Developers

Updated on 23rd Feb 2012 to recognise government changes

Frustration is never a good reason to write a blog post, nor a knee-jerk reaction to something that has happened in your day – something that I am sure you will see I have learned during the course of my scribing here (and some seriously random posts in my early blogging years, sorry about that). So please believe me when I say that this is not a rash post, it has been a long time in the making.

It is the age old fannying about all day doing the distracting stuff that demands immediate attention, then lobbing the stuff on the ‘to do’ list to the next person down the line making the most noise about it: I think it is time that someone said: developers are no longer the 5pmers, willing to deliver for a 9am deadline.

The average view of developers and open data (from within government) is that:

1. developers work for free/very little because they are so driven

2. developers will do anything for early access to data

3. developers will do anything for kudos

None of the above statements are true. I can name perhaps two people who may fall into one or two of the above categories, but I know no one who actually fits all three. So let’s start from there.

What developers have been saying for the last decade or so, is that there is a better way. It is:

  • cheaper than outsourced IT and CMS contracts
  • faster and more agile
  • diverse and inclusive

The blockers are:

  • closed public data
  • procurement
  • change

Developers are indeed talented, and worthy of enormous academic respect – such as people reserve for scientists or those people on CSI. And yes, there are some developers who are so excited and driven by their talent that they will more than happily talk for hours, or work for a while – for free – explaining why they love their subject and how they could revolutionise the way the world works. Just as there are those who know how to code and do that as a day job, are brilliant and talented but it is a job and no more, and those who push and grow their talent to become super-developers, world-renowned futurologists and/or billionaires.

There are back end developers, front end developers, php, ruby, c++,  java, perl, (a list of programming languages are here), some are dedicated to open source and open standards, some are quite happy working with bespoke software – most write their own; some use agile programming and scrum mastery, others don’t; some fight the fight – most, to be fair, won’t.

Not only are developers talented, they are also human. I know it may seem facile to point this out, but they have relationships, own homes, or rent; eat food, not just vegetables they have dug up from their gardens – all of this costs them the same as it costs the rest of the world. Taking a girlfriend or boyfriend out for a ‘show off’ supper/date costs a developer as much as it does a politician, doctor or plasterer.

The only difference is that it has taken the world a little while to listen to what they have been saying for many years now:

developers can redesign the way the world works – they can make it cheaper and more sustainable

So developers have been working effectively as jobbing actors, working the poles whilst waiting for the world to realise what they had to offer.

A few have hit the headlines/Hollywood, but let’s face it – not many. For those who were determined not to waste any more of the worlds’ collective cash or resources – much of their spare time has been spent, in recent years, lobbying for open data and standards, fighting for a way to prove that they had the algorithm, the app, the simple interface – a new way of doing things that would not cost lots of noughts, or lives, but would revolutionise the way the world operates its business: government, corporate and social business. (But just because it did not cost lots of noughts cannot dis-count making lots of noughts, and for some developers making money is paramount; in as much as for others it is irrelevant – that’s not the point…)

To discount the revolution in open government data and standards over the last few years would be ridiculous – it has taken a massive amount of work and dedication from an increasingly broad community – but it has not reached a tipping point yet.

For a while, in 2009, there was a brief moment of illumination, in my opinion, where world governments in particular woke up to the reality of what had been glaringly obvious to the militant dev (as well as the jobbing dev, to be fair) and the studious few who were truly looking for future solutions to today’s problems.

Open data meant a new rich seam of renewable resource, upon which not only could there be built scrutiny and accountability in democracy – but also small businesses could grow, entrepreneurs could flourish, investors could be wooed – tech-cities could be born out of dead olympiad space, internally companies could revolutionise process design and service delivery – the whispered word was agile and it all suddenly seemed possible. At a cost to no one, seriously, no one. (Oh except perhaps those who had been exploiting an antiquated system for years, meh).

Until it all went a little bit wrong.

Somewhere, somehow, here in the UK, amongst the rise of the Coalition and loss of the tech manifestos – torn up in the aftermath of a hung Parliament – an ethos has risen based on the fact that developers will solve all the problems that can be resolved through technology – for free, for love.

What do you mean, you can’t?

Let me just be clear: there is a better way, it is not free, but it is massively better! R&D through hack days is a very valuable thing indeed, of course :) (see Rewired State, we are doing some good stuff but we are a very small cog in a very large change machine) but actually delivering what developers have been talking about for the last few year takes time, money and talent.

