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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Keep it stupid, simple

January 17, 2012

Whilst they may not be able to do much about it, at least some of the politicians in the UK have realised what a complex system we have around the claiming of various benefits. The conclusions from the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee published on the 12 January 2012, recognize the pickle we have got ourselves into:

  • No single body is responsible for coordinating means testing across government
  • At present there is no clear picture of how the entire benefit system affects claimants’ incentives to work
  • Departments do not understand the impact of administering more means-tested benefits locally
  • The benefit system is difficult to understand and places a high burden on claimants
  • administrative costs of means-tested benefits vary so significantly
  • Real-time information systems will be difficult to implement

So, if we have got an unmanageable set of legislation that makes life difficult and expensive for all levels of public service, who is going to sort it out? This self-induced complexity has been frequently discussed here, especially around the ‘New Conditionality’ covered by Paul Henman in Governing electronically – we make processes and systems complex because we believe that ICT will sort it all out for us – it may, but at an enormous cost, especially if the systems are outsourced or poorly designed. Let’s keep it simple or pay the stupid price!


Measure the outcomes

July 15, 2011

The 22 June 2011 saw the publication of ‘Public Accounts Committee – Fortieth Report: Information and Communications Technology in government‘. The report is the result of the various examinations that were blogged upon earlier this year  including What more? PASC , More evidence to PASC , Presenting the evidence . My own evidence was published under ‘Avoiding past mistakes’.

I am pleased to say that the report concludes and recommends  amongst other things that “The [Government ICT] Strategy lacks a baseline or metrics to measure progress. Simply listing actions to be achieved within two years is not sufficient”. It also recognises that “approximately nine million people have never used the Internet, and they must not be excluded”.

Whether the report succeeds in changing the historic approach to ICT in government is yet to be seen, but it’s a start.


Watmore’s wisdom

June 21, 2009

Reading Computer Weekly informed me there might be something tasty in the evidence given by Ian Watmore, former government CIO and more recently of the DIUS but shortly to be Chief Executive of the Football Association. I couldn’t find a transcript by my own efforts but got a link from Rage on Omnipotent!

The uncorrected transcript of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of 20 May 2009 includes such gems from Mr Watmore as:

“people from the private sector – myself included – are always surprised at how difficult the business problems are that we are trying to solve.” Q10

“one of the challenges that we have always had is that people sit too often in Whitehall and do not get out to the front line enough and do not see the consequences of things that look good on a bit of paper in Whitehall but are not actually translating properly in the front line.” Q11

“I think there is a genuine problem of too many initiatives.” Q16

What a guy!

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