Data is social power
RSA is working with the Open Public Services Network to explore whether data on schools can be opened up and communicated to parents and others in ways that are most useful to them. It’s a fascinating proposition, and OPSN has gathered together some terrific number crunchers, headteachers and other thinkers to help us think through the process. The statistical issues makes my liberal-arts head hurts at times, but the project could help government, schools and all those organisations between them to create and transmit different kinds of data that really matter in different ways.
And yet… the OPSN grew out of RSA’s Public Services 2020 Commission, whose final report centred on the notion of social productivity – that public services aren’t reducible to consumer propositions, but are social exchanges. Brilliant public services can only be created with their users. This education data project, and possibly all of this government’s worthwhile attempts to make data more open transparent, concentrate on data as a way to make parents better informed consumers of schools. Better information will lead to better choice (or at least, better ‘preferences’), and these choices might drive improved school performance.
But what if this is just the start, and the potential power of data is much greater? Are there ways to use data that will encourage and help consumers of public services to become participants, citizens, co-creators of better outcomes, not just for themselves, but for the wider public good? To borrow from Matthew’s annual lecture, opening up data might be transferring power directly from hierarchical authority to individual aspiration, bypassing possibilities for social solidarity.
I can’t think of any examples in education, let alone in other public services. Perhaps the recent National Pupil Data Hack Day will produce some answers. Or maybe there are examples already out there, and I am boldly going where lots of people already are.