Friday, January 10, 2014

Database State - Executive Summary

This significant report was published in 2009. It reviews 46 databases used across government and observes that:

 "All of these systems had a rationale and purpose. But this report shows how, in too many cases, the public are neither served nor protected by the increasingly complex and intrusive holdings of personal information invading every aspect of our lives."

Of course since this was published Edward Snowden's revelations have been revealed to a surprisingly unknowing citizenery.  But it is worth relooking at the findings by Ross Anderson and his colleagues in the 2009 report in the light of the Snowden revelations and my earlier posting about the NHS centralised data opt-out possibility. They found that:
  • A quarter of the public-sector databases reviewed are almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law; they should be scrapped or substantially redesigned. More than half have significant problems with privacy or effectiveness and could fall foul of a legal challenge. 
  • Fewer than 15% of the public databases assessed in this report are effective, proportionate and necessary, with a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions. Even so, some of them still have operational problems. 
  • Britain is out of line with other developed countries, where records on sensitive matters like
    healthcare and social services are held locally. In Britain, data is increasingly centralised, and shared between health and social services, the police, schools, local government and the taxman.
  • The benefits claimed for data sharing are often illusory. Sharing can harm the vulnerable, not least by leading to discrimination and stigmatisation. 
  • The UK public sector spends over £16 billion a year on IT. Over £100 billion in spending is planned for the next five years, and even the Government cannot provide an accurate figure for cost of its ‘Transformational Government’ programme. Yet only about 30% of government IT projects succeed.
So as to better appreciate the extent of on-going systemic failure in this field it is worth reading Geoffrey Sampson's article:
Whistleblowing for health
Geoffrey Sampson

The University of South Africa
This paper offers a concise account of what was possibly the largest-scale failure ever in the
history of software engineering, namely the British National Health Service “Connecting for
Health” project. The failure offers important lessons about the rôle of professional expertise
and the impotence of authority in the software development process.

Word has it that the English government is at long last about to scrap the NPfIT. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Avoiding the systemic mis-use of data

Those who live in England will shortly be faced with the prospect of a little white and blue leaflet from the NHS landing on their welcome mat.  As outlined in this article in The Independent under the heading '“Better information means better care”, this innocuous piece of paper will outline one of the biggest transformations of the way the NHS handles our confidential data for decades.' 

I think there are strong arguments for opting out of this arrangement which the state seeks to impose upon us.  Safeguards and institutions that ensure privacy remain inadequate. 

Like so many government initiated IT projects (e.g. the National Programme for IT) this one has also been a project that is very complex, and 'has been beset by confusion, delays and misinformation.'

If you wish to opt out copies of a leaflet for you to print or e-mail to friends and family can be downloaded from

Systems Thinking in Action

From Gene Bellinger:

  • Group: Systems Thinking in Action
  • Subject: STW becomes STiA with new Group Rules

What the caterpillar calls death, the butterfly calls life.

In an attempt to evolve and go where no LinkedIn group has gone before, as far as we know that is, the group previously known as Systems Thinking World is now Systems Thinking in Action.

The intent is to promote discussions which enable collaborative learning development in a manner that may be of immediate value to others who haven't participated in all the posts to that point, and don't have the time to review all the previous posts, which in some cases may mean hundreds. In support of this there is now a new set of group rules.

When you read the new rules, which is strongly encouraged, please note that nothing has actually been eliminated. We've moved some things around a bit and added a new dimension which we hope will foster collaborative learning development.

* Group Rules:

Those discussions in the discussion area that are not consistent with the new group rules will be allowed to run their course and fade into the background over time.

Whether what is intended will actually come to pass remains to be seen. Consider this the next experiment in learning.

be well,
Gene Bellinger
Host of Systems Thinking in Action

2014 Cybersystemic Events - EMCSR, Vienna

From Stefan Blachfellner:

"Welcome to the EMCSR 2014!

We wish you a happy and succesful new year. It will be a great year. We have started last year with the preparation of the upcoming EMCSR 2014. Our Call for Symposia generated a strong response and we are happy to invite you to participate again in the European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research in Vienna, 22nd to 25th of April 2014.

Over 39 letters of intent were received after our call for symposia from individuals or groups representing a variety of different communities of academics and practitioners. The geographical origin of the symposia proposals goes beyond the European Union; it includes Russia, the Ukraine, Turkey, Israel and Palestine, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and the United States. Besides, there is a strong participation by Austrian Universities. But we were most excited when three trajectories emerged through this wonderful community participation.

The EMCSR 2014 will be guided by three story lines, each comprised by the perspectives of concepts, applications and bridges between academia and practice:
I. Sustainability and Development
II. Emergence and Design
III. Complexity and Strategy
Before Christmas 2013 we could put the bulk of the Calls for papers 2014 online. Since 20 December the call for the PhD Colloquium and Award has been open. The submission system is ready for your use. The registration website went online with the start of the new year.

We heartly invite you to participate and submit your contribution, to share, to showcase and to co-create insights and actions with the EMCSR community!

Help us to disseminate the Calls for Participation and Papers and support the growth of our community by referring your friends and peers either to our newsletter on our website or to one of our social media channels.

EMCSR in the Social Media Sphere

EMCSR is supported by a variety of different social networking opportunities, including Facebook, Twitter, and in the process also YouTube and Flickr. We will be sharing our blog activities and provide you with many valuable and interesting news, updates and behind the scenes info.

Don’t miss the opportunity to network with conference attendees and non-atttendees around the topics of cybernetics and systems research.

Please come along and follow us in these spaces as well - become a fan of EMCSR on Facebook and a follower on Twitter.

In this way you can keep up with the latest news and grow your EMCSR network! You are welcome to join, share and engage!

Also, if you have any links to articles, videos or images relating to the subjects of the conference or would like to promote anything related to your own work, please send us links and we’d be happy to include and promote them! In addition, if you have any suggestions or questions, don't hesitate to message us at and we try to get back to you as soon as possible!

Please note that you can unsubscribe from our newsletter at any time (see the end of this email), if you decide you don’t want to receive regular mails from us.

The meetings have always been a place for interaction and connecting people and their ideas. Our online social spaces act as an extension for our dialogue and we encourage you to take part!

Looking forward to welcome you in Vienna soon!

Best Regards on behalf of the whole EMCSR 2014 team,