Implementing transparency

April 29, 2012

Hot on the heels of the post by Andrea di Maio comes a UK National Audit Office (NAO) report entitled ‘Implementing Transparency’ (PDF, 44 pages 0.8 Mb). Given the recent OGP meeting in Brasilia mentioned by Andrea and attended by the UK government and the post “What is ‘open government’“, the report makes interesting reading, since the criticisms are largely replicated in the report.

Typically it picks out that only in 7% of cases is the UK data presented using open standards from World Wide Web consortium, to enable linking e.g. rdf, whilst the largest chunk uses CSV. Two important comments are:

“2.14 The Cabinet Office did not engage with the public to establish demand for the standard data releases outlined in the Prime Minister’s letters, but did consult with developers and industry to identify the additional releases announced in the Autumn Statement 20116 (see paragraph 4.1).

2.15 None of the departments reported significant spontaneous public demand for the standard dataset releases.”

But we then get onto cost-benefit analysis, where the report states that:

“2.21 Although the Government has wide-ranging objectives for transparency, few attempts have yet been made to monitor emerging benefits.”

Local government is not ignored either and a part of the report commencing on page 26 covers what the NAO have discovered from their research of council websites, and there appear to be a number of gaps, although work on LG Inform is expected to help fill some of them, although with 750 metrics to be filled in when it’s planned to go live in September 2012, I don’t imagine everyone who has to supply the data will be so delighted.

In conclusion, I think government needs to look seriously at the report and attempt to answer the questions posed. As occurred with e-government we don’t want excessive sums of money and a great deal of effort wasted chasing something that is not going to benefit the public. I know the claim was used for e-government that it provided traction but we apparently no longer have the cash for further indulgences.

What is ‘open government’?

April 25, 2012

A post from Andrea di Maio entitled ‘Open Government Partnership: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly’ (his capitals) as usual hits the nail right on the head. I’ve discussed ‘open data’ and ‘open government’ in a number of posts including most relevantly this one on ‘open by design’ and we still appear to be lacking clarity over what the outcomes are intended to be.

Andrea, whilst accepting that ‘open government’ is essentially a good thing, picks up a number of matters:

  • In the past, benchmarking has made some countries waste resources by e-enabling the wrong things
  • There is a risk that the debate focuses on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’
  • Top ten commitments focus upon increasing transparency – what about service delivery and sustainable efficiency

He then argues that the end goal should be a “grand challenge” supported by “transparency, accountability and engagement”, rather than the other way around. He concludes by suggesting that the session on building a business case examines “how to measure the real impact and success (or lack thereof) of open government”.

Then, Simon Sharwood in The Register  continues the topic in “Open Government Partnership talks tech-led transparency” pointing out that one government absent from the meeting is Australia and that Hilary Clinton had warned that ‘the existence of technology does not translate into openness. “Technology isn’t some kind of magic wand, ” she said. “Ultimately, it is political will that determines whether or not we hold ourselves accountable”‘ Which makes it all sound like e-government over again…, in the immortal words of Cicero “O tempora O mores”.

The scores are published – so?

March 2, 2011

In January I posted about the forthcoming European 9th e-Government Benchmark Report, which was finally published on the 21 February 2011. A summary and link to all the necessary documents are available from the press release.

Since there were no surprises in January, other than Malta coming first, there can’t really be any now, and even Andrea di Maio thinks it’s time to pull the plug on this exercise.

Rather than picking on e-services, let’s have a look at how easily citizens and businesses can access, through any channel, those services that matter to them, and we won’t know what they are without asking them! The trouble with that being that what matters to a UK citizen isn’t necessarily what matters in Estonia or Malta, so the concept of benchmarking falls apart and CapGemini have to find another income stream…

Digital agenda

February 8, 2011

With the UK central government IT strategy approaching (possibly the end of February now), along with the local government equivalent (expected May 2011), it was with interest that I read Andrea di Maio’s blog posting of 4th February 2011 entitled “how to implement a digital agenda or an e-government strategy”.

Andrea provides links to some Gartner guidance such as the E-Government Assessment Questionnaire and the Open Government Maturity Model , the first of which requires a Gartner subscription – nice sales technique Andrea!

