Scottish data chief: ‘Collective intelligence fosters the wisdom of crowds – instead of the madness of mobs’

Written by PublicTechnology staff on 13 March 2023 in News

Newly appointed senior leader discusses the importance of information standards and governance, as well as ‘informed public discussion’

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

The Scottish Government’s new chief data officer has claimed his experience in the field of “collective intelligence” will be central to his work leading the use of information to deliver better public services across Scotland.

Tom Wilkinson was appointed to the role earlier this year and, in a piece written for PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, said that during his first month in post he has “already found myself exposed more deeply to more diverse public policy than in a decade working across five UK government departments”.

The data chief said that he has begun to gain a sense of where the experience gained during his career to date “will complement my excellent colleagues' existing efforts”.

This includes a specialism in “the developing field of collective intelligence”, which Wilkinson said is focused on “building digital tools to help networks of people and computers make better decisions than any one individual can”.

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“That is, fostering the wisdom of crowds instead of mindless herding or the madness of mobs,” he added. “A team, an organisation, a community or a society can only use everyone's wisdom well if it can share the right information efficiently. That's where doing data right is key, whether it's standards and tools helping people find and share information or artificial intelligence distilling messy information into something easier to absorb.”

The Scottish public sector has an “ambition for seamless services online where citizens don't repeatedly have to input similar information”.

 To make this a reality will require “common languages for public organisations' data, through standards and catalogues”, according to Wilkinson, as well as “an informed and balanced conversation with the public, about how they weigh convenient and efficient services against limiting public bodies' ability to share data with one another”.

The data chief said he wants to help the “Scottish Government… evolve past old organisational structures: automating more menial data handling, while using the world-leading tools I’ve designed and developed elsewhere for measuring and promoting effective collaboration”.

He concluded that “in the spirit of collective intelligence, any experience and expertise I can bring will only be useful if it can be combined effectively with that of my diverse colleagues and targeted at the genuine needs of our public”. 

“Together, we will ensure Scotland gets more from data, for a brighter and smarter future.”

Wilkinson’s full piece, including lots more insights on his priorities for the use of data across Scotland can be read here

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