Developers need to live, and actually the world needs to woo them. To romance a developer you need to be willing to listen and willing to pay where they say it is fundamental to invest – feel free to get a second/third opinion – in fact I suspect they would demand it. But for now, please remember that:

  • developers have accommodation that costs money – not data
  • developers love open data but mainly to show *you* what you are missing
  • developers will help – but don’t take the p***

Disclaimer: I run Rewired State

33 responses

  1. The DCLG business plan was interesting on the point of open data, with action point 3.4.iii saying:

    “Run events and take other actions, including ‘hack’ and developer days, to encourage new uses of data and test out new applications on the public; support developers to create innovative websites and to identify what information or data the public would prioritise.”

    Hopefully their definition of “support” will go further than just moral support… but not sure if I will hold my breath on that one.

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  3. I’m looking for a programming job, because I need to pay the bills.
    I need to pay the bills, because I’m working on the Contingency Market.
    The CM is something that enables users to pay coders to develop and publish software copyleft.
    I’m developing the CM because I need it to fund a p2p Cyberspace engine that has to be copyleft & funded by users.

  4. It isn’t just cash and that is where it all goes wrong :) Naturally I will be associated with Rewired State, but I am deliberately not writing from that blog. RS is a very small cog, there is a larger network… but I am not too happy with govnt assuming that devs will work for data – who ever lived off data?! (ecxept maybe the tesco guy… ) I mean Government data in this instance

  5. It’s not hard to tell you care a lot about this. I hope this not only reaches the right eyes but gets the right understanding and response it deserves.

  6. Cool, fun and ranty post and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll play with OpenData (from anyone, not just governments) and produce fun little proof-of-concept tools. My motivation in doing so is twofold:

    1) To encourage those few in government who are pushing against the tide to open up data that we taxpayers have already paid for. You know who you are, and we love you, we really do.

    2) To embarrass, shame, a (hopefully) put out of business the EDS/Accenture/Gartner/CSC consulting firms that make a massive sum from obfusticating and holding back government IT. I could go on a long rant about firms whose primary product is invoices and whose R&D consists of lobbying but it’s easier to spend an hour on a demo that would cost millions through the state’s “preferred suppliers”.

    So, developers don’t work for free but compared to global consulting firms they do. The difficulty for the Civil Service is managing risk – when we work on public data they can distance themselves from any fallout but if they want to cover their collective backsides then we’re back into “preferred supplier” costs.

    How does private enterprise deal with this problem? In the UK it doesn’t, but in the US it sponsors a “contest” and cherry-picks the best of the results. Maybe we developers could get a share of the savings that way.

  7. Interesting post – but personally I think it’s too negative and in some ways wrong to assume fast change from a new coalition govt which is struggling with much bigger problems [the economy, the deficit, establishing its authority, getting the public to accept what wil be tough cuts in an era of austerity] than keeping developers busy and happy.

    You could substitute any number of other professions instead of ‘developer’ and get the same message about valuable people who will however not work for free. Accountants, managers, web designers, journalists, engineers , IT specialists [of various types], management consultants , philosophers and others could all offer cases for why their particular profession is under-used and could contribute more if only the Governmnent used them more/paid them better/took account of their special needs and gave them privileged access to information. Special pleading simply doesnt work in an era of austerity, if developers have great ideas that just need a bit of seed funding they can compete for it amongst all the other entrepreneurs out there from the sources capitalism offers. Neither the current government nor the previous one were keen on subsidising any sector.

    Re your specific points, data has become more open in 2010 both before and after the election [now part of the transparency agenda] and that will continue. I’m not personally sure what you are saying is the issue re procurement. As for getting change being a barrier – developers will never have better opportunities to present ways their work can help government and local authorities, where it genuinely can help improve efficiency and save money.

    You will probably see more references to making more data more transparent and accessible in consultations that will be coming out from across government departments (ONS one is here http://www.ons.gov.uk/about/consultations/work-programme-consultation/index.html and the MoJ one is here http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/statistics-cp171110.htm ), and the release of extra data was welcomed and recognised in this years Statistics Users Forum conference. http://www.rss.org.uk/main.asp?page=2622 and if there are specific things developers want from data producers they should simply get in touch with the producers and respond to the consultations that are happening.

