Reporting Back: Insights from Our Roundtable in London

Episode 7 - Article 1

Having tested our research midway through during our workshops in Delhi, Bengaluru and Washington DC, we took the chance recently to test the final report themes and sub-themes (which you can read about elsewhere in this episode) during a final workshop in central London.

Testing the themes was a useful process for us – to test not just the themes themselves, and to roadtest some of our thinking about what the most useful parts of our research have been, but more importantly to test the format and eventual distribution of the report.  To test not only how we can present stuff that is insightful, but also to test how best to present it in a way that is useful.

Our hypothesis throughout this project is that research reports presented as locked PDFs are increasingly either not read or not acted on.  Therefore, within the episodic nature of the way we’ve presented the research (whilst it was still happening) and as we’ve consciously avoided the large conference circuit and focused instead on small, intimate workshop meetings, we hope we’ve been able to present the final research in the most useful and engaging way possible.

There was a packed room in London for our workshop, with a healthy mix of private sector ID product companies and public sector development professionals

We went through a capsule summary of the programme and methodology, and then spent some time going through the twelve themes in detail.  The response from the room was engaging and enlightening – whilst the high-level nature of the themes meant there were few surprises for the room, there was a very strong response to the necessity of the research and few key points worth developing:

  • Our concept around ‘transaction stories’ – where we move away from a singular user-centric focus and consider all the passive and active participants in a transaction – was warmly received and considered to be something that until now hasn’t had enough of a focus.  One participant pointed out that agile methodologies in product development often meant that certain user groups, or user needs, were left behind, and considering the politics and needs of everyone within a transaction was a good way of accounting for unintended consequences in identity service design.  This is something we will develop in the final report, when our transaction stories will be mapped out – showing both the full range of actors in a transaction, but also the geographic space of the transaction as well.
  • A fascinating conversation emerged around the role of intermediaries in identity systems, which we discussed in detail in Episode 4. The conversation discussed how better policy can help clarify the role of intermediaries, but crucially how incentives guide what intermediaries do.  Aadhaar’s first goal was purely around adoption, and with over a billion people registered it’s achieved that goal.  Therefore all incentives to agencies and intermediaries were based around adoption and sign up.  Now, in the second act of the life of Aadhaar, there needs to be a strong focus on usage, and understanding edge cases around those who have not adopted, or what cultural and social reasons there are limiting the usage of Aadhaar against other identity artefacts.  The role of intermediaries, incentivising them properly, and making sure they were accountable was felt to be key here.
  • Finally, there was a lot of conversation around the continuing role of physical artefacts in identity systems.  They’re not going away anytime soon, and a lot of the conversations were around how physical and digital can coexist.  References were made to a a quote in Nilekani and Shah’s book on Aadhaar (Rebooting India) of seeding the idea of Aadhaar in government by saying the cards were like the body and the number was like the soul.  But in our research we found this wasn’t really accepted, as people are relentlessly creating their own laminated physical artefacts for Aadhaar.  As with our sub theme on how multiple identities are not a bug, but a feature to build on, how do we design systems that incorporate and work with the physical and the digital, as well as work between different systems – e.g. Aadhaar and PAN (for filling income tax), LPG (subsidized gas) and bank accounts?

On the presentation and eventual distribution of our research, there was an incredibly useful comment that we need to work out how we respond to, and incorporate, the Principles on Identification

One suggestion was that we work on providing commentary to them from our research – perhaps even directly asking questions underneath each of the Identity Principles from the voice of our users – a great suggestion we will act on.  In this way we’ll make sure our eventual final report continues to deliver on what the core principle of this research has been – to make sure the user’s voice is always there, responding to what are otherwise very top-down systems. As one of our research respondents put it “we want ID systems that make our lives easier, not harder”.


Read Article Two: Identities Report: 12 themes essay