Open data manual

February 2, 2012

Whilst I’ve blogged more than 40 times on the subject of open data, I don’t believe I’ve covered the Open Data Manual. A hat-tip to jacques.raybaut at europa-eu-audience.typepad.com! The manual outlines what one should expect of open data, either presenting or using it.

Coincidentally, the UK Government published the summary of the feedback on its open data consultation on the 30 January 2011. The consultees include Socitm which was rather critical of the proposals. A key point that was made in the response was that “Socitm believes that open data issues need to be treated within a broader approach to information management and evidence-based decision-making”, unfortunately this general (and very important) point does not appear to be captured in the report.

So, we’ll see what comes next…

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Government Data Service Launch

December 8, 2011

The UK Government Data Service was launched in front of a small but auspicious gathering of around 100 people including the GDS staff crowding the doors to the office, at Aviation House, London on 8 December 2011. At 11:05 Mike Bracken, Head of the Government Digital Service, introduced Francis Maude MP, the Cabinet Office Minister. Mr Maude described the long way we had come from the days when providing PDF’s of forms online for signature and posting was classed as e-government. However, he said, we were now in a difficult financial position and government service delivery should be digital where they are capable of being done in such a way, as outlined in the Martha Lane-Fox Digital-by-Default report. He also stated that it will be a difficult decision to turn off conventional services, so the digital ones have to be better and cheaper. There will also be much inertia and resistance to be combatted and It was also necessary to design services from the citizen’s point-of-view, which was being done with Universal Credit.

Ryan Battles then followed on to describe the development of Directgov, from its original launch in 2004 to its current status with a satisfaction level of over 70% and receiving feedback in the form of over 40,000 comments per month, which were also being used by the Beta.gov team to assist in the new site. Tom Loosemore took over to announce that Beta.gov would launch early in 2012 but they wouldn’t be turning off anything yet. It would be small, simpler, cheaper and better than Directgov and covered in ‘calls to action’. They’d accepted that Google was the ‘home page’ of the majority of users i.e. how they got to subsidiary pages on any site. The Beta.gov designer is also working with the Universal Credit team to ensure they both used the ‘global experience language’, i.e. a consistent use of language and presentation of e-services across government.

Neil Williams, a Product Manager, came up to amplify the corporate platform aimed at saying there were five or so Departments involved in the Beta, and these were employing the intuitive new publishing tool to assist devolution of content management. Chris Chant, as Executive Director of Directgov is responsible for the GDS IT, took the platform next and described the rationalisation that had taken place in establishing the new service in a new building. The network was largely wireless, the computers were laptops (the presentations were on a MacBook), people used Google Apps unless security at IL2 was required when they used Office Libre. There was no telephone network, all staff were on mobiles. The only wired network was for communications at IL3. He stated that security had been dealt with last. A saving of 80% was stated. This was ‘Martini IT’ – “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”.

Peter Herlihy next described the e-petitions solution that had been developed in eight weeks from a standing start. There had been 25,000 petitions, 3 million signatures, six of the petitions had passed the 100,000 mark necessary to be raised in Parliament and action was being taken on them. The cost was now less than one pence per transaction per year and would halve in year two. Allon Lister then described the work being done with the Office of Public Guardians where a paper-heavy approach was being replaced by a digital-by-default one. Alice Newton described the development of the Tech City app(lication) that had been created for an area of London with a concentration of new media companies.

Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office, described how the building’s origins as a church would hopefully bring the team the divine inspiration needed to do the job. He accepted that the car tax system and some local government are the best but that a combination of new technology would make public service easier and better. Martha Lane-Fox followed Ian by describing the move from a digital entrepreneur to being UK digital champion but with the expectation that the improvement to government digital services would assist the target to increase computer usage for 2012. In fact the team at the GDS have agreed to be out of the office three days per week in 2012 to work with colleagues across the country, such as those at the DWP in Warrington. Martha expressed her view that the Internet is one of the strongest levers for social change, and that it is important that we focus on people – “lives can be changed”.

The room then broke up into three groups for presentations on different aspects. I chose to hear the transition team describe how they captured feedback and used this to improve the way Directgov and Beta.gov were presented. An example was how some people paying for a passport complained that they weren’t sure who cheques were made payable to, this resulted in a change to wording and presentation, and a further change to tabular presentation after later feedback. Similarly interventions were made after comments were found on Twitter by staff, these prompted changes to the pages they had created during the national strike. A major focus had been on making the pages viewable on smartphones when an increasing number were identified as being used to access Directgov, and now 9% of Directgov is viewed on mobile devices (largely iPhone and Android).