    Things have not stopped, but realistically there is less money available, and a range of other users’ needs to meet as well in an era of austerity and cuts. Just as libraries are being cut, so will those producing data. We can expect the value of statistical publications and outputs of all sorts to be questioned, and this is likely to force producers to look for proper evidence of benefits (especially when being assessed against this -see the UK Statistics Authority emphasising value for money (see ‘Statement – Value for Money requirements in Code of Practice’ at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/guidance-about-assessment/index.html) and to focus on what they get told by data users. This does not mean work on harmonising formats and definitions to work towards a world where data can be linked more easily wont happen – it will – but perhaps not as quickly as ‘developers’ would like.

    Ultimately the quality of relationships depend on the quality of communications – so if developers cant or dont make their case effectively based on some evidence of returns to be provided from funds invested [whether making the case to the bank or to the govt] then that will reflect on them, at least as much as ‘the government’ – it is too easy to blame ‘the government’ for all of society’s ills, small and large.

  8. ps many folk would say that given numerous reports down the years about the problems govt has procuring IT of all kinds, not least where specifications are not clear, it is only right to slow down, as well as re-negotiate existing contracts. You may have seen recent coverage of the public accounts committee
    “Whitehall spending on management and IT consultants is “crazy” and takes up more than half of some departments’ wage bills, MPs have heard. ” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11779843

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  11. There are really people out there who think I’m interested in data? Wow. Really. That is quite a surprise.

    I’m not particularly interested in data for the sake of data. I’m interested in solving problems. Problems that real people have right now. I’m motivated to improve your day. If we need data to do it (and often we will), cool, but you’ll need to tell me what you’re having trouble with so we can work out how I can help. I’m not going to manufacture some magic from some raw data; I don’t know how. Finding good solutions is necessarily about understanding what people need. It requires insight, and I usually don’t have it. I’m rarely in the target market for the things I make.

    Working directly with the people whose problems I’m solving motivates me. They have the insight, and can tell me if what we’ve built changes things their life for the better. That motivates the hell out of me. Let’s do more of that!

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  13. I wrote a lengthy blog post reply about this, calling total bobbins on it. But sadly, as it may harm others I work with within government, I’ve so far chosen not to post it.

    The summary of the post was: From what I have seen, events held by Emma & Rewired State are in fact the only ones I know of making money as their business model out of (some) developers working for free. So why the ranty unresearched Daily Mail of a blog post about government doing that (when I
    can assure you, that is not the case). Bit pot kettle black, isn’t it?

    Shame the rest won’t see the light.

    Maybe next time you choose to have a pop at one of your biggest clients, you should find out if what you’re saying is true or not. Might make you look less of a wally in the eyes of those who actually do know.

    Thayer

    • It is a measure of how hard some people work and how passionate some people are in government about the whole open data commitment, and its importance in a modern government, that they are driven to such personal irritation and anger on a Sunday to not only post here but on twitter as well about how wrong this post could seem to be and how much it could do to damage those working super hard to keep everything on track. I was quite shocked at how this post was perceived by Thayer and did take my time in posting this comment and my response – as I was unsure what was behind the irritation.

      On speaking to a few people, Thayer included as I am lucky enough to be able to, I can now see that actually one could read this post as a massive pop at a whole movement, one that is upheld and personally valued by many people in government. I did not mean this. Data.gov.uk, its team and its relationship with developers is beyond reproach. Both the information it carries and the way it is working with departments to encourage and support the flow of information.

      What I am actually referring to here is a latent attitude that is very much alive in some areas of government and beyond, that sees open data as the solution to financial woes as the armchair auditors and developers in garages will be able to revolutionise service design and delivery through free application building and completing the work of government. This is not anyone’s fault, this is all part of a massive change – for everyone – all on top of the fact that there is very little money anywhere at the moment.

      The work that I do with developers, not only in Rewired State, is indeed a new way for people to conduct research and development, for governments to trial their data releases before they hit the public eye, for press officers to visualise some of the stories sitting behind the data. The hack days we run are a tiny, titchy, cog in a far bigger process/mechanism – the have a role but are definitely not the end game. The main issue now is for useful things to be built, services redesigned and value realised – and I am very aware that constantly ‘hacking’ data could be seen as a fun distraction and not just one tiny step in the new way of digital delivery.

      I am keen that this response does not become a brand new blog post in itself, but I really wanted to just pick up on why Thayer feels the way she does – and I am sure there are others who would like to say what she has written here, and written elsewhere but not yet published.

      Unfortunately we are constantly asked to do stuff for free in RS, never by data.gov.uk, and sometimes the things we are asked to do for free are substantial pieces of work – and there is great surprise when I explain that these things carry a cost.

