A decentralised revolution is brewing. In the same way the introduction of the railways eased transport and trade in the UK, distributed ledger technology (DLT) can ease access to, and quality of, public services for the citizen.

Better, more joined-up public services are vital to solving our biggest societal challenges. The UK Government recognised the potential of DLT to improve public services as early as 2016. This sentiment was echoed in the 2018 Scottish Government report, ‘Distributed Ledger Technologies in Public Services’. However, it is only in more recent years that steps have been made towards realising this potential.

DLT improves public services for the sector and citizen

The UK public sector is known to be slow to adapt to new technologies, particularly digital ones. Money, time and disruption of the status quo are often quoted as the reasons for this. However, public services are under increasing pressure to provide a joined-up and user-friendly service. This is not merely a question of ‘customer satisfaction’, but one of providing cost-effective services which meet the requirements of an expanding population with changing needs.

Archaic data sharing methods lead to huge administrative burden on the individual, and waste time and money for public services. DLT can benefit public services both externally in their relationship with the citizen, and internally in the interface between public sector bodies, by facilitating high-integrity and secure data sharing.

Citizens interact with multiple public sector organisations over the course of their lives; for example, in common transactions such as applying for a bus pass, a parking permit or proving power of attorney. Public sector bodies must be able to communicate and collaborate effectively between themselves to facilitate this, and to uphold law and regulation.

Different parts of the public sector find it difficult to collaborate through data sharing; organisational systems are not connected. This results in people having to repeatedly prove things about themselves that the public sector already knows, such as identity, criminal history or income. Claiming entitlements is inefficient and error-prone, leading to fraud, data duplication and frustration. This is a particular problem for people such as single parents, the care experienced, or people with disabilities, who often have multiple entitlements from a variety of service providers.

Achieving better public services requires digital trust frameworks to be established between a network of verifying bodies and service providers. This is a means of technically regulating processes to ensure that all the parties involved have done things correctly, compliantly and in a mutually agreed manner. It requires the creation of agreed cross-organisational processes and the assurance that these processes cannot be subverted. A DLT approach allows this to happen with minimal risk and minimal disruption to existing ways of working.

A decentralised future

The public sector and public services are central to solving our greatest societal challenges in the next century. A decentralised approach is necessary for this: centralised approaches to data management, in an age of cyber security threats, pandemics and increasing environmental disasters, are ripe for destabilisation. Better and more joined-up public services benefit everyone. Creating smart networks between organisations in health and social care, the emergency services, education and other public services can contribute to overcoming many of these obstacles.

An incremental approach alleviates concerns around cost and disruption. DLT is ideal for this, as it allows for the secure connection of current systems and processes, rather than completely overhauling of ways of working. This also allows the citizen to access public services in a way that is familiar, but more efficient and secure.

The UK public sector is ready for DLT because it needs to be. The solutions are available, and now must be implemented. Collaborative public and private sector innovation can be leveraged to achieve this in a meaningful way.

SICCAR is an enterprise data sharing platform that gives organisations full control over how data is shared and used across their organisational ecosystem. High-integrity data sharing is possible with SICCAR.

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