Developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable the widespread online delivery of public services and business interface with Government.
An overview of the entire mornings conversation is here, but I wanted to share my thoughts.
This objective, “to develop the infrastructure skills and take up to enable the widsespread online delivery of public services and business interface with government” appears to almost entirely about refining ane ecnouraging online transactions. It suggests that the ambition is to use the net to govern more efficiently. That is unquestionably important but itignores how the web can and will shift our democratic relationships, allowing self organising citizens to ignore, short circuit, or improve how we govern or self govern. Core to this is ensuring that we all are able to effectively publish (rather than simply consume) online, should we wish to do so. This democratic shift is also being accelerated by the problems being faced by the big cultural and media organisations which Digital Britain as a report appears to be attempting to save.
Digital Britain says very little that seems relevant to this democratic shift. A couple of things that it mentions which are tangental are:
1 Safety: “We want to make the UK the safest place to do business online”. Who’s going to argue with that? It will make us more likely to use the web to relate to government and take part in civic activity, won’t it?
Well it may not. The safest place to do business online could also be the most controlled and closed down. If that is the route we go then democracy baby and democracy bathwater will be scootling down the drain together. (Byron Report )
The report also appears to cling to a shadow of the unworkable idea of a film classification type service (” clear and effective labelling to help people avoid material likely to be harmful or offensive”) and adds “There should be a clearer role for trusted brands that provide a guarantee of the nature of the content that may be accessed through their product (e.g. the approach Apple has taken to making available applications that run on iPhone).” Apple do this because they have found a funding stream around applications. Which “trusted brands” can make that happen with public content?
2 National Digital Literacy Plan. This is the other directly relevant bit: “We will only reap the benefits of becoming a digital nation if we ensure that everyone has access to the right education, skills and digital media literacy programmes to ensure that being digital is within the grasp of everyone.”
Yes is the simple answer to that. Please though don’t make this a digital media literacy national curriculum which will date before it’s finished. For this to work you have to find a mature balance between digital media literacy, learning and safety.
So I found two things in the report relevant to the issue of the net and democracy. This led me, by way of starting a conversation, to raise these additional points:
1 Should we stop existing IT projects which could stifle digital media literacy. Anything which is overly safe and overly cautious is likely to hamper our progress as a digitally literate nation. For example learning portals for schools etc – are they going to help or hinder? Do they really encourage rich informal learning and the sort of free flowing collaborations skills which will give us an economic advantage? (answers to this below please!)
2 Transparency isn’t mentioned. Transparent appears only once. Transparency will be the core media virtue in the future, replacing others such as impartiality. Transparency is how we hold publishers and politicians to account. What does transparency mean? Could there be principles to describe transparency which can then form the basis for a new set of standards against which online activity can be measured?
3 Talk to the folks next door. Whilst I was ranting on about how the people who wrote Digital britain didn’t seem to have read the Power of Information stuff Dave Harte did a quick search of the document to find no mention of the Power of Information Taskforce. Unh.
My twoppenorth as an opener. An overview of the entire mornings conversation is here with recordings of it all from the marvellous Rhubarb Radio. Aggregations of national conversation on twitter at #dbuc09. Thanks to Nat and Julia at www.aquila-tv.com for organising and BillT for the original idea. Notes form the Manchester Event are here. BTW Recasting the Net looks like another postive contribution to this conversation.
NewBizNews: Hyperlocal « BuzzMachine – The value of volunteering: This is the hardest to calculate but is critical to the local models: People are contributing to the newssphere because they want to, because they care. With help, I’m confident they’ll do more. That’s part of what we’re trying to discover at CUNY in our work with The Local at the New York Times: how communities can be supported to report on themselves. This could be podcasting a school-board meeting or crowdsourcing projects or looking up records. This, like new ad models, will be the subject of some speculative brainstorming. And it will be difficult to put numbers to it. But it’s critical.
Mediabox – New strand Mini Mediabox – with grants from £1,500 – £5,000 is now open. Mini Mediabox is for grassroots and community organisations with an annual turnover of £100k or under, designed to enable smaller organisations to access funding for their youth-led projects.
Home | Nominet Trust – We aim to support distinctive and inventive Internet-related projects that can make a difference to people, primarily in the areas of education, online safety and inclusion. With our grants we back programmes and organisations using IT to benefit society. The Nominet Trust is a charity created by Nominet, which maintains the .uk register of domain names and is one of the world’s largest Internet registries.
The Straight Choice | The election leaflet project – Election leaflets are one of the main weapons in the fight for votes in the UK. They are targeted, effective and sometimes very bitter. We need your help to photograph and map them so we can keep an eye on what the parties are up to, and try to keep them honest.
Murdoch: Web sites to charge for content – CNN.com – “I suspect within any readership there is a small slice — maybe three percent — that is willing to pay. News organizations are going to have to find a way of getting money from that slice without driving away everybody else,”
On ThursdayTom Watsonannounced that Crown Copyright was to be revised so those wanting to data mash with information from the Office of Public Sector Information will now be automatically granted a license. With a rather neat turn of phrase “They say information is power, but only distributed information is truly empowering” he went on to say:
the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) has looked again at the restrictions of Crown Copyright, and now a licence will automatically be granted to anyone wanting to use the information rather than having to apply beforehand. OPSI has also shown how Government can publish in a ‘web-friendly’ way rather than just as PDFs, and I want to see this approach rolled out across Government. Today I’m pleased to announce that COI is launching new standards on quality to make Government sites as effective and easy to use as possible.”
The Guardian has been continuing it’s Free Our Data reporting, with Charles Arthur a little underwhelmed by the announcements above:
Umm. It’s not quite the revolution that some of us were hoping for. It doesn’t even yet seem to legitimise the re-use and repurposing by sites such as theyworkforyou.com of the contents of Hansard – which is Crown copyright. That’s the trouble with tectonic shifts, though. Nothing seems to happen for a very long time, and then sometimes it happens all at once.
I don’t agree, (and neither does Tim Davies) the shift won’t be seismic in the sense of some sort of overnight social media sensation. The last 5 years has seen steady change and the groundwork is still going on at government level. The COI’s social media guidance document (a pdf – tut) says civil servants should:
Help non-governmental bodies to build new services by structuring information so that they can combine public data with private data. Avoid replicating what is already being undertaken by non-governmental bodies.
Wednesday saw the launch of a 12 week consultation called Archives for the 21st Century, again data, how we capture and share it will be at the heart of this. The press information mentions one wonderful example of a data set created from digitising the log books of ships going back to the 17th century. Hour after hour mariners from Britain, Holland, France and Spain would log the time, their position and the weather. The CLIWOC project is now a database for Climate Change Study. Another example they use is Birmingham Stories.
Also on Wednesday Downing Street restored the e-mail the Prime Minister service and Hazel Blears announced that one way for councils to save £600 million a year was by listening to their communities. This riled Julian Dobson who called it an “empowerment heist”:
‘Involving communities are key to unlocking greater savings – when it comes to finding efficiencies, empowering local people is part of the solution, not part of the problem,’ she said.
There is of course some truth in this – councils that listen to local people and provide services that are valued will achieve more for their money. But the crude equation of ’empowerment’ with savings is dangerous nonsense: there’s no rationale for turning what may be a fortunate by-product in some circumstances into the raison d’etre. Yesterday’s speech might have been excusable were it not for the ten years of rhetoric that had preceded it.