      Rewired State is a Limited Company, we have to be in order to contract with government, but we behave as a not for profit. The money we charge goes to developers either to cover day rates, or expenses/food (for sponsored events or when we have to go and speak somewhere – like to Surrey University this week). We do not have shareholders taking dividends, and we are not hoping to sell the company for millions one day. But we do represent over 300 developers and as such are required to make sure that we do not encourage an environment where they could be constantly asked to work for free. But we are a useful resource and the developers are passionate and hugely talented and thoroughly enjoy what they do.

      In summary :) everything is in a giant state of flux and we are all working to make sure that nothing breaks or goes wrong both inside and outside government – civil servants as well as government contractors and community businesses such as mine. My post here was to try to clarify the role that developers can play in open data.

      I really hope this serves to deflate rather than inflame the conversation here. But I do applaud Thayer’s passion and commitment and I recognise her fury because I know how seriously she feels about open data, transparency and integrity of working with developers. I am only sorry that I ruined her Sunday.

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  15. Sometimes people offer their skills for proper money, sometimes at a discount, and sometimes for free. What determines whether something is done for free, for cheap, or for proper money can include fun, family, friends, kudos, canny marketing or guilt.

    Volunteering feels good, and has lots of practical benefits too. But when assumptions about whether something is for free, for cheap, or for proper money are mismatched, then there’s a problem.

    Until recently, Government almost always assumed that things were done on its behalf for proper money only. The Big Society and the narrative around deficit reduction argues that Government’s purposes, but not necessarily its institutions, should have a call on the time and effort of wider society for free, or at least for cheap. It’s an idea that’s existed in the US for a while, with Apps for Democracy, Expert Labs and so on. But here, we’re feeling our way in this new mixed economy of the public sector where some things are free, some are cheap and some are full price.

    From what I know of Rewired State, it’s found a way, through formalising its structure, for government to engage with some of the independent developer talent willing to give its time to support those purposes for cheap or for free, alongside an interesting mentoring process. I’m not aware that either side feel exploited.

    Maintaining that delicate balance – in developer time as in every other reach of the Big Society – demands, I think, careful negotiation, the maintenance of mutual respect, and old-fashioned gratitude.

    Developers, online communities and volunteers of every stripe need to eat. Keep us fed and feeling appreciated in the myriad ways Government is able to, and we’ll be inclined to help produce the prototypes and ideas that the Big Society needs. Assume we’ll do it for free, all or most of the time, and we’ll have to find other, potentially less socially-useful, ways to put food on the table.

    That’s just basic economics and human psychology, right?

  16. Wow! Now that is good honest debate.

    Can we change the model to make everyone feel a little more at ease? In the linked data world we’re always talking about ‘things’. If we can’t ‘pay’ for work couldn’t we offer ‘things’ in exchange for skills/time. With the network out there if people ‘want’ something surely the network can barter their skills/time against those ‘wants’. If bringing ‘insight’ to data producers is one side of the transaction, money doesn’t have to fulfil the other. Then maybe when people actually ‘need’ something the network can offer freely….

  17. I had just written a comment when I saw Steph Gray’s thoughts, which have made me pause and come at this from a slightly different angle.  He is absolutely right that there are different currencies and that sometimes there is a misunderstanding about which currency is being used or about what the rate of exchange might be. Goodwill, enthusiasm and leeway are all part of the mix and are particularly important when a new way of doing things is still in the process of formation.

    I think there is both a general economic point which we need to understand and recognise, even though in some ways it may be a bit of a red herring, and also some more specific points about what it is like to work with government in these ways at this time.

    The economic point is crude but very simple.  Developers clearly need to eat, as do we all.  But as David Matz has already commented, wanting to be paid is not the same thing as there being a market for a service. There are many people who have watched their market scarcity evaporate. Photographers are probably a good parallel: the advent of a vast amount of freely licensed material and of stock libraries with massively greater range and massively smaller cost has both made good photography much more widely available and made it much harder to make a living doing it. From time to time you see photographers arguing, in effect, that people shouldn’t be allowed to give their pictures away or that commercial users of photography shouldn’t be allowed to use free or low cost providers.  But the unavoidable reality is that the market clearing rate for some kinds of photography (but  by no means all kinds) is effectively zero or pretty close to it.

