Transparent e-gov

August 3, 2012

The UK Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) met earlier this year and its report on “Implementing the Transparency Agenda” has just been published. The report has the usual somewhat confused outputs that one expects from a PAC report i.e. that little is likely to be changed as a result! Part of this is due to the blurring across strands of government such as ‘Departments’ and local authorities.

The responsible ‘Department’ for Communities & Local Government (CLG) demanded certain information from local government some time ago and although all but one council supplied this, despite the vagueness of the request, more is desirable. However, without some clarity as to format, fields and level i.e. standards, this will remain only of value to a the more advanced ‘armchair auditor’. The report appears to realise the difficulty without being able to make any difference.

The conclusions ask for “price and performance information for adult care”, but with outsourcing of so many arms of service I’m not even sure this could be made available. Similarly for “spending per pupil in individual academy schools” which is surely locked away in the ‘academy’ accounts? As the report states, and has probably been stated before by them, auditors and others that “the government does not understand the costs and benefits of its transparency agenda” – so what will this report change? There is a resounding cry for evidence-based policy but since when do politicians do that?

The report states that “The Cabinet Office recognises problems with the functionality and usability of its data.gov.uk portal”, so what will be done? It then goes on to state that “four out of five” visitors to the site leave immediately! Should we be surprised?

Finally, the report acknowledges that with eight million people without Internet access, they won’t gain any benefits from the data – well actually they might, with ‘armchair auditors’ and journalists doing it for them, especially since those eight million are unlikely to have the analytical skills to play with the data in the first place, and we are relying on the media to report it. We need the data in open, standard formats so that true comparisons can be done as to what happens when policy is led by political agenda rather than any hard evidence. In summary – Is there any open data about open data?

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Five star rating

July 1, 2012

The publication of the UK government ‘Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential‘ on the 29 June 2012 is intended to set out how they’re “putting data and transparency at the heart of government and public services”. The claim is also to be “making it easier to access public data; easier for data publishers to release data in standardised, open formats; and engraining a ‘presumption to publish’ unless specific reasons (such as privacy or national security) can be clearly articulated.”

One of the proposals in the paper is to employ the ‘five star’ rating system and since this was outlined on here back in December 2010 under the heading ‘Government data done well’ I thought it worth mentioning that post since it had a number of links supporting the ‘five star’ scheme and related issues around open data and linked open data that it might serve as a tutorial.

Other than that I was mainly concerned with the cursory attention paid to local government. Assumptions are made that local government will follow suit, but where is the financial stimulus to do this given the current climate. Local government does not, and never had, the massive budgets in central government, nor the staff.


Is data.gov.uk transparent?

June 26, 2012

A recent posting on the W3C egovernment discussion group was on the topic of IT procurement for eGov/transparency case studies and one of the members revealed that a project she was working on at the moment, involved mapping, with documentation (as documentary evidence), for each eGovernment initiative, how the IT resources were obtained. However when she “consulted the UK government last year, including issuing FOI requests, about the procurement, of CKAN for example, particularly wanted to learn what was the original spec /requirements for CKAN, and what kind of funding was granted, based on what agreement/tender. however, [she] was unable to access any document available, including no contract between the UK government and OKFn for the development of CKAN, although there is some evidence of moneys having been exchanged between the UK Government and OKFn for the purpose of funding CKAN development. ”

She then asked “Does anyone have any info?”

I suggested that “One would hope PDM could extract the information from the CKAN’s mouth itself – http://data.gov.uk/dataset/public-sector-procurement-spend” and suggested Paola look there…

However, Paola’s response was “I was not capable to answer the questions using the website http://data.gov.uk/. It looks to me that the website is designed especially to avoid making transparent  the information they are looking for (for example show me the contract between a and b, or how was decision x achieved?) This is what I mean that a service should be designed/driven with usage in mind, and not just stick the word usage as a popular trendy label ‘ (for example, to answer specific questions such as ‘what contractual agreement drives the development of an open data platform such as CKAN?) But if you can drill further with a better understanding of the data.gov platform, please assist! its possible that I am missing something”.

So if the technically proficient are having problems extracting procurement information from the UK government, why are there still claims to be open, transparent etc?

The ongoing conversation is on the W3C site. Can anybody help Paola? Is this transparency or not?


On common ground

January 23, 2011

A request for help from Finland on the W3C e-government interest group  list resulted in a pointer back to another site I hadn’t been to recently, the Civic Commons wiki. As with many colleagues out there, including the one posting that URI, I am keen that we don’t reinvent any wheels, so I’m posting it here, too.

As the site states in its ‘About’: “In the face of budget crises, government entities at every level must cut costs and find efficiencies. An enormous opportunity lies in their IT infrastructure — the technology they require to provide their citizens essential services. For the most part, each city, county, state, agency and office builds or buys their technology solutions independently, creating huge redundancies in civic software and wasting millions of tax-payer dollars. They should be able to work together. An independent non-profit organization, Civic Commons will help these institutions share code and best practices, reform procurement practices, and learn to function not only as a provider of services but as a platform to which an ecosystem of industry can add value for government and its citizens.”

So even better, we can spread these savings internationally, if possible. The UK equivalent for applications is http://data.gov.uk/apps – Give it time, it’s only been there a year and nobody has even written on the wiki yet…or am I being disingenuous?


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?