Tag: poit

A Comment on the Digital Britain Interim Report

To find the Digital Britain interim report click on this image
To find the Digital Britain interim report click on this image

Earlier this week Jon Hickman asked me to say a few things at the Digital Britain unconference in Birmingham.  He wanted me to share some opening thoughts about the interim reports 5th objective:

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 it ignores 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.

How can we help Andrew Stott as Director of Digital Engagement?


Andrew Stott is moving from being the Government’s Deputy Chief Information Officer to the new post of Director of Digital Engagement.  He’s just become key to the world of social media, data mashing, government and democratic shift.

Titles like Chief information Officer make me shudder a little. I’m not even a fan of knowledge management as a term – it seems to over formalise how we share what we know.  One thing that looks very promising is his depth of experience with geographical information.  The Guardian rather oddly described him as an “experienced Press Officer”.  Jimmy Leach at The Independent summed him up as:  “entering from the IT angle, rather than from the social media angle as others have pointed out.”  So I went looking for reassurance that he will also be a champion of people,  conversation, connection and collaboration: Dod’s interviewed Andrew last year and quoted him as saying:

The Treasury’s refurbishment, Stott says, with a big coffee area right in the heart of the department, “has created a culture of ad hoc meetings where you bump into other people. It is not just about smart IT; it is about getting people talking to one another.” The Information Matters strategy lists the new GCHQ building as another example of where communication, accidental meetings and face-to-face time have been made the norm. “It is compelling,” says Ceeney, “they have very consciously changed their whole culture from one of ‘need to know’ to one of ‘need to share’.”

The new job will be:

  • implementation of the Power of Information Taskforce recommendations
  • chairing the Government’s Knowledge Council and working with The National Archives to take forward the Information Matters strategy for Knowledge and Information Management
  • increasing the civil service’s use of internal digital tools to improve  cross Government coordination and collaboration as an aid to better policy development and service delivery
  • the civil service website

Can I help Andrew Stott?

My first thoughts are the most obvious.

  1. Join the conversation. Assuming Andrew wants to engage with us, take the time to give him useful help.
  2. Offer him a mentor or two? Is that cheeky? I hope not. Who would be ripe for that role?
  3. Make sure he knows he’s surrounded by a substantial community that wants POIT to succeed.

This extra tip came from Josie Fraser:

and there’s loads of other reaction here:  http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Andrew+Stott

Other blogs writing about this:

Puffbox. Andrew Lewin. Demsoc. Paul Canning. Emma Mulqueeny. Dave Briggs. Neil Williams. Harry Metcalfe: the next morning Andrew showed up at the office having spent all the previous evening writing a bunch of code to take the nasty XML and make it into useful data. Helen Nicol. Paul Evans.

Data, crown copyright, archives, listening to communities and the "empowerment heist".

I’m rootling through my feed reader catching up.

On Thursday Tom Watson announced 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 COI site on web site clarity was first mention on the Power of Information Blog and is   http://usability.coi.gov.uk/

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.

Ofqual’s new Chief Officers report has been made comment-able and Spaghettitesting listed the Government winners of the Webby’s including a non-governmental site from the transparency movement  GovernmentDocs.org.