Saturday 4 March 2017

Why do they need this?

I'm a big fan of letting NGOs benchmark their effectiveness using government data. But I don't quite get why the government needs NGOs to collect some of this information on their behalf.

Here goes.

The government holds a huge amount of linked administrative data on all of us in the Integrated Data Infrastructure. All kinds of stuff can be linked up in the back end, under some pretty tight access controls.

The government's now demanding client information from NGOs who are the contracted service delivery arms for the Ministry of Social Development.
The Privacy Commissioner is investigating the Government's demand for client information in exchange for funds, after non-profit groups raised concerns.

The Ministry of Social Development's (MSD) new requirement for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to supply identifying client information has blindsided non-profit groups.

Every person accessing MSD-funded services must agree to share their personal details – including their name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, iwi, as well as dependents' names, dates of birth and relationships to client – for the funding to be released.

NGOs are adamant this requirement was not made obvious in the tender process.
If the NGO provides the government with their clients' names and unique identifiers (health identification number, for example), then all the other stuff should be able to be pulled in at the back end without bothering clients about it. Gender, date of birth, ethnicity and dependants should all be linked up via census records, for example. Why ask for stuff that the government already has?

At the same time, I can see a great case for making it easier for these kinds of NGOs to have their own work benchmarked. All they should have to do is go to the Social Investment Unit, give SIU the unique identifiers for the clients they're helping, and the outcomes they're targeting. SIU would tell them whether that outcome data is in IDI or not. If it is, it should be pretty simple to build synthetic control groups matched on the ex ante characteristics of the NGO's clients and then see whether the treated group shows improvement as compared to the synthetic control.

Imagine if charities could include, in their donation appeal, that kind of credible indication of their effectiveness in improving outcomes for the people they work with. It would help enable effective altruism.

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