Digital Transformation

Tell Us Once: Legislation for Citizen-Centric Digital Government

From 2m:50s in her webinar presentation Teresa D’Andrea of the Canadian Government describes three main foundations essential to Digital Government architecture:

  1. Digital Identity – Sign In Canada, enabling secure access to government services using a choice of trusted digital identities.
  2. The CDXP – An API platform for enabling real-time information sharing between applications.
  3. Policy and legislation – The modernization of the laws that govern data sharing.

Tell Us Once

Teresa then goes on to explain #2 in detail, with #1 explained in these slides from Po Tea-Duncan.

To explore #3 we can focus in on a very simple but powerful concept of ‘Tell Us Once’ legislation.

Tell Us Once, also called ‘Once Only’, is an approach pioneered in Europe by the likes of Estonia, a policy where having provided your data to one government agency, you’ll never be asked for it again from another, defined explicitly through legislation.

The concept is very simple – Tell one government agency an information update, eg. your change of postal address, and have all agencies receive and action that update.

It would mandate by law the outcome citizens wants from their Digital Government, a simplified user experience that eliminates all unnecessary bureaucracy, without over-prescribing the technical means to achieve it.

The EU has published research reports and explanatory videos to encourage widespread take up. As New Yorker magazine highlights describing Estonia as the Digital Republic:

“They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories.”

Estonia achieve this capability by marrying the legislation with the their ‘X-Road’ system, a national middleware backbone that connects every user to every government application, a model Canada is setting out to emulate via their modernized equivalent, the CDXP.

As David Eaves highlights, the Harvard Kennedy School has explored the application of this principle in their report.

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