“…governments should provide an electronic identity system and other digital infrastructure to support both teams across government and organisations beyond the public sector. In the internet era, governments should see software and data as an essential, enabling platform for others’ activity, with new security technologies now addressing previous concerns over identity systems.”
– Foreward by former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change issued a report called Transforming Government for the 21st Century that challenges governments to adopt “decentralized electronic identity systems.” In the report, the Institute challenges governments to define their priorities and explore ways in which technology can be used to improve their ability to deliver public services.
Here are the key takeaways —
Principles of transformation
The report provides three foundational guidelines for governments adopting new technologies: purposeful governance, enabling infrastructure, and responsive institutions.
1. Purposeful governance
“First, governments must be strong and purposeful in their policy priorities, using their unique position to set the agenda for the nation and updating their approaches to policymaking to support everyone working to support it.”
The report calls on governments to define their strategic priorities, invest in public and private efforts to achieve those goals, and develop regulatory sandboxes and friendly regulations to aid those businesses that support their endeavors.
2. Enabling infrastructure
“Second, governments must be enabling by providing public services and infrastructure that allow individuals, communities, businesses and the public sector to achieve their potential.”
Empowering citizens with decentralized identity systems forms the cornerstone of the report’s suggestions, which also call for APIs to accompany the deployment of new services as well as outsourcing and centralizing data functions across departments of government.
3. Responsive institutions
“Third, the institutions of governments must be able to respond quickly to the needs and opportunities of a world characterised by accelerating technological change.”
In order to streamline the administration of public services, governments need to establish policies for technology and data use, deploy teams responsible for developing incremental business cases within the government, and invest in education and opportunities for career advancement for civil service workers.
A nod to decentralized identity
Issued just weeks after Facebook mentioned its aspirations of building an “open identity standard,” the report shows that decentralized (also referred to as “self-sovereign”) identity is gaining interest at higher levels of public and private organizations. Spearheading the adoption of decentralized identity systems can enable public and private-sector organizations to remove friction from their ability to deliver products and services. Advocating for the deployment of decentralized identity to citizens before businesses, however, raises a “chicken and egg” problem that many professionals working to develop decentralized identity struggle with.
Decentralized identity requires network effects to be truly effective, so citizens, businesses, and public sector organizations need to be using digital wallets and credentials made using protocols for decentralized identity in order to maximize the potential benefits. Achieving the full potential of decentralized identity means developing standards for issuing credentials to businesses, devices, and individuals that act on behalf of citizens in addition to the citizens themselves.
Ultimately, what we need is a network of identity holders, issuers, and verifiers.
Effectively using decentralized identity technology requires the development of standardized protocols for identifying the organizations issuing ID in addition to the citizens receiving it. Developing protocols for issuing credentials to different types of individuals and organizations needs to be done in parallel to ensure compatibility between these different systems. That said, the public and private-sector organizations that adopt these technologies first will have a significant competitive advantage over those lacking the benefits provided by decentralized identity.
The public sector has rarely been known to be progressive when it comes to technology adoption, but the report offers practical steps that governments can take to improve their effectiveness in delivering public services.
In his foreword to the report, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair calls out governments for failing to adopt technologies that aid in accomplishing their goals. From Blair’s perspective, “Public services, delivery capacity and industrial strategy all lag behind where they should be.” Given how slow some governments have been to embrace technology, it’s interesting to see the potential of decentralized identity recognized in the public sector before it’s achieved much recognition among consumers or the private sector.