Colleagues at the GDS and Cabinet Office are to be congratulated for this massive culture change in a few months. I wait to see it permeate the rest of government (local and central).

PS and there was no mention of avoidable contact (NI14) anywhere


The Final Edition?

January 27, 2010

The Government ICT Strategy having been incrementally revealed by both the Government CIO and the Opposition appears in its final form today, 27th January 2010! The full report is available on the CIO section of the Cabinet Office web site along with a video introduction by John Suffolk. The fact that the PDF is numbered ‘4’ indicates it’s had a couple of updates since last year!

The report and two subsections are available on that wonderful web site writetoreply for those who want to comment on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis.

To start with a gripe, the document comes up with a new slant on exclusion (page 8) i.e. those who are excluded from traditional methods, such as the young people for whom ‘Frank’ was put in place for. How they are excluded from face-to-face and telephone is news to me, since they are able to use them, it’s just not fashionable when you are of a certain age, unlike those who are physically excluded by disability or lack of ability.

There are also plenty of mentions of ICT being used for service delivery, but this does not appear to be past the back office. At a local level we still have face-to-face and telephone customers and they aren’t converting to the web overnight. We still have to deliver a range of applications to mobile officers, elected members, home workers and those sharing premises with others, in and out of government.

There is also mention of security but the recent heightened security measures in local government, which were probably well needed, have still caused various issues with democracy and service delivery at the grass-roots.

With the recent launch of data.gov.uk I would also have expected some mention of making datasets public, and whilst there is mention of brands of XML, I didn’t spot topics like RDF in there, which is one current topic of conversation when talking open data. If data from local government is to be made public, data and metadata standards will need to be embedded in the developer community and time taken to implement them!

Overall I don’t think it’s vastly different from version 1 and I don’t imagine much different under any government. Central government makes heavy use of ICT, so it’s about time they started procuring, running and using it all with some central control, with the least cost-to-desktop possible. For local government and some government services things may be slightly different but singing from the same hymn sheet might lead to us singing the same song, even if not quite in tune.

As well as ‘data.gov.uk’, I also searched on ‘democracy’, without success, so we are obviously not getting involved in the politics of it all! Similarly for ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Social Media’.

Might we now see a ‘process strategy’ so that we sort them out before sticking greener and wizzier ICT all over the civil service?


Frontline first

December 7, 2009

Hot off the press from the Cabinet Office comes a pre-budget website. I’ve not absorbed the material but a lot of what has been suggested by all parties seems to have made its way into these plans. At first view it doesn’t appear to be the most accessible website I’ve seen, but I’m sure others can check that. Happy reading!

Visit the website Putting the frontline first or in PDF – putting the frontline first (PDF, 555K)


User-centred approaches to e-government

October 25, 2009

A new document out from the OECD “Rethinking e-Government Services: User-centred Approaches” (240 pages) demonstrates how long its taken to turn the e-government aircraft carrier around to facing the citizen! Along with the recently published Cabinet Office guidance on Channel Strategy it would appear a new world has dawned upon the apparatchiks.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a subscriber, just take out the 7-day trial subscription and you have access!

The first chapter is entitled “A Paradigm Shift Towards Citizen Centricity” and what is states is that the message from the OECD leaders was that “the focus in public service delivery should be on user needs, demands, and satisfaction – not on the tools and service delivery channels governments have been focusing on since the mid-1990’s.” If we want a date for when the aircraft carrier started turning, this pronouncement was apparently made to the OECD Network of Senior OECD E-Government Officials 6-7 March 2008. My detailed research wants to get to the why’s and wherefore’s of the initial route and then the change twelve years later, but for the moment I’m just celebrating the move!

The chapter also asks whether “a user-centric approach forces governments to rethink whether a transformational” perspective on public service development and delivery is still the right one.” Importantly for the UK we have had the shift from e-government to t-government and presumably this  statement leverages both towards the door?

The fourth chapter is entitled “Monitoring and Evaluation User Take-up” , which lists the UK as having a national measurement framework, which may be a white lie, since what the document ultimately states is that “traditional metrics such as counting website hits and page impressions are not sufficient and often provide a very narrow and simplistic view of user take-up. Monitoring and analysing patterns of use, traffic volumes, user likes and dislikes, user satisfaction and attitudes towards information and data use, seasonal variation, audience breakdown, e-mails and feedback, and the use of search terms are all important elements in understanding how users consume electronic services.”  Unfortunately (for me), it doesn’t pick out the most advantageous metric(s) nor suggest that channel management requires all channels to be similarly measured but the next chapter does state that “countries have moved towards rethinking not just their Internet-based service delivery, but their service delivery in general without regard to delivery channel – to meet the users with services on their terms.” unfortunately, no examples are provided of the latter.

