Further feedback to the Invisible Hand!

Pete Thompson stated:

“Paul and Mick are right to flag up trust as a key part of this debate.

Mick comments on his blog:

> Government gets complaints for issuing incorrect bills and the public  redress but what if there is an intermediary displaying your Council Tax and getting it wrong?

Some years ago my own council had the experience of a local organisation displaying contact details for our services and getting them wrong. This wasn’t exactly an intermediary, they had no connection with us at all, but the way the information was presented made it look “official”. This was a strong incentive for us to develop and promote our own website (yes, we did need that, I said it was some years ago). Much more recently, other councils have had similar experiences with various other web services. They tend to leave us thinking: you can’t trust other organisations to present your information accurately, you have to control it yourself. Or if we’re being customer focused: customers will learn they can’t trust information on the web in general, so we have to build the reputation of our own website as a source they can trust.

The democratic engagement versions: you can’t trust discussion in other forums to be representative, non-abusive or on topic. Citizens will learn that they can’t have a sensible discussion on the web in general. So we have to create our own forums where we can ensure our standards of debate prevail.

Each of those positions contains, perhaps, just enough truth to make it supportable, plus a good dash of FUD, and an assumption that the government organisation still has the power to control what happens. In David’s analogy – if this area seems too rough for us to organise a public meeting, there may be some groups in the pub or on the street corners talking about the issue, but we can safely ignore what they’re saying.”

And Tim Anderson partly agreed:

“Pete is right in some areas – people quickly learn what sites they can trust to be accurate and fair and generally local council sites are trusted to be accurate. Fair I’m not sure about as public scepticism around inbuilt bias of public sector led debates is a bit high for comfort.

Whether we can ignore debates in other places is a separate issue. One of the findings of the e-Voice Interreg project (n ot to be confused with ICELE’s VOICE) was that you need to understand the groups you want to engage with and what the best channels for them were rather than a one size fits all process. Intermediary groups and individuals are often key in this as the private sector knows. If you want to engage groups with existing web presences you engage via those places rather than setting up a new one. You may want to direct them to the new site so there is cross fertilisation but the starting point is where they are now.

We also have a duty to weigh up the validity of responses as well as their volume. We know the middle classes are more likely to participate and there are strong pressure groups who will mobilise their supporters to take part. There are other groups who are woefully under-represented and who we need to work harder to woo. The group in the pub cannot be ignored but you have to think about how much weight their views have and how considered a response you are getting from them.

And we must never forget that at the end of the day politicians were elected to decide on what they see as the best alternative. If we left it to public consultation we would never site any bustops. ”

An example I used in conversation at work was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, people collect family history data from there and expect it to be correct, one of my colleagues would like access to the raw data, but when presented by a third party having been open to additional editing, who can confirm its value? Any family historian will tell you that despite its value the data collected by the Mormons in the form of some massive database is full of errors and anybody who compiles a family tree from it without checking original source data is asking for a very shaky family tree!

I think we need to decide what data, how it will be verified and how the ‘trusted’ can demonstrate it?





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