Last year, there were lots of stories about embarrassing data loss – mostly involving the Government. These stories led to government reviews including the Poynter Review, the Cabinet Office Data Handling Review and a cross-government review of data handling procedures. These highlighted ‘systemic, rather than individual failures’, due to ‘woefully inadequate systems’ and that ‘data rules had not been adequately communicated, raising serious questions of governance and accountability’.

So, the Cabinet Office asked The National School of Government (NSG) to
• develop a common language and approach regarding risk awareness practice
• ensure civil servants handling ‘protected personal data’ underwent mandatory training, with annual refreshers
• create a positive, demonstrable change in behaviour regarding risk awareness practice

The result was an e-learning programme – ‘Protecting Information’ – developed by Epic Performance Improvement. To date, over 250,000 civil servants have completed the programme, across 320 departments and agencies, with 300 new users every week – at an average cost per user of less than 20p. It has achieved eight times as many users as any previous e-learning initiative. The Cabinet Office estimates that this initiative has saved up to £20m compared with departments commissioning their own solutions independently. Moreover, prior to the training:
• Only 53% of users ensured they had the authority to release information and only sent the minimum required (After the training, this had risen to 99%).
• Only 43% of users knew how to send information securely (now 98%).


Comment: This would appear to be a great advertisement for the power of e-learning to provide relatively cheap and, importantly, effective learning for the benefit of government staff and us, the people whose data kept going missing. Of course, you also have to consider government departments’ low degrees of competency (53% and 43%) before this e-learning programme was rolled out. It’s been nice to train them at our expense –some £50,000 of taxpayers’ money – but should the need for this training have existed? Maybe there’s a need for some more e-learning materials – this time on recruitment and selection criteria and procedures for the Civil Service.