Strangely, I missed any mention of Web 2.0 or Government 2.0. whilst Andrea and others feel it’s still a hot topic?


World Class

July 26, 2009

Another document recently appearing on the Cabinet Office web site – if only you all had time to read them all – is “Power in People’s Hands: Learning from the World’s Best Public Services“. Its 70 A4 landscape pages may be picking up on the interest Liam Byrne and David Milliband have been demonstrating in Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen’s work, whose latest book “The Idea of Justice” is freshly published.

I don’t know if the Cabinet Office realise how insulting works like theirs can be, since many of their examples of good practice are actually in use in the UK, but people are too busy doing them to shout about it! At least on this occasion they have started calling the government’s customers “citizens” and taking a look at all the good practice from Canada, who probably do better at service delivery since they have insited upon calling the users of government services “citizens” for many years!

Key conclusions of the report – common standards, greater incentives for improvement and promotion of equity!

I didn’t need a study tour to tell me that, just a bit of study!

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London calling! Revisiting NI14…

November 3, 2008

I travelled to an event today (3rd November 2008) hosted near the Tower of London all about National Indicator 14 for some further discussion of it. On the journey I was reviewing the literature about gaps and concluded that life was to short to cope with detailed gap analysis, so I’m hypothesising that citizen engagement feedback can be used to handle them, but hopefully that will all come out at the EiP conference in a week’s time!

Rather than a verbatim report, thought I’d pick up on the highlights or useful points that came out at the conference…

One of the introductions was by Sarah Fogden, reported to be inventor of NI14 and arch-nemesis of John Seddon, originator of the concept of demand failure, which Sarah highlighted by stating that she didn’t mind what the indicator was called but one was needed to satisfy the process-driven people at Whitehall, when I’d always thought they were target-driven and thought that all our problems would be solved if they were lead by process or system! She also tied the words ‘holistic’ and ‘transformation’ together – I wonder what Jan Smuts the South African statesman would think were he still around eighty years on? (Smuts’ definition – “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”.

She did say to focus upon the key priorities of the organisation, use the CRM system to assist; that there is no right way to do it and that the overall figure for NI14 is meaningless…

Tom Wraith of the Audit Commission had little new to say but was still interesting when he stated that NI14 was:

  • the most frequently queried indicator
  • unlike most indicators
  • had far less prescription
  • moved on from BV157
  • a tool for self-improvement
  • AC won’t be directly comparing but they had a duty to make it public
  • what’s included is up to you!
  • The CLG edict that there was a need to ‘justify methodology’ was a little harsher than AC would have desired
  • It would be used as part of the conversation/dialogue with authorities about managing resources
  • Needed to be triangulated with the evidence

He was asked by Tony Hinkley who has been working for ESD-Toolkit on NI14 whether it was their intention to make it compulsory to use the Local Government Service List (LGSL) which I believe he confirmed?

Kate Batty from Tameside said that NI14 was not the whole answer but that ESD-Toolkit, Mosaic, customer journey mapping and customer service training were all part. Here words were that the order should be: people, process, then technology! One her snappy phrases was ‘lets stop worrying about measuring apples and pears and measure fruit’, which in NI14’s case was highly appropriate…

A fascinating presentation was made by Tom Benford upon the ‘call reduction strategy’ used at the DVLR. He stated that 60% of their customer wanted to use the ‘phone for service, despite frequently having got the number off the web site! In order to reduce avoidable contact and the number of telephone calls they’d looked at the end-to-end customer experience and the process times. As a result they’d made a number of changes:

  • revised the direct.gov content
  • put their the actual questions being asked on the web
  • made their URL’s friendly
  • put a link from the online directory enquiries to the web site
  • adopted plain English
  • redesigned customer-facing documents especially the highly used ones
  • cross-referenced material with online content
  • moved away from using form numbers
  • agreed customer-meaningful turnaround times for metrics
  • revised telephone book entries – put web site address first but also numbers which may not be their services but which the public think they do

One question revealed that despite not being NI14, the resultant transformation was possibly more effective than NI14

It was also stated that no local authority had included NI14 within their quota of targets for LAA…

NI14 had shifted to being outcome focused

Blackpool had realised that their ‘Customer First’ wasn’t working so they listened to customer demand for six weeks, wrote everything down and from this extracted 4000 demands, 121 of true value under seven  broad themes. With their turnover of residents they found change of address to be the most frequent demand and focused upon that initially. Their motto was “in a perfect world, how would we serve the customer?”

A lesson from Halton to their staff when training was: “to think of it from the customer’s view!”

I hope the Cabinet Office don’t mind me publicising the fact that the presentations should be available on their web site.