    So there is a harsh version of the response, that the market clearing rate for developers will be determined in part by the supply curve of developers’ time.  And if, for some purposes, “enough” of it is available at a price of zero, then zero will be the price.  For both photographers and developers, nobody is required to accept a price of zero, but nor can they necessarily enforce a price which is greater than zero.  What they can do, and some do do, is create a package of greater value which is of sufficient scarcity (in terms of quality, comprehensiveness or some other metric) that people will be prepared to pay (see Techdirt, passim).

    But while we can’t ignore that, it’s nowhere near being a sufficient account of what’s going on.  As Steph draws out, there is an interaction of complex motives on both sides which can’t be reduced to crude economic determinism. I don’t think it necessarily follows though that the Rewired State business model either is or needs to be as altruistic or big society as Steph implies.  Giving away some things while charging for others is a pretty common business model in lots of contexts, and seeing the Rewired State open hack days as a form of marketing for their chargeable services is perfectly valid.

    But the specific problem is a different one. It’s less that government is not in principle able to or even willing to pay for what it needs and more that (a) it doesn’t consistently know what it does need and (b) we are in a world where spending money on anything not obviously essential can be hard to justify.  If that’s the issue, arguing that it is wrong to exploit the goodwill of developers, however true that may be, is pretty much irrelevant. That demand failure can only be solved by government as customer recognising that there is a need for more or better or more specialised or more consistent or more sustained engagement than can be obtained for free, and by developers individually or in some collective form recognising that they need to offer a broader and deeper service than the hack day model allows. I touched on that briefly and by analogy in my post this morning.

    And on that, I thought Graham Ashton’s comment above is really powerful. Once the story slips into being about a data playground, a big part of the argument is lost. We can – and should – recognise that this is something still in the process of formation which may still need a degree of nursery treatment, and Rewired State has a tremendous role to play there.  But in the end, this can only be about demonstrating that there are smart new ways of solving problems which commissioners believe themselves to have.  Some of those problems may be about capability or innovation, or about demonstrating the power of these techniques to key audiences, where again Rewired State has something to offer.  But the ones for which there will be solid demand will be solutions to problems in delivering the organisation’s responsibilities and objectives.

  18. What Stef says. And then some.

    I think we’re all agreed that there’s something fundamentally broken with the current state of big Government IT. We’re stuck in a loop of paying premium prices for sub-standard products – and up until now entrenched vested interests having been calling the shots. Decision makers have abrogated their responsibilities to hold suppliers to account, and suppliers have been only too happy to exploit the decision makers. It’s a toxic mess.

    The problem is that I as a jobbing developer can do no more than whinge from the sidelines, because the vested interests prevent my voice from being heard. And I’m just one voice – I don’t have a sales force and lobbying efforts to call on in order to influence the decision makers

    What Rewired State (and others) offer is a potential alternative route to those decision makers, and a forum in which it’s possible to demonstrate that you can create meaningful, working solutions at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time of the traditional vendor processes.

    Which makes RS and others like it a potentially massive threat to the vested interests. If enough decision makers start questioning the likes of EDS and Capita and all the usual suspects and asking “how come a bunch of hackers could do this when you’re telling us it’ll cost eleventy billion pounds and take 5 years”, then life as a major systems integrator is going to become a lot less cushy than it is now.

    (Which, by the way, is not to say that government scale doesn’t bring it’s own challenges – just that the excuse of “what would you know about how hard it is to run government IT, you don’t have to look after 10,000 desktops” has a limited lifespan.)

    For the moment, I’m happy to pitch in for beer and pizza. I can get enough satisfaction out of working with other, like-minded individuals to solve some interesting problems – and do that with data sources that I wouldn’t otherwise get access to.

    However, there’s going to come a point where that will change – either because I start to feel that I’m now getting taken advantage of; or the current toxic status quo remains in place. At this point, the equation changes – I’ll eventually figure that actually, my efforts aren’t counting for anything and go off and play somewhere else.

    So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s partly because of people who are disrupting on the outside (like RS and Emma) and partly because of people who are doing the same from the inside (like data.gov.uk and Thayer). What would be a complete disaster at this stage would be for the community at large to schism and start pointing fingers and shouting at each other.

    We seem to all be in broad agreement about WHY we’re all doing what we’re doing – we might differ occasionally on the HOW, but it would be a huge mistake (IMHO) if we let that get in the way of actually continuing the good work so far.

