Local Government Digital Service

November 18, 2012

In September 2012 I wrote about the Local Government Data Service but since then we’ve seen the publication of the central government Government Digital Strategy, and yet again questions have been asked about why local government hasn’t one or doesn’t get a mention. My riposte is that local government was doing this before the GDS, and it was largely set out in the Socitm publication Planing the Flag. Meanwhile Socitm has published a briefing entitled “The new Government Digital Strategy: what should local public services take from it?”

Whilst the Socitm briefing is largely a promotion for its website take-up and channel benchmarking services, all that is required by any local authority is to actively gather feedback from its service users about the different channels on offer and to use this to improve them. If this makes possible a shift to channels that are truly cheaper to deliver by web or telephone all well and good. I am, of course, ignoring the ‘digital by default’ diktat within the central strategy. In national terms this means the sharing of best practice amongst local authorities and a lot of cooperation by suppliers in helping to improve delivery, not just raking in short-term profits. This is where open source and open data come in – if the commercial applications use apps that can be cross-fertilised with others and the data can be similarly exposed (securely) across applications the benefits to both councils and citizens will soon become general.

Whilst the Cabinet Office report admits that “most public services are provided by local organisations such as local councils and the NHS”, instead of ignoring local government and starving it of resources, central government needs to cooperate properly and assist in making these changes real. So whilst I congratulate the GDS on producing its strategy I will observe whether it gets the rest of central government to cooperate, and whether it actually cooperates with those areas where “most public services are provided”. I’d also appreciate it if there were fewer questions about why local government isn’t do the GDS thing, and a greater appreciation of the fact that it was there first, just with much less of a marketing team…


My identity

November 14, 2012

UKAuthority.com states that four potential providers of identity service to the UK Department of Work and Pensions have been chosen in ID Providers chosen for Universal Credit. I wonder why they then list seven: Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon, or are some of them working together? It’s good that Mydex have a foot in the door, along with our own dear Post Office, but why oh why have we got Experian again. I’ve communicated my own experience with Experian in an earlier blog post, and they are about as user friendly as having a red-hot poker shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.

Speaking out of office and ear-shot with some DWP staff recently I was concerned  that they can only see a future where their entire job is automated, which is how they interpret the government vision. The command and control hierarchy makes those HR-ish noises that they are considerate employers, whilst waiting in the wings to make them redundant. They saw no young people in their ranks, they are also encouraged to see career progression where there isn’t any in reality. I imagine the DWP sees them transferring TUPE-less to the ranks of automata that appear to answer the telephone at Experian. They were intelligent hard-working people and I feel sorry for what they have to put up with.

The recent Independent on Sunday report raising issues with the rollout of Universal Credit quoted a government IT adviser as saying that Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary “has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.” This follows a history of such ICT hubris from politicians, which was a side conclusion of my doctoral dissertation, but whilst consuming millions of taxpayers money fails to fill promises for the plain simple fact that government and its policies is much more complex than ICT is capable of.


Anti-social media

November 11, 2012

Whilst I am much less skeptical about the use of social media in government than I used to be, like email it is set to become a big part of the of the job, in the same way that handling email has become a major part of the day-to-day of everyone from junior officers to chief officers. My only question then is – who does the original job?

LearnStuff have put together a little video on how social media is affecting productivity entitled Social Media at Work. My question remains – who is doing the work that was done before email/social media, or is that no longer the job? Now, what did I used to do?

 


e-Voting

November 9, 2012

After the US Presidential election, which has occurred following some dreadful weather that side of the Atlantic, the hoary topic of doing something techie to make voting and counting easier has arisen again. The good old MIT Technology Review has published a piece by David Talbot entitled “Why You Can’t Vote Online – Fundamental security problems aren’t solved, computing experts warn“, where the comments make equally good reading as the article itself. Closely following this was the news in The Register that given the weather the State of New Jersey’s attempt to make life better by instituting a ‘vote by email’ route had collapsed when inboxes filled, and votes were directed to personal email accounts.

In the UK we are going to the polls shortly to elect Police & Crime Commissioners and although the weather will be better, we hope, than the north-eastern coast of the USA, getting some people to the polling station will be very hard. Even if a workable technical solution is produced we still have the lack of quality broadband throughout the UK to deliver it over. Estonia, one of the places where e-voting appears to work has both broadband and identity cards, so two of the difficulties are surmounted already. In the UK and the USA confirming ones identity can be a regular difficulty as has been already stated on this blog.

The trouble with both the UK and the USA is that we have hoary old ‘democratic’ systems that were developed when populations were smaller and less people had representation. There are a lot of wrinkles to be ironed out in the system, before we even bother with making it ‘easier’. One comment on the MIT article effectively states that the person concerned wouldn’t spend the price of a stamp on voting, wouldn’t go to a polling station, but might consider email – does anyone like that deserve a vote or isn’t it seen to be making enough of a difference?


Social media in a disaster

November 4, 2012

My thanks have to go to Steven Clift for circulating the following links regarding the use of social media in a disaster situation and we are all aware of what the USA has had to go through recently:

First of all some lessons learned from the Joplin tornado – http://extension.missouri.edu/greene/documents/PlansReports/using%20social%20media%20in%20disasters.pdf

There was already Steven’s article – http://bitly.com/localrecovery – about creating micro online groups for more informal ongoing exchange as emergency response moves into recovery.

From Christchurch NZ comes a multi-agency meta site – http://canterburyearthquake.org.nz

As the globe warms and water levels and weather changes, these experiences need to be shared.


Ecosystem

November 1, 2012

One of the ‘trending’ words of 2012 in the IT world appears to be ”ecosystem’ and I am tired of seeing it already…

The Wikipedia definition, for want of a better, is: “an ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.” So why is it appearing in the IT literature? For example – ‘UK open standards and the proprietary ecosystem‘, ‘Privacy by Design and the emerging Personal Data Ecosystem’ etc.

Information technologies are not living organisms! Can we stop misusing the word now, please!


Big problem

October 31, 2012

In an editorial entitled “Why we can’t solve big problems” in the MIT Technology Review Jason Pontin does more than consider ‘big problems’, his piece leads to broader thinking as to what are ‘big problems’, and what problems science can actually deal with. With a background of the billions of dollars and the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the US space programme as an example of an earlier ‘big problem’, and transfers into the contrasting role of the relatively trivial developments funded by venture capitalism in today’s world. The conclusion is that there isn’t the political will, supported by the wider public,to solve these ‘big problems’ or even to attack some of the smaller ones that make them up. As Pontin accepts many of the problems are resolvable in technological terms but the harder problems are the social and political background ones that will allow us to direct resources at their solution.

Whilst I accept much of what Pontin says I do not believe problem resolution is anywhere near that straightforward. Even small problems that appear resolvable through the technological lens suddenly create other issues when attacked. Curing diseases brings more mouths to feed, which brings famine, sorting out famine increases the population and land and water requirements, and no amount of technology can control the elemental forces of the weather, earthquakes and unknown disasters to come. Yes, politicians and policy are an answer to some ‘big problems’ but we cannot entirely control planetary destiny.