Open but closed

September 15, 2012

All those who harp upon the benefits of open data to participatory government need look no further than a recent piece in Gulf News – “eGoverment and information sector will be focused on ‘open data’“. Since the Emirates are hardly a democracy with seven Emirs wielding absolute authority so for anyone to claim participatory benefits ‘open data’ is ludicrous. The Emirs just release that data which they wish to be visible and in this case it’s probably of interest in the tourism sector but it makes not the slightest difference to government nor opens up the slightest opportunity for in involvement by the populace.

The article does admit that whist the UAE is rated respectively sixth and seventh for government use of social media, and eServices, it is 28th worldwide for eParticipation which obviously infers a very ‘open’ definition of participation.


Social Media Fantasy

September 9, 2012

My thanks to Itir Akdogan PhD for informing the Democracies Online Exchange: http://groups.dowire.org/groups/exchange about the publication of a new report “The Use of Social Media in Finnish Parliament Elections 2011” (PDF, 32 pages, 480 Kb) by Irina Khaldarova, Salla-Maaria Laaksonen & Janne Matikainen of the Communication Research Centre CRC, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki.

Since it is reporting on the parliamentary representative democracy of a country where there is also an active use of new technologies I believe this report should give some guidance as to what can be expected elsewhere. Unfortunately it concludes by writing of politicians that “their way of using social media mostly reminds one-way mass communication”, which is something warned of on this blog earlier and then continues “In this sense it seems that despite the high hopes laid upon social media services as a tool of e-democracy, there still exists a gap between politicians and citizens. Social media will not foster deliberative democracy unless it is truly used for two-way communication and as a platform for conversation.” And it can’t come much clearer than that! This is based on the conclusions from the data that “the study shows that social media does not play the role in the Finnish politics as it is usually ascribed for. The power of social media in the recent elections has been obviously exaggerated as most of the elected MPs can hardly be considered as active or very popular social media users.”

Whether this experience is something particularly Finnish remains to be seen, but it currently appears that deliberative democracy will not be created from the representative kind through the employment of social media.


Local Government Data Service

September 7, 2012

There have been a couple of blog posts and a lot of Tweets recently from well-known characters in the local government web scene regarding establishing/creating/facilitating a Government Data Service (GDS)* but this time for local government. The only concern I voiced was that we had trod this ground before in various formats, including some of the early e-government projects/programmes.

Some of the posts/Tweets were by Carl Haggerty – The Local GDS question – again… and Stuart Harrison – Local GDS: A Skunkworks for Local Government , along with Dominic Campbell and probably others I’ve failed to mention (apologies!). Whilst I no longer have any real involvement in this, not being an IT manager, member of Socitm committees, member of the Local CIO Council (LCIOC) etc anymore I have been party to related conversations over the years including a discussion with the GDS team themselves at their launch who had obviously seen the reality that a lot of the contact with the citizen is at a local government level so were busily (or should I say agilely) developing at least one app for a local government service – I did offer to trial it in a large rural area since it was obviously based upon a city-dweller’s personal experience, and have no idea what happened to it in the end. A Local GDS would have taken this into account (hopefully) whilst the GDS could have focused on the ‘big data’ at their end.

Carl gave a good lead on the LGDS concept by saying it exists already, which it does in many ways, if informally as far as the local government hierarchy is concerned – but there are too many in government interested in controlling things, so it may need to avoid strangulation. Carl mentions talking to the LGA and since they have been in involved in various meetings with Socitm and the LCIOC, they should (in theory) help with the joining up? One of the ‘bodies’ mentioned was LeGSB which has been on the scene for years and been quietly productive – thank you Paul Davidson – which is quietly doing some related work, since one of the fundamentals is getting some STANDARDS in place if this is to work across 400+ LA’s.

I agree with Carl in that it needs some clear thinking, we’ve been here before and there is a tendency for great ideas to be strangled by bureaucracy and people wanting to make a name/well-paid-job for themselves. I don’t think the GDS team is a great example for local government, they’ve been spoiled with the central government budget, although they have learned to consult the end-user, which is ultimately what it’s all about.

Don’t let it get too southern-centric, there are citizens past Birmingham. Some good work has been going on in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so don’t ignore them either. A quick audit of what is happening and has happened is probably worth doing (LGA?) and then decide what quick wins can be made from some agile working across multiple boundaries. But please, please, please don’t reinvent wheels.