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  20. I’ve left it late to comment on this, but am on holiday in France and thinking clearly. Back in the day, I had the thrilling job of introducing rapid application development to a big insurance underwriters’ at Lloyds. We didn’t have the debates about democracy and ‘openness’, but we had all the problems you describe about relating to IT departments, consultancy firms, and management.

    The first thing that struck me is you’re dealing with what Open Sourcers call the two kinds of free – Free as in Speech, and Free as in Beer. All 3 misleading statements you mention make perfect sense to developers when they are working for themselves, because they’re doing something they feel passion about. But the message there is:
    * I’ve found the data.
    * I don’t need your permission.
    * Anyway, you can’t stop me.
    Think Trafigura, and MP’s expenses. Neither of which are a good paradigm for how the Civil Service works.

    If you want to talk about developers doing work for government, doing what the CS wants, and getting paid, let’s talk about Free Beer instead of Free Speech. This is what I had to deal with at Lloyd’s of London.

    The users of IT in any organisation are wary of IT, but they do believe it can solve the problems that keep them awake at night, if only they could explain their problems so the devlopers can understand them. This is where I discovered the enormously empowering effect of sitting a team of developers in the users’ office, and building software with a turnaround time of days instead of months. There are serious, rational management theories underpinning rapid development projects, and besides, the one thing I have observed consistently, is that as soon as you giove your users some working software, their thought processes change, and they start telling the things you wish you’d known before you started coding. so the quicker you get to that point, the quicker you all start learning.

    The other important thing about software development is getting permission. (Your 3 misleading statements are all about getting permission in one way or another.) In the world of Free Beer, the reason you see permission, and the reason you pay developers, is because:
    * users want developers to turn up every day.
    * users want developers to work on the users’ problems.
    * users want the right to grumble and be heard.

    When I was running a rapid development team, I found the biggest part of my job was aligning people’s enthusiams. The underwriters threw money at me (relatively small sums at first) because they believed my team could solve their problems. I had to explain to my team that some of their ideas were great, but we couldn’t get money for them, because the people who were paying weren’t that bothered. And there were other jobs where I negotiated money for something the users wanted, and then we built something that we knew was really important, and the users got a nice surprise.

    After we generated two million pounds extra profit from something that was an unintended consequence of what they had paid for, (they thought it was unintended, but I just decided it was better not to explain it up front) they began to trust us a bit more, and we could take a few more risks. But I found that the trust grew out of aligning the developers’ enthusiasms and skills with the underwriters’ enthusiasms and worries.

  21. Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group.

    As it most frequently applies to the abuse of a person over religious, political or ethnic issues it is often overlooked when thinking about work.

    Yet what you describe IS a repeated and systematic treatment of individuals…Positive individuals who want to implement a change for the better…

    In a decade that has seen Ministers convicted for following established (yet abusive) expenses practices, you would think that the Civil Service might think twice about how it treats the developing community.

    Under the rule of Law, it is Natural Justice that stands above all…Including the well intentioned offices of the state that will try to develop on the cheep now that the Treasury coffers are bare.

    I would be thinking hard if I were the contracts and procurement people…Opensource is not the same as Free, especially when you change things.

    The biggest shame?

    The best way to fund well intentioned developers is via expenses.

    ROFL

  22. I think one of the main planks of the Coalition Agreement has been the concept of smaller government. I think it is a tad naive to ‘expect’ that they will be going around splashing out even small amounts of cash on IT projects.

    OTOH, the Coalition are famously keen on the private and third sectors taking up the slack when the Govt steps back. With the third sector, the previous government provided quite a lot of what might best be described as seed funding to help prime the 3rd sector engines. The current government is a little less keen to do this sort of priming, although it has indicated that it is not averse to funding the 3rd sector in service delivery scenarios.

    But if I read it right, what we are really talking about here, are the R&D projects. The “Look at this cute visualisation I made from this innocuous data set” sort of thing. Who has the money to fund that? The 3rd sector? Unlikely.

    Ping! What about the private sector? Are there commercial organisations out there who might be willing to step into the breach? I know for a fact that the answer is Yes. I work in the publishing sector and I know people there are looking really seriously at using public sector information to make some money. These guys (and gals) have the money to invest in the right projects. Don’t get me wrong. They are not doing this from a public benefit POV or an altruistic outlook. They want to make money and grow their businesses. They are unlikely to pour huge wads of cash into the devs pet projects just for the fun of it.

    But they would be willing to pay for early access to data and for commercial publishing opportunities.

    Really, there needs to be some way of getting both these groups together.

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