Be my muse

April 8, 2010

It didn’t take long! Ann Macintosh and colleagues beaver away at software to analyse social media for insights that might influence government policy, and now Big Blue (aka IBM) have developed a tool to suggest blog topics to writers from their potential readership…

No, I’m not making it up! The MIT Technology Review doesn’t normally run to the wacky stories sometimes found in The Register. In the 9 March 2010 edition was a story by Erica Naone entitled “Software tells Bloggers What Readers Want“. The results are even due to be presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

So, if the muse has left you and you are feeling bereft of words, always remember It’s Better Manually and buy Blog Muse!

It may sometimes appear that I have a slightly negative approach to the government use of social media, to disabuse such rumours I am presenting a paper next week at Ethicomp 2010 on its use in academic research into information systems. To further put off such rumours I would like to point out the excellent set of resources on Gov 2.0 Steve Radick has posted in Australia. In the way of the Internet, I was made aware of this by Jacques Raybaut who runs the useful en.europa-eu-audience news broadcast.


Democratic participation

March 9, 2010

…or should that be participative democracy? No, the two are definitely not the same! However, so as not to get confused with a post about participation, per se, I thought some expansion necessary! Thanks to Jose Manuel Alonso for mailing the W3C e-government interest group with the European E-participation Summary November 2009. The authors include Ann Macintosh and the document attempts to play out both the necessity and practice behind e-participation in the light of the Lisbon Treaty of December 2007, which is now ratified.

It’s only 30 pages and fairly graphical but the key sections for me is number 24 on page 28 where it states:

“In a context where at least 30% of Europeans will not be online for the foreseeable future, where ICT is still in its infancy as regards participation, and where ICT is unlikely ever to meet all the needs of participation (especially those related to its social and community experience, and the needs for considered long-term and highly nuanced debate), multi-channel solutions are highly desirable.

  • eParticipation rarely stands alone. Both implementation and research should focus on why and how switching between channels occurs.
  • The role of intermediaries needs to be better understood and encouraged where appropriate.
  • eParticipation can be and often needs to be combined with traditional channels like meetings, personal consultations, mass media, the use of the telephone and mass mailings, etc.
  • Alternative e-channels like digital TV, kiosks, mobile phones could also be exploited especially for enhancing the participation of specific target groups.”

Which confirms for me that the EU is also getting it head around the fact that e-government is not a majority event and there will always be a significant minority to support. It also appreciates the little understood channel switching that occurs and needs to be seriously researched when designing systems.

An excellent report appreciating the challenges ahead!


March 1, 2010

No, not the ancient TV serial or the little sixties ditty by Cream, were talking about a multi-country EU project on “A Participative Roadmap for ICT Research in Electronic Governance and Policy Modelling.”

On the 17th February 2010 I legged it away from the office to see a presentation at York University by Ann Macintosh, the Professor of Digital Governance at Leeds University. It was an interesting 40 minutes, where I scribbled lots of notes, one of them being the above project, which she is running one strand of. The project is entitled IMPACT or “Integrated network for policy making using argument modelling & computer assisted text analysis.” I can’t seem to get the letters to tie up with the acronym, so one or the other may be wrong! The actual bit Ann is focused on is around argument analysis, tracking and visualisation. It only started on the 1 January, so don’t expect massive announcements yet but the idea is to pick up feedback from social and other media towards assisting the development of government policy.

Ann admitted that her background was as an engineer, and that she was employing her knowledge of artificial intelligence, first with e-petitions in Scotland, and now using more advanced tools for the EU.

being a philosophical term, so well used by my hero Immanuel Kant, for a contradiction.AntinomyShe and some of the audience appeared to agree with my observation that politicians in representative democracies were unlikely, in reality, to relinquish power to the citizens and encourage direct or deliberative democracy. So, all the talk of e-democracy that has appeared over the years in e-government literature is, in the immortal words of Joe Hill, little more than pie in the sky. In my academic work I have labelled this one of the antinomies of e-government.

As the Swiss and Swedish have demonstrated technology is not a requisite for more direct forms of democracy, but political willingness and constitutions may be!

Benchmarking the nations

January 17, 2010

The United Nations issue a benchmark report on e-government sporadically and a new one is in the offing, although I’ve seen some countries declaring how well they’ve done already, including Vietnam.

Prior to this years report some academic work was done to reconsider the metrics used in the EU by Alexander Schellong at Harvard, which may or may not have affected the methodology employed by the UN. Interesting though the report is, it still fails to point to the value the citizen might or might not place on e-government, e-governance or the actual government services involved. However he does state that for EU nations “Since Lisbon, benchmarking activities are a cornerstone of the EU’s “open method of coordination””, which explains something of the fixation they have with it and the report now admits that the time for a change has come, since for the study “the most common critique being that the benchmark’s only focus is in on the supply side of eGovernment.”

The report further states “unfortunately, the development of a relevant and universally accepted benchmark for eGovernment will continue to be a challenge around the globe. Many aspects of eGovernment, especially transformation or its impact are difficult to capture.” This is where I believe that (dis)satisfaction comes in, since it picks up on those outcomes from service delivery that is affected by transformation and the delivery itself.

However, as it currently stands, it looks like old-time benchmarking for the EU, with no feedback from the citizen. Although the proposal stands to involve them in setting some new benchmarks at some time in the future…


On another matter Professor Ann Macintosh of Leeds University is giving a lecture entitled “The Internet, Web 2.0 and ‘having your say’” at the University of York on 17 February 2010 at 6:15 in Room P/L001, Physics. The Great E-mancipator’s author may be lurking in the audience if he can get away from work!