. Offer citizens a free, secure, encrypted, email inbox on a GCloud service. Offer any public or private sector organisation a secure, encrypted, traceable, email service at a sustainable annual fee. Some citizens may also wish to subscribe to a secure Web-based outbox for replying to secure inbox messages, or even to initiate communications.

The key to success is to link a secure email address with a property and a person.   Local Authorities have knowledge of the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) and at least one person responsible for paying Council Tax. They could minimise the risk of fraud by sanity checking the number of secure email accounts at each property.  LAs must lead on this innovation. There’s lots of work to do on the detail, but the good thing is that there’s an Agile solution because the basic facilities are available out of the box. Quarkside is trialling them now.

At some time in the future, this service could stimulate interest from the Electoral Registration Transformation Programme (ERTP, IVR and EIR are among the abbreviations). You read it here first.

19/10/2011

7DIG: Identify Risk with Confidence

Filed under: Governance,Risk — lenand @ 10:35 am
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Using Confidence to Identify Risks

Rather than starting the search for risks in a negative way, Quarkside recommends using the reverse psychology to ask about success – “How confident are you that targets will be met?” Asking about confidence levels not only helps to identify risks, it shows a positive view rather than a negative one.  Simple bar charts can be used to show targets, changes of opinion and alerts for areas of concern felt by staff.

Average Confidence

The chart above may look gloomy, but this was the state of play in a large public sector project. It was the result of interviewing many levels of staff.

  • Anything below 50% confidence is worth further investigation and should be entered in the risk log.  Immediate risk reduction action should be taken.
  •  For intermediate levels of confidence, say between 50% and 75%, risk log entries should reflect the reduced level of risk.  The root cause for reduced confidence should be investigated.
  • Even if there is high confidence of success, greater than 75%, then there should be a risk log entry if the impact of failure is high.

Without claiming intellectual rigour,

Risk Probability% = 100% – Confidence%

Managers are comfortable with this concept – high confidence equates to low risk and vice versa.  Discussion helps people to accept that simple quantification of risks is neither difficult nor threatening.

Confidence Management Process

Confidence Management Process

It may be old-fashioned, but Quarkside is a proponent of managing to a baseline, or vision or goal or whatever you want to call it.  Lets also call them strategic objectives.  The main point is that they are organisation wide, and that leadership has ensured that everybody understands and has bought into them.

Interviews are carried out using a one-page questionnaire that records levels of confidence.  A five-point scale ranges from totally confident to minimally confident.  Subsequently, values from 90% to 10% are allocated.  The analyst can also select extreme values, say 100% or 0%, if the interviewee stresses strong opinions during the course of an interview.  Comments on the reasons for low values are welcomed – highlighting the root cause of a risk if raised by several interviewees.

To encourage open and frank responses, an independent interviewer asks questions in confidence and ensures that comments are not attributable to a specific person.  Interview data is analysed and presented in a report.  The contents include commentary on areas of high and low confidence and references to the risk log.

After several months second and subsequent reports discuss the change in confidence levels since the previous report.  A change chart graphically indicates the effect of risk reduction since the previous review.  The process provides feedback into the risk management control loop.

Most importantly it supports the risk management process by flushing out risks that may not have been formalised.  In extreme circumstances, it could contribute to a decision to change the baseline business or project targets.

Experience

The method has shown benefits in £billion programmes – but it could be applied in any form of project – even Agile ones.    Some key findings were:

    • Confidential, non-attributable interviews help to open up discussions and identify root causes of problems.  It allows comment at peer level that might not surface in the presence of overbearing managers
    •   The initial interview requires a few minutes to explain the concepts and establish understanding of the business objectives.  Subsequent interviews are quicker to execute and frank answers are obtained in less than one hour.
    •  The questioning technique encourages managers to think more quantitatively about business targets and the probability of achieving them.  They feel comfortable that 90% confidence has a residual 10% risk, and that it is fair to include it in a risk log.
    • Levels of confidence can diverge extremely between interviewees.  Whether lack of communication or “head in sand”, it is useful data worthy of further investigation.
    • In programmes experiencing difficulties, the results provide a focus for debate at board level.  One organisation used the results to renegotiate a major contract.
    • Even with generally satisfactory levels of confidence, it is worth investigating the target with the lowest confidence.  One internal audit team raised a security risk with an impact greater than £1 billion; procedures were tightened.  This is the company-threatening risk that is missed by using traditional risk matrices and resulted in the Risk Index to be described in the final section.

Looking to the future, the method should be used on all public sector programmes that rely on computer information for success eg Universal Credit, Health Service ICT, Individual Electoral Registration,  the Government ICT Strategy and Identity Management.

            

08/03/2011

IVR: Politics prevents progress.

Filed under: Politics,Privacy — lenand @ 10:22 pm
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Eurim has produced excellent evidence from overseas to feed into the the Individual Voter Registration (IVR) programme – to be introduced in 2014 under the Political Parties and Elections Act (2009).

The big questions are whether the objectives will be met:

  • greater accuracy of electoral registers
  • greater citizen confidence in the democratic system
  • less scope for fraud.

Both the full report and the summary from Eurim had four main findings:

  1. Two distinct trends are discernible in the responses from overseas, between those countries which treat the electoral register almost exclusively for electoral purposes (‘Commonwealth’ or ‘common law’ heritage) and those that create a multi-purpose population register, either at national or municipal level (‘continental’ heritage).
  2. Compulsory registration does not work unless underpinned by other processes: e.g. in Australia large numbers of voters may remain unregistered.
  3. All sampled common law and continental countries require proof of identity to register the voter; only the UK does not.
  4. Countries that operate data matching to maintain a population register, to transfer data with other public bodies, or that allow citizens to view or amend their personal data, do so through secured systems.

The UK is a long way behind most countries.  It’s as though we want to remain backward by rejecting perfectly reasonable solutions.  We mistrust public sector stewardship of personal data.

  • We don’t yet know the results of the data matching trials.  Our experience with Contactpoint should demonstrate how difficult this must be.
  • We don’t have agreement on how to issue credentials for eID.  There’s a battle about whether a root identity is needed or not.
  • Politicians have a morbid fear of a totalitarian government taking hold of registers and creating a single database of all citizens.  The national Identity Card had a lot of opposition, not just No2ID.

Politicians are the key to making progress – but leaving IVR up to over 400 separate voter registration authorities to select their own software doesn’t augur well for meeting the deadline of the 2015 General Election.

28/02/2011

eID: Apps need Assertions

Filed under: Electoral,Policy,Strategy,Technology,Time — lenand @ 8:49 am
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eID in a federated environment has many complex governance aspects.  It does have a major impact in the applications which may use it.  Stian Sigvartsen has been running a blog for a couple of months on “Achieving a federated single view of the customer“.  The benefit of the postings is an exposure of some technical detail.  Take a look if you are that way inclined.

The broader message is that the human brain is the most cost effective processor of short lists of potential identity matches.  Matches are often obvious when combined with local knowledge and it is possible make assertions of identity with an indication of probability.  Records would show the eID of the asserter and a time stamp.  All assertions can be then incorporated into incrementally improving federated searches.  Audit trails would then be so much easier to follow.

These concepts need to be built into all identity registration schemes, such as Individual Voter Registration.

 

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