When did local government IT become the aircraft carrier

December 11, 2013

The analogy is often used of certain large bodies being like the aircraft carrier that needs substantial time and space to complete a change of direction. Two years ago when attending the launch of the Government Digital Service  (GDS) I had been most insistent that they adopted the good practice that was available in local government at that time, for given the conditions local government IT was playing under, with frequent changes of legislation and guidance from government most local authorities had, with their IT departments, maintained a focus on the citizen.

Observing from afar over Twitter the recent SocITM 2013 conference I could only observe that with the ascendance of the GDS, roles had been reversed and local government IT in the form of lots of boats like some Dunkirk rescue mission all strung together was having a great deal of trouble manoeuvring, whilst GDS had become the agile one.

This is obviously not a full and fair comparison between all local and central government as the on-going failures by the Department of Work and Pensions to implement Universal Credit in a timely manner confirms, and also that some local authorities have done great things, whilst some have largely disappeared.

The question is how does one turn around that string of little boats (they are in comparison to central government). Some people observing suggested joining a many together and then one would the budgets and labour force, but would one have the management? That is the tricky part – local authority senior management and the elected members have always wanted to steer their own boats however small and insignificant they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but change is needed.  This is what I thought was going to come out of SocITM nearly two years ago as I took my redundancy, but it does not appear to have happened. I may have missed something but the fact that Mike Bracken of the GDS is still offering this week to work with local government, as I heard him say he would two years ago tells me something different.

Local government has had to cope with drastic cuts, redundancies and reorganisations galore since I left, but the bigger vision of turning the aircraft carrier seems to have remained a futile hope as budgets shrink further and staff disappear.

Please tell me it’s not true?


Digital Outcasts

November 12, 2013

Latest book review of ‘Digital Outcasts’ by Kel Smith for British Computer Society available at http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/51636?src=12t


Call for Papers for a special issue on 20 Years of ETHICOMP: A Celebration

October 30, 2013

Philosophy and Technology (Springer), Editor in Chief Luciano Floridi (Oxford)

Call for Papers for a special issue on 20 Years of ETHICOMP: A Celebration


Charles Ess, Bernd Carsten Stahl


The ETHICOMP conference series began in 1995. In 1995 the World Wide Web was a new phenomenon unheard of by most people. It was a time of initial experimentation with electronic government and electronic commerce. The dominant computing paradigm was still focused on mainframes, with networked machines starting to gain prominence. Personal computers existed but were expensive. Mobile telephones were the preserve of well-paid executives. Increasingly, however, the emerging characteristics and growing social consequences of computing technologies evoked and required ethical reflection. It was in this context that Simon Rogerson and Terry Bynum had the vision of organizing the first ETHICOMP conference in 1995 (Leicester, UK).

Technologies, their organisational, individual and social use and the resulting social and ethical consequences have developed rapidly. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are now converging and diffusing into an ever-increasing number of social domains. ETHICOMP remains one of the main venues for the exchange of ideas about ethics and ICTs. Among the defining features of ETHICOMP are the explicit attempts to bring together people from different backgrounds from within and outside of academia with a strong interest in practice and policy. The ETHICOMP conference series furthermore prides itself in being inclusive, supportive and providing a friendly environment for new entrants in the discussion to voice their ideas. These distinctive characteristics of the conference series are due first of all to the vision and labour of its two leading figures, Terry and Simon.

During the nearly two decades of its existence, the conference has branched out from being a local event in Leicester to spanning several continents with the events occurring in places as diverse as China, Japan and South America.

Recently, Terry and Simon have stepped down as chairs and leaders of the ETHICOMP conference series and have handed over the responsibility to the next generation of scholars. This special issue celebrates the achievements of the ETHICOMP conference series, of the two individuals who have steered it, and the community of researchers, scholars and practitioners who have discovered and helped shape it as a place to develop their understanding and thinking.


In this special issue we want to look back on the discourse that has developed within and around ETHICOMP. This special issue will be linked to a dedicated track of the 2014 ETHICOMP / CEPE conference. Potential authors are encouraged to submit an extended abstract to the 2014 ETHICOMP track. The track will allow potential authors to develop their ideas further.

Possible topics include:

  • ·         Technological changes and resulting ethical challenges
  • ·         Themes of ethical discussion in ICT since 1995, both within and beyond ETHICOMP
  • ·         Relationships of different scholarly and disciplinary communities (e.g. computer science, software engineering, philosophy, science and technology studies, information systems) and conferences (e.g., CAP, ECAP, IACAP, CEPE, and of course, ETHICOMP) in ethics and ICT
  • ·         Personal insights, accounts or viewpoints that demonstrate the relevance of ETHICOMP and its two founders – e.g., Terry Bynum’s focus on “flourishing ethics” as rooted in the work of Norbert Wiener, Simon Rogerston’s attention to ways in which professional practice can become relevant in the ICT industry.
  • ·         Historical, bibliometric or other analyses of ETHICOMP content
  • ·         Likely topics of ETHICOMP conferences in 2035, i.e., what might current patterns of research topics and anticipated technological developments suggest as future directions for research and critical reflection?


30.11.2013                  Submission of extended abstracts to ETHICOMP 2014 (recommended)

25-27.06.2014             2014 ETHICOMP, in conjunction with CEPE

01.08.2014                  Submission online of full paper to the journal (see instructions below)

31.10.2014                  Deadline for peer-reviewed, double-blind evaluations

15.11.2014                  Editorial feedback to authors

01.02.2015                  Submission of revised papers

31.03.2015                  Final editorial decision

June 2015                    Publication of the special issue


To submit a paper for this special issue, authors should go to the journal’s Editorial Manager (EM) http://www.editorialmanager.com/phte/

The author (or a corresponding author for each submission in case of co- authored papers) must register into EM.

The author must then select the special article type: “20 Years of ETHICOMP: A Celebration” from the selection provided in the submission process. This is needed in order to assign the submissions to the Guest Editors.

For any further information please contact:

Stahl, Bernd Carsten bstahl@dmu.ac.uk

Ess, Charles c.m.ess@media.uio.no

The Rubbish Side of Social Media Users

September 16, 2013

Over the years I’ve been using Twitter, blogging and other social media I’ve noticed the reticence of some users, particularly from public bodies such as police, central government and arms-length government organizations to take part in a conversation. Locally, in York, I follow the police who both maintain a dialogue and make Tweets interesting to followers by adding humour (where appropriate), safety and security advice, along with road closure warnings. In contrast very recently, being unable to find a way to complain to Greater Manchester Police I tweeted my complaint with a strong hint of sarcasm, I obviously failed miserably when a day later @GMPolice made a favourite of it!

This similar approach has been used on the regional offices of central government failing similarly when they don’t even respond. I’ve got so use to the local council not responding to Tweets or emails that I now just don’t expect it. In contrast, some councillors (but not many) willingly maintain a dialogue or move it to email, whilst others might as well not bother having a Twitter account. I notice that a number of bodies such as the Environment Agency are encouraging managers to have Twitter accounts on their behalf, whilst the same individuals do not have a publicly available email account. I take this as a symptom of the risk aversive nature of such bodies, when they don’t want individuals appearing to speak for a ‘department’. The same people are, by large, also averse to holding a dialogue in Twitter but happily tell us the details of their day-to-day work (yawn).

A lot of this I take to being the absence of a good policy and training. If bodies are going to get themselves involved in social media they need to accept complaints and compliments by it, as well as posting interesting stuff, but less of the day-to-day drivel, please!

Research Handbook On Governance Of The Internet

August 22, 2013

Latest book review for the BCS –