Campfires, tents and the future

So this my final post in this week of blogging about the challenges and issues I have faced/been talking about with colleagues – with the express aim of trying to draw out who is thinking about what and what happens next.

It has been an amazingly useful exercise, taking time to write down these thoughts and discussions; I have found myself researching more, asking questions, learning and meeting new people. I shall certainly continue to write posts more often and in this style of writing less about what I think and asking more about what you think.

It strikes me that there is still a great need to seek out the futurologists of today, to reignite the discussions about what the landscape might look like in the digital world as well as in the political and social realms.

So I would like to suggest that we have a weekend away towards the end of the Summer, where we all get together in an informal setting to talk about this. I do not think we need to have people formally speaking, nor any organised activites – but what we do is have people of different interests and specialities having conversations. What comes out of these should be tweeted and blogged over the course of the weekend – to engage those unable to attend and to widen the conversation.

We should hold it somewhere with a big field for camping as well as being close to accomodation for those who just hate camping with a passion – we have fun, we relax, we talk and most importantly – we amplify the conversations. Nothing is disallowed (families are welcome) but I don’t imagine this working if it is in any shape a conference or unconference. However, I am going to give it the hashtag of #campcon because that is all I can think of.

So who’s in? I am happy to throw my hat in and help organise some of the logistics, also spread the word with the developer communities (including Young Rewired State) and people with whom I have the most interesting discussions. But it will need far more than me to get this off the ground.

Just to reiterate, this is a weekend about the future, not issues and problems of the present – there are many, many people successfully holding local and national events to try to address these issues. It is about painting a picture of the world into which we are going to be delivering digital products and solutions:

  • borders: are they open or shut? what happens in either case?
  • data – is it open or increasingly regulated?
  • space travel
  • virtual reality
  • climate
  • natural disasters
  • population
  • migration
  • shopping
  • music
  • travel
  • television
  • time machines
  • science
  • politics
  • royalty
  • gypsy weddings

Anything, anything at all – but it must be about the future. Probably need a wiki for this…

Every day I love you less and less

Communication used to be fun for me. Digital communication especially so. In the mid 90s it was a blank sheet of paper, or one only scribbled all over in pencil. Common sense was all it really took to say what you wanted to say, online, to the audience you wanted to reach.

Since the digital revolution of the last decade (at least) – and as ‘organisations’ make their online presence a strategic priority – it has become increasingly hard to keep that clear line of sight.

Take website rationalisation in the UK government. It is a perfectly simple and absolutely right policy. The information was often badly managed, not maintained and completely impossible to find, notwithstanding the cash that was being poured into a plethora of websites.

Put in its simplest form, website rationalisation means that all public sector information for citizens can be found on Directgov, and for business on businesslink.gov.uk (corporate information stays with the departmental websites) by 2011. This requires convergence of the content on the two main sites and throws up the inevitable cry of: what about the old stuff? Clearly, content that was written yonks ago needs to be re-written and there are new style guides to consider &c &c. But we can’t just switch off the old sites, it is wrong to have broken links in recorded answers to PQs/PMQs, that information must remain in perpetuity; and once you go down that path you end up in all sorts of mind-boggling complications. The National Archives provides the obvious solution (but that is so not as simple is it sounds – because I am nice I will not drive you down through that particular ‘detail devil’). Nor can you switch off urls, as to do so risks cyber squatting (on non-.gov domains) by questionable folk.

*sigh* you see… by the time you have wound yourself up in knots about this, the simple pleasure of getting the right information to the right audience is swept up in such a maelstrom, you wish you never started! but you can’t do that…

Then along comes a new lovely clean simple way of communicating online: one that is not simply a push of content…

WEB TWO (twenty if you’re cool)

Oh how attractive this is to the frankly ragged people like me; and to be fair the bemused policy units, communication and marketing teams, press officers and the rest: aching to be relieved from the too complicated discussions around getting the ‘old, flat’ content to the spangly new macro-sites (and keeping the… yes you get where I am going).

