United Arab Emirates: Informed Consent: How Government Can Unlock Value From Data

Last Updated: 3 August 2017
Article by Cristian Carstoiu and Farhan Syed

Many governments are looking to gain a more complete picture of their citizens as they try to better respond to the public's changing needs. The public sector faces a number of challenges in persuading citizens to share more personal data, and a recent series of Twitter polls conducted by KPMG's Global Government and Public Sector network suggest that trust among citizens around data sharing remains low.1

To succeed in winning over a skeptical public, focus should shift towards transparency, an essential foundation for building trust, and articulating the benefit of using data to add value to people's lives.

Private sector articulates value better

Citizens now voluntarily share more information with the private sector than government. Think of everything we share on social media, and with online shopping platforms. But why? Because the private sector is better at articulating its value proposition, and once it gets your data, it retains, arranges and shares it efficiently within their organizations to personalize its product or service offerings. If done well, customer loyalty and revenues surge. One example is Amazon's personalized recommendations engine which now makes up 35% of its total product sales.2

Government, on the other hand, has struggled to shake the image of monopolistic provider, offering citizens limited control over the personal information it holds, and providing fewer personalized services in return. Often, with different branches of government asking for the same details time and time again.

A general distrust affects confidence in data handling

Citizens in several jurisdictions have expressed a growing distrust3 of government and politics in general. This doesn't bode well for governments looking to persuade their citizens to part with more personal information.

This is especially true in individualistic societies, such as the UK and the US, where the public continues to express a desire for greater "control" in their interactions with government.

A growing number of governments are experimenting with the concept of "control" by putting privacy and information sharing into the hands of the people in the form of user consent. The emergence of mobile apps offers the opportunity to test consent-based models that allow governments to work with citizens to share their information with third party providers, trusted parties and loved ones – both Howz4 and Evergreen Life5 are good examples of apps that help advance the power of consent in real time when it comes to sharing personal information, such as health records.

Data risk to data value

In the UK, government has tended to focus on the security and protection of data sets, rather than on communicating proactively about the potential of greater information sharing. For good reason, security and protection are critical pre-requisites, as realized in the Child Benefits recipient's loss in 2007.6 As well, the lack of popular support and privacy concerns have historically undermined high profile programs, like National Identity Cards7 in 2011 and more recently Care.Data.8 Both contributed to public nervousness about the use of personal data but highlighted the need for government to communicate their intentions clearly to citizens with regards to data, in addition to the potential benefits.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)9 is redrawing the boundaries of government responsibilities and relationships relating to citizen privacy and control, increasingly focusing on the transparency, auditability, and granular consent from citizens themselves for sharing data. Despite Brexit, the UK also intends to implement the GDPR in May 2018.

The UK National Data Guardian (NDG) is another good example of a government organization focused on creating a more informed public on the use of their data and the benefits of sharing. Understandability, granularity, and timeliness of consent are key themes throughout a recentreport.10

Actions government can take to ease data sharing

1. Adopt greater transparency and communication.

Governments have seldom seen the need to publicize the results of their dealings with citizens' data. Traditional consultations and methods of communicating with the public about data are not dynamic and inclusive enough. More and more it is about using newer channels, in addition to traditional ones, to reach the broadest set of stakeholders as rapidly as possible. 

2. Communicate best-practice and success stories.

Even when data is used creatively and appropriately, the benefits are not always there for people to see. Publicizing the success and long-term benefits of data best-practices would help make a more robust case to the public for sharing more personal information. The largely untapped body of best-practice cases could be used to showcase the long-term benefits data sharing, while building a stronger case for more permissive public attitudes.

3. Link existing data to provide a clear, higher-value service offering.

Governments, for the most part, remain siloed and one of the greatest challenges in the public sector's handling of data remains the lack of data linking.  Linked data is in its early days in the UK, but the opportunities to measurably improve the personalization and efficiency of services is clear.

We also need to be thinking about the impact of consent and opt-out based models now or we may not be able to achieve the value we need from more joined up and inclusive information sharing.

4. Lead a public debate on data sharing and the ethics of data use.

I would love to see governments lead an inclusive debate on the ethics of data use. As organizations get better at combining and analyzing data sets, with more powerful tools and techniques, we must establish common principles of ethical and responsible data use. This could result in a number of positive outputs, including inputting into national legislative and regulatory baselines on the handling of sensitive data, and establishing views of data sharing across new trade boundaries.

What does success look like?

In the end, to gain greater license to use more information about its citizens, government can become more actively transparent in its dealings with personal data, and make proactive strides towards communicating its value more clearly in ways its citizen's will understand. Balancing consent and trust with efficiency of service delivery certainly remains a huge challenge.  

Success would mean a majority of the public who not only consent to sharing more of their personal information, but understand the value in doing so, and are motivated to update their information on a voluntary basis. With this support, governments can embrace more ambitious data initiatives leading to better, and more citizen-centered services without the fear of disruption or the loss of good-will.


1 KPMG's Global Government & Public Sector network conducted a series of seven polls on Twitter relating to public trust and government use of data between October 2016 and February 2017. The polls received a cumulative 107,924 votes.
2 The Power of Personalized Product Recommendations. (2017, March 09). Retrieved March 13, 2017.
3 Trust in Government. (n.d.). Retrieved March and April, 2017.
4 howz
5 evergreenlife
6 UK's families put on fraud alert. (2007, November 20). Retrieved March 13, 2017.
7 Identity cards and new Identity and Passport Service suppliers. (2013, March 26). Retrieved May 13, 2017.
8 Boseley, S. (2016, July 06). NHS to scrap single database of patients' medical details. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
9 (Regulation (EU) 2016/679
10 Review of data security, consent and opt-outs

2 May 2017

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