As is sometimes the case, Andrea, disappointed with his native Italy’s approach but he’s not wrong to suggest that to stand in isolation without learning from the success and failure of others, is a foolish way to develop a strategy. Gartner can teach you this, but so can a modicum of personal research, as the old adage goes “a consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it”.

Nothing personal Andrea!

Happy New Year

January 1, 2011

Andrea di Maio’s summary of 2010 is a presentation of his best of 2010 in reverse order. As well as providing us with an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, both as local government CIO’s and government employees (I won’t mention the fact that he never mentions the UK, where I saw him in London!), he does remind us of the hot topics spilling over into 2011.

The EU Action Plan rates 10, which is possibly pushing things! Next came US ‘open government’, then the IT developer ‘mob’, government in the public cloud, government CIO’s, Australia’s Kate Lundy, Washington DC’s digital divide strategy, the OMB 25 point plan, GSA approach to social media & cloud and at number one government employees. I’ll have to agree with a comment from Sebastian that it is US-focused, which is apparent from the list, but I guess that’s the Gartner income stream talking. As I’ve expressed here before I have doubts about anyone following the US lead, since they’ve proved misguided in the past, even with Gartner advice, and I’d frequently put my money on their neighbour Canada being a better role model!

A Happy New Year, and I hope that hard times will introduce a logical and citizen-focused approach to e-government.


December 21, 2010

It’s all happening in Belgium! I blogged on 17 October about the conference that has been taking place there on 14/16 December 2010 that would be attended by a range of e-government celebrities. To coincide with the event a whole range of documents and speeches would appear to have been published.

One of these, a speech by Geert Bourgeois, Vice-Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister for Administrative Affairs, Local and Provincial Government, announced the launch of the Citadel Statement, to assist local government  to deliver on the vision on the Malmo Ministerial Declaration, which occurred in Ghent. Another, apparently related event in Brussels, was the launch of the European Commission Action Plan 2011-2015 by Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda at the “Lift-Off towards Open Government” conference on the 15 December 2010.

The EC plan says that the EC will:

  • “use eProcurement
  • rationalise our web presence and ICT back office
  • adopt an open data strategy, and look at setting up a portal for EU open data
  • to encourage others to match and beat us in the effort to open up data; and
  • take steps towards going paperless

Significantly, we will promote and help Member States develop a comprehensive policy on electronic identity management.”

(That final one may concern a number of anti-ID card campaigners in the UK – I was always concerned about the pressures to conform to the EC model.

Somewhat in contrast, the main concerns of the Citadel Statement are:

  • Common architecture, shared services and standards
  • Develop clear guidelines and data models for the use of personal details about citizens
  • Provide guidelines, training and methodologies on involving citizens in decision-making and service design
  • Promote the concept of Broadband as a public utility that should be available to all communities no matter how small or geographically dispersed

Demonstrating that local government has a somewhat different focus to the national ones! In fact Andrea di Maio has dedicated posts both to the “Lift Off” Conference and to the Action Plan, missing out on the Citadel Statement altogether, whilst describing the EC one as a missed opportunity, although providing the commission with the opportunity to spend lots of money.

The contrasting approach between the national and local is likely to replicate the historical role of e-government, where the citizen comes out worse! Let us in the UK hope that the eagerly awaited central government IT Strategy is taking account of the local delivery of services by councils.

The crowd in the cloud

November 21, 2010

Andrea di Maio has hit the nail on the head with a recent post following yet another ‘cloud’ discussion, this time in Brussels, at the Government Leaders Forum.

He states that “One great observation that was raised during one of the sessions was that e-government has achieved little more than automating or, at most, optimizing existing bureaucratic processes. Only very rarely have government organizations and vendors taken an opportunity to deeply change a service, even less challenge its need (eg by proposing a technology-intensive alternative). But now technology is the hands of people, the so-called crowd, which comprises many stakeholders, inside and outside government. They can be agents of change, they can reach out to other people, to unprecedented amounts of information, and re-invent the way they do their job.”

The critique of e-government and the forward trend of technology suppliers, doing what they’ve always done, is spot on and we have to look at new ways of doing things. However, our biggest challenge is the politicians. Doing things the way the citizen wants them is rather contrary to the way many career politic0s see their role, I imagine.

The ‘cloud’ is just a way of delivering ICT, it may be a shift in technology but hardly a paradigm one for citizen participation.