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The Public Sector

Better citizen services through better use of data

Today, the public authorities have an incredible amount of data at their disposal. Unfortunately, that data is frequently not converted into targeted citizen and public services, which is a shame. The time is ripe for a paradigm shift from statistics to data science as the foundation for public services, forecasting and decision-making.

- By Jens Maagøe, VP Custom Application Development and Lars Andersen, VP Public & Healthcare, NNIT

Denmark is one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to digitalization; we have a public sector where digitalization has gone as far as it can. Unfortunately, we are not managing to use the vast amounts of data we have at our disposal to target efforts and services with high precision. And this is extremely frustrating because it would result in higher efficiency and greater satisfaction among citizens.

It is time to put the citizen at the center based on their specific situation – and others in the same or similar situations. In the near future, Denmark’s public sector will need to be able to provide personalized, citizen-focused services.

Denmark’s public sector must be able to provide guidance and relevant recommendations to citizens on the basis of citizen-focused data, without of course compromising on data protection. We will return to this, but first we will look at the structural preconditions for better use of data.

Focus intently on data
A number of agencies and regions have begun hiring data science specialists to support a data-driven approach to their decision-making and prioritization. This is good news, but one of the experiences from this process is that a disproportionate amount of time is still spent on resolving data and infrastructure challenges – and not on analyzing and using data in the services provided to citizens.

The infrastructure aspects are more generic, and it would therefore make sense for organizations to focus their own data science resources on the more specific and domain-dependent aspects – and then perhaps simply outsource the IT infrastructure aspects.

In the future, it will be a matter of hiring data science specialists (or consultants, when it is permitted again) who can contribute a digital picture of the world as it actually is – and who work in a focused way on converting data into improving citizen and public services.

The public sector in Denmark must be far more data-driven and focus on personal service and targeting instead of one-size-fits-all solutions based on general statistics. Fortunately, there are positive developments to be found at SKAT (the Danish tax authority), the Danish Business Authority and other organizations, and in various initiatives within data-driven supervision, where both the first and second steps have been taken towards a genuine data-driven organization.

Big gains to be made in the health sector
If we look at the current coronavirus pandemic and evaluate how efforts have been organized, there are many benefits in better use of data:

Instead of dividing the country into regions, and ultimately parishes, with the right data science specialists at hand it would have been possible to target restrictions there, and only there, where the outbreaks and risks emerged, thereby avoiding meaningless lockdowns.

We must also therefore dare to debate how we can make better use of personal data (in full compliance with GDPR), in this case to enable us to have a better social life with fewer restrictions. More specifically, citizens could have been given the opportunity to achieve greater social freedom in exchange for allowing temporary sharing of their personal data with the health authorities.

We must spotlight the specific benefits that the citizen can look forward to in permitting their personal data to be disclosed and shared anonymously so that large personal models can be built that can be used, for example, to develop more specific and personalized medicine, treatments, preventative programs, etc.

If the ‘smittestop’ contact tracing app, for example, had allowed precise sharing of where and when an individual had been in the vicinity of an infected person, the data would have been much more usable. If, at the same time, use of the app had been combined with access to otherwise suspended recreational activities, as has subsequently been done with the corona passport (coronapas), the citizen would have had a greater incentive to use it.

Beyond the COVID-19 efforts, we are also seeing that the entire health area can make quantum leaps forward with better utilization of personal data. It is basically a matter of allowing the conversion of our total experience (data) into specific knowledge across systems and then targeting efforts – in terms of both diagnosis and treatment – but also in terms of disseminating information to citizens so they feel better equipped to handle their own challenges – all with the citizen's approval of course.

This is where data science specialists and increased use of artificial intelligence can pave the way for the Danish healthcare system to get to know its patients much better, both as individuals and as part of a specific patient cohort. And it will greatly increase the quality of the healthcare system’s services to citizens, who will be able to anticipate being spoken to directly in relation to their specific situation – and not as part of the general population of Danish patients.

We need to see a shift from the rough, generalizing approach to the detailed, individualized approach. We can achieve this if we focus on the data obtained through digitalization while at the same time daring to debate the issues around privacy on a more nuanced basis.