Towards ‘Santa Government’

Charlotte Piper

Charlotte Piper,
Assistant Director,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

I was reading my daughter’s Christmas list and amidst the usual paraphernalia I noticed she’d asked for a real life unicorn! And it got me thinking about how unconstrained a letter to Santa is: when you’ve got a blank sheet of paper and the belief in a magical being. What would it be like if Government was able to respond like Santa?

Government may not be able to deliver a unicorn (not withstanding the Royal Coat of Arms!), but what could it deliver? And do we ever ask citizens what they want in such an open way, without framing or bounding their response? For me, information sharing is much more than just the sharing of information. It’s about the ambition to truly listen and to go as far as we can to meet the needs of all of us as citizens. Of course there have to be constraints. But having an open conversation, led by the wishes of citizens, is an important principle. And a blank sheet of paper where we think freely, unconstrained by the boundaries between departments or local public services, might be an empowering technique. And what about delivery?

Santa has to deliver a sack full of presents for each household. This requires him to read the lists for each person in that household carefully (including deciphering the handwriting) and sourcing the gifts from multiple ‘departments’: the Cosmetics Department, the Toy Department, the DIY Department, and so on. Of course, each person’s wishes are all on one list; we wouldn’t expect people to write a different list for every department. And it’s unlikely that a list for the ‘household’ will be produced. So Santa needs to get all the gifts for the whole household into one place for that trip down the chimney. He won’t want to make multiple trips. And he won’t want to get the wrong chimney.

Santa has many helpers, of course, elves to read the lists, to source and collect the gifts and reindeer to fly him around the world. So what does Santa achieve? Well, there are the smiley faces for a start. But what produces those smiles? The gifts are what they actually wanted – the service was personalised to them. And magic happened.

Now, where can I order a unicorn… ?

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