The road to data-driven governance

Governments can use analytics to find the pain points of citizens and respond

With the rise in social awareness and increase in number of tech savvy citizens, governments are also changing their governance style. They are adopting data mining techniques for pre-emptively responding to pain points of citizens and steering strategies.

In the recent past, there have been several instances of people receiving instant assistance from government authorities after they posted tweets for help. Data science played a critical role in digging out the plea of citizens from amidst numerous posts on social media, prompting government authorities to take note and respond.

Participative governance

Data science can significantly transform the governance landscape and help the government steer its mission mode programmes such as Digital India and Swachh Bharat. It can also enhance operational efficiencies, measure risk, formulate new policies, make faster decisions and do much more.

A combination of techniques such as text analytics, contextual analysis and sentiment scoring could be performed on the data sourced from government departments as well as from solicited (MyGov — a participative governance forum) and unsolicited feedback channels (social media and blogs).

These techniques can help monitor the performance of key programmes and take corrective measures based on the outcome of analysis. In fact, intelligent data from analytics could help revive strategies, kick-start new discussions or seed the formulation of new policies or programmes.

Take the case of MyGov. It is curating the inputs and suggestions received to gauge the pulse of citizens and extract actionable insights for influencing the government. The portal’s performance is also optimised by tracking user impressions and response patterns; content and outreach strategies are based on factors such as user demographics, visitors’ behaviour, bounce rate and digital footprint.

Harvesting data

The Centre can fully reap the benefits of analytics by putting the colossal citizen data lying in its repository to optimum use. Currently, different government departments are operating with their databanks in silos. These databanks of people’s information — Aadhaar, Election Commission, Census, National Population Register authorities — and several other departments could be unified under the umbrella of analytics.

This unified data could be integrated with the central beneficiary and financial databases for effective dissemination of beneficiary schemes as well as citizen services.

Moreover, open data from the Internet could also be unified for extracting comprehensive insights. Also, public private partnership model - as seen in passport seva - may help in efficient service delivery to citizens.

Privacy concerns

Opening up the data to PSUs, system integrators, NGOs or other organisations in the social sector could pose risks of unauthorised use or exploitation of data, especially for unlawful activities. Privacy matters to some, but does not matter to others.

Self-styled activists, bothered by privacy violations, could block the benefits for those at the bottom of the pyramid who would be least concerned about privacy since they are nevertheless struggling with basics such as food and shelter. So why not put the data to beneficial use and create a lasting impact in society. A middle path too can be considered with people being given the option to opt out of data sharing.

The information, insights and patterns generated from analytics could usher a new era in governance helped by intelligent information. There is no looking back for analytics as more and more government authorities intensify their reliance on data science for decision-making and strategising.

That said, there are also many barricades in the road for analytics. With the increase in the degree of granularity, it is often difficult to decide which data to use and determine the extent of detailing to be done.

The implementation might be unsuccessful owing to the lack or substandard quality of data; this problem would only magnify with the rise in data volume. So, it is important to have a certain level of information maturity, right resources in terms of people and infrastructure, and an appropriate strategic alignment in place.

The writer is Leader, Government and Public Sector, PwC India

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