Never say public servants can’t achieve new heights in risk aversion. Yesterday the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released a paper on “public service data management”, meant to “deliver a roadmap to unlock the potential of public sector data to drive innovation, efficiency, productivity and economic growth”.

Sounds great, right? Even though it was commissioned under Tony Abbott, it’s sounds all innovatey and agiley and Turnbullesque. But go to the section on risk management for some prize shinyarsery. Identified as one of the “five key risks to transforming the way the Commonwealth manages public sector data” is

Adverse policy findings
• Risk that information is released which could lead to unfavourable findings about policy effectiveness”

Wait, what? So PM&C think it’s something to be worried about that people might use public data to identify that government policies have failed? And how does it propose to address this horror scenario?

• Enable trusted access to linked data in a secure environment where the use of data can be tracked
• Develop protocol on releasing findings
• Build productive relationships with researchers”

That is – surveil who accesses your data, restrict how it is released, and try to stop researchers from saying bad things about you. Thank goodness the command-and-control mindset hasn’t gone away in the new era of agility.

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