Open by design

March 6, 2012

A very recent paper by Yu & Robison entitled The New Ambiguity of “Open Government” highlights one of the ongoing difficulties of the whole e-government and ‘open government’ debate, and so, for me, it’s not a new ambiguity but something inherent in the whole scheme of things. I’d already mentioned one of their papers in the ‘Invisible Hand’ in 2008, so the authors weren’t new to me either. Essentially, the paper proposes that there is an issue of semantics around the term ‘open government’ or ‘open data’, in that it can be open in at least two different senses – political or technical openness provides access to data, whilst philosophical openness provides transparent government, and it is possible to have the former without the latter. Robinson & Yu argue for clarity between the two in any usage. They try to remove the ambiguity around technical openness by labelling one ‘adaptable’, as Tony Roberts, as I related recently in Open Warfare,  uses the expression ‘ actionable’.

In contrast Fishenden & Thompson, also co-authors in 2010 of “Better for less: How to make Government deliver IT savings“, have written a paper entitled “Digital Government, Open Architecture and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT Will Never be the Same Again“, which largely ignores the semantic trap and instead creates another term ‘open architecture’. Building further on the Digital Era Governance (DEG) concept proposed by Dunleavy & Margetts, they recognise the failings of the New Public Management (NPM) dogma and the fact that it is still ingrained in government, whilst claiming that ‘open architecture’ will bring us nearer to DEG. I suggested in Accountability in 2010 that NPM was far from dead when the current public service leadership had all grown up with it, and were thoroughly tainted with its concepts, and as institutional isomorphism teaches us, it’s pervasive. In terms of ‘open architecture’ , we already have TOGAF, and that’s been there a while now, too. What we need is both philosophical/political openness so that the citizen can see why nothing is changing, along with the technical openness so that data, systems and architectures can ‘plug and play’.

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Presenting the evidence

March 13, 2011

If you wish to see Professor Helen Margetts, Oxford Internet Institute, Dr Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute, and Dr Edgar Whitley, London School of Economics Professor Nigel Shadbolt, University of Southampton, and Sir Ian Magee, Institute for Government giving evidence to the UK HoC Public Administration Committee on 8th March 2011 it’s available online.

Amongst the criticisms levelled at government IT is that there is little competition in the UK. Prof Margetts does admit that the private sector is good at covering it up, however it is stated that if  Sainsburys’ managed its IT systems like government they would have gone bust a long time ago.

It’s a two hour recording, but with the question and answer process, it’s quite revealing how little politicians are actually aware of how technology is developed and linked into policy making, or maybe they’re playing ‘devil’s advocates’. The evidence itself is largely based upon the recent Institute for Government report entitled ‘System error’.


Another survey

September 23, 2009

The Oxford Internet Institute have released the report of their latest survey, The Internet in Britain, which contains a comparative analysis of results from 2009 with the years 2005 and 2007.

One of the quotes from Helen Margetts (p.26) contains the statement: “Information seeking remains the most common e-government activity, similar to the way e-commerce developed (although slower). However, the frequency of online transactions such as paying for government services, taxes, fines and licenses has started to increase.” So information, not transaction remains the killer application.

Interestingly, local services remain more popular than central government ones, whether policy or politicians, although all see a small but steady increase.

However, an added reminder came from Gerry McGovern in his latest e-broadcast , when he stated: “The purpose of marketing and advertising used to be to get customers to do the things you wanted them to do. The purpose of web marketing and advertising is different. It starts off by accepting that the customer is on the Web to do something. It then focuses on helping that customer become more successful in doing that thing, not getting the customer to do something else.”

In the case of government, what we need to remember is that primarily we should be using the web to help citizens, not to help ourselves!