Leviathan Seed Already Sown in Wyoming

The all-encompassing state data Leviathan will build on existing data systems in Wyoming. One of those, as mentioned earlier, is in the Department of Education and known as the Wyoming Integrated Statewide Education (WISE) data system. This connects data management applications within local school districts. Your child’s data goes into the local school district’s data system and is then disseminated to other school districts. WISE captures, stores, organizes and reports your child’s education data to interested stakeholders. This database was developed and built between 2005 and 2010 at a cost of about $5 million.

The database contains a unique record identifier for each student, an item identified in the 10 essential element list, as well as a unique identifier for every school district staff member.

“One of those is the Wyoming Integrated Statewide Education (WISE) data system. This connects data management applications within local school districts. Your child’s data goes into the local school district’s data system and is then disseminated to other school districts.”

Just to give readers an idea of how costs for a fully developed Leviathan will likely escalate, in its 2013-14 biennium budget request, the WDE asked for an additional $3 million to expand the WISE infrastructure for “additional data projects that will be coming on board in the near future, like the [SLDS] which will place large demands on the data storage at WDE, a new educator licensing system and a new system to help place district staff.” After all, the report reasons, “support costs of those cooperative systems have gone up.”

Gov. Mead wisely rejected this request, which would have increased WDE’s WISE 2013-14 biennium implementation budget from $2.1 million to $5.3 million. Recall, the WDE spent $5 million over five years to set the system up in the first place. That is some cost escalation!

If one agency, albeit a large and complex one like WDE, needs $5 million over two years to add extra functions, imagine how much will be needed when the University of Wyoming, the community colleges, Workforce Services and other to-be-announced agencies jump on board.

Experience in Other Jurisdictions

Wyoming would do everyone a favor if it took a look at what has happened in other jurisdictions with similar grandiose centralized data schemes.

Integrated Case Management System (ICM)

The Canadian province of British Columbia started to build a centralized computer system that would join the databases of all the social services ministries – including the Ministries of Social Development; Children and Family Development; and Technology, Innovation and Citizens Services – to manage individual’s files between social programs. Sold as an easy-to-use system that would allow staff to spend more time working with clients than on data entry, it is expected to cost $182 million between 2008 and 2014. The idea was to allow frontline workers to spend more time with people in the social ministry system. Things haven’t worked out that way, though.

The feedback in a November 2012 interim assessment report was less than positive.6 It found:

  • As a result of the implementation of ICM, [Ministry of Children and Family Development] staff have been required to adopt terminology that is not standard practice nomenclature;
  • It is very difficult for social workers to easily convert the “story” of the family or child (i.e. unstructured information) into the user interface as currently structured;
  • ICM has many screens and each screen has many fields; entering data can be time consuming and requires users to know where and how to find the appropriate section;
  • The user interface is overly complicated: too many screens, too many clicks and not intuitive;
  • Search functionality does not meet the Ministry of Children and Family Development requirements;
  • The application is not able to produce acceptable court documentation; and
  • There are concerns with data integrity.

“… the system has an overwhelming number of technical issues that have burdened workers already facing work pressures…”

Back in 2006, after a number of deaths of children in government “care,” the British Columbia government created a new bureaucracy that would act as an advocate for children, named the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth. This office is supposed to help families find their way through the child welfare system morass. Additionally, the office can initiate reviews of government agencies that provide services to families and children.child 1

In a press release on July 19, 2012 regarding the ICM, the representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said:

My Office has been inundated with calls and emails from child welfare workers and others using ICM who take their responsibility regarding child safety very seriously. Far from “…enabling ministry staff to spend more time working directly with clients and less time on data entry … and other administrative tasks” … the system has an overwhelming number of technical issues that have burdened workers already facing work pressures….  A system that cannot generate a paper report, for example for court purposes, or which limits the ability of staff to connect adults to children, track and understand the “story” of what is happening in their lives, is not adequate.”

“I have reached the point where I am making a rare public statement as I strongly believe that ICM is not adequate to provide safety to vulnerable children, youth and families, in B.C.”7

The July 2013 Final Assessment report8 looked at what had happened in other jurisdictions. It found that a similar system in Australia was abandoned in 2012.

Australian Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward said that the benefits of revamping the system aren’t worth the necessary costs.

“Given the problems with [the Australian system], upgrades developed since 2010 under Labor have been terminated, as the costs of continuing those projects outweighed what the department advised were limited benefits to community services of successful implementation,” she said in a statement.9

The report concluded:

“The difficulty in implementing information technology into the practice of social work/child welfare and the potential for negative unanticipated consequences or impacts to practice were consistent themes throughout the literature reviewed for the Interim Assessment Report, the jurisdictional review and the site visits.”

Even so, the main recommendation in the Canadian report was to carry on with the same system — and oh yes, be sure to fix those child-protection issues.10

What else did government do to remedy the situation? It hired 100 more bureaucrats.

Too bad the B.C. government didn’t take a look at the experience in other jurisdictions before spending millions of tax dollars. At least the Australians decided to stop throwing good money after bad. Seems it is much more difficult to derail the gravy train in Canada than in Australia.

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