* References to ‘data’ should of course be ‘digital’ – brain operating on another planet that day – reminded when making cup of tea in GDS mug.


Hyperlocal encouragement

September 4, 2012

The bizarrely named Streetfight website has a great post on the 29 August 2012 by Stephanie Miles which I can see having relevance further than the hyperlocal web sites it is focused on. Entitled “6 Ways to Encourage User Contributions on Hyperlocal Sites” the advice echoed for me across many recent Internet experiences.

Tip one is give a dedicated phone number. In my personal case a recent need to make a doctor’s appointment had me Googling for the sake of ease their reception number and guess what? In all those lovely personal friendly personal words littering page after page I couldn’t see a telephone number. Luckily Google presented it elsewhere…

Tip two is to respond personally to inquiries. In my years of local government I had to repeat this time after time to service providers to respond usefully and quickly to inquiries – so this is not just hyperlocal!

The third tip is to take the conversation onto Facebook, which may be correct in some circumstances in the broader context but highly likely in hyperlocal.

As a fourth tip there is the need to draw in content, not just wait for it and for the fifth let your readers know that you are wanting material and finally show appreciation when you get it. This last one is for me an important one. As with consultation the recipient must publish what has been received with any necessary response within a reasonable time in order to create a full loop and the potential for a broader conversation. If you have no intention of holding that conversation stop before you create the site – it’s only window dressing  or brochureware of the sort favoured by traditional politicians.

Six useful tips for any website, but especially the hyperlocal.


Policing

September 2, 2012

Policing is a public service that doesn’t often get viewed as a system or as a system of parts in the same way that health or government are. That was until Simon Guilfoyle, John Seddon and others looked at it. Simon is a serving officer with an interest in systems thinking and I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation by him earlier this year at a NET2 meeting. Following the meeting he kindly forwarded me a recent paper he’d had published entitled “On target? – Public Sector Performance Management: Recurrent Themes, Consequences and Questions“, Policing (2012).

As the paper’s title infers it puts policing performance management into the same context as the rest of the public sector with all the bad practices that are frequently pointed out there. In line with the theme of this blog there is the notion that public satisfaction rates are a potential indicator, although some refining may be required to gain understanding in context i.e. cold feedback won’t do on its own. The paper also warns of the likely effect of  gaming when employing emotive targets, something that Simon went into some detail in during his presentation.

In this context John Seddon is just starting his “The Evidence Tour” and launching the second volume of “Delivering Public Services That Work”. The presentations are free and I recommend those involved in public services give him a listen and ask questions. With the introduction of elected police commissioners later this year the whole matter of police performance targets is likely to take on added weight as pre and post election gaming occurs.


Listen to customers not big data

August 28, 2012

A report from The Register  on 22 August 2012 covers one of the Directors of the dominant telco in Australia stating that “Insights won’t come from data, they’ll come from observation”, in other words which business processes the customers complain about offer more direction than sifting about in the data. Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation [sic] at Telstra, does however not rule out big data, wanting to have his cake and eat it, but does also report that over 70% of their support calls are the result of customer expectations being incorrectly set.

Having read me quoting the mantra to listen to customers for many years, this approach will come as nothing new to readers of this blog but what it does provide is further evidence that the private sector has been doing it, so government needs to stopping flushing money down the drain on big data projects and instead ensure the mechanisms are in place to capture citizen feedback at the point of service delivery.


Generation Y e-government

August 22, 2012

In a recent article on IT Use for Australian Business it is revealed that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) deputy secretary Abul Rizvi had identified a “worrying” drop in the use of online government services between 2009 and 2011 and the department were investigating the use of video to deal with Generation Y. The drop in usage is identified in a report from AGIMO that is linked to (PDF, 96 pp, 3.24 Mb) but in my view this is not a surprise since the same experience was reported from Canada some while ago, and is probably only the fallback from the initial surge in trying new technologies and finding the experience less than ideal

Rather than throwing money at new technologies to resolve the issues around service, the solution is to examine the process, online and offline, and find what the problems are from the citizens’ view, and then sort out that process – be that caused by legislation (overly complex) or waste.