And so we have seen the remarkable rise in supremely fantastic new work across the public sector digital arena, using social media tools: monitoring, influencing and engaging in the *hopefully* appropriate digital communities… so much so that I cannot keep up (unless I give up the day job and simply watch).

In the last 18 months the most desired digital skill set has not been the ability to craft and manage online content, rather the canny knowledge of the community manager: someone who understands how everything works NOW, and can steer a department/organisation into utilising crowdsourcing, cloud computing and Open Source software.

This is all well and good; it honestly is the Good Life of the internet: community based communication.

But it’s not that simple.

Now we have embraced social technologies we come to the problem of data. In order to continue with this trend of ‘going to the people where they are communing’ we must listen to what they need – and increasingly those who enable us to utilise these social tools demand that the raw data be free. I don’t mean personal data about you and I, I mean the data feeds. Give it to us, they say, and we will make our own stuff in a way that we understand.

The answer to the eternal cry of ‘How can we engage the young people’? Give them the data and let those who know what they are doing, create something that their peers will understand.

And so we find ourselves in a quandary. Not because anyone is precious about the data, rather it is not ready; often it has not been held in any format that is easily shared; sometimes data sets have been held in different formats and updated by a variety of people; borders and boundaries differ &c &c.

In order to free this data, a cross-government (central and local) audit needs to take place; and as with the rationalisation of content onto Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk, a redrafting and ordering of the raw data needs to occur, APIs created, ratification of the accuracy, maintenance contracts drawn up, SLAs…

*sigh*

It’s just never as simple as it seems, but we need to do this work. All of it.

I just wanted you to understand how complicated this all is :)

Oh and by the way, go and sign up to this: http://www.mashthestate.org.uk/index

#babysteps

PS Apologies to the Kaiser Chiefs… er not sure what I am legally up for when using a song as a blog title.

Social websites harm children’s brains ??

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1153583/Social-websites-harm-childrens-brains-Chilling-warning-parents-neuroscientist.html

Hey Its me again Emma’s daughter, Jessie, and mum told me to write about this rubbish, and i read the article and i laughed (no really, I did) I mean sure she’s not the only one who thinks this, but people who do think stuff like that are kinda demented (heehee like me)  and i AM on facebook and msn and myspace but i am not on it every minute of every day in fact i haven’t been on myspace so long i have forgotten my password ! and i DO have friends and i do communicate with them without a computer she is going waaay over the top she makes it sound as if whenever we log on our brains suddenly shut down and we are addicted I mean i do talk to my friends on msn yeh but thats not the only way i talk to people right ?? actually i remember i read the newspaper a while ag… (YEH I READ THE NEWSPAPER) yeh a while ago and it said if facebook were a country then its population would be the sixth largest in the world !!!! moving on recently i have taken my common entrance exams and i got into the one (school: inserted by Ed/Mum) i wanted ! so my brain hasnt been taken over and thats really all i have to say, whatever if you don’t agree this is just my opinion, so my main point is this woman is using major hyperbole (yeh a HARD word heehee) anyway bye !!!! xoxo P.S (she) is the woman who wrote the article

Does this mean we have now clarified the formula for change?

Willingness of public sector + free public data + revised procurement rules + brilliant talent + global sharing = 21st century way of being a part of our community and engaging with our government?

Willingness of public sector

Well, we have just had the brilliant ’09 UKGovBarCamp (I was not there but all of my mates and colleagues were, so I received updates constantly and have seen some of the outcomes). There was the announcement of the Directgov innovations site, pledged support for the Rewired State: National Hack the Government Day and announcement of another event in April around public engagement online, (by the fabulous Mitch Sava from Polywonk).

None of this is done without integral support and co-operation from the public sector, with civil servants and Ministers engaging at every level: essential to make any of this have any point. So I can safely say that this is not just a nod in the right direction: this is a movement.

Free public data

No I don’t mean details about you and I, I mean stats and the like. Facts and figures that are available as APIs and then we can all make our own minds up. Many people have been campaigning to free our data for years, most publicly The Guardian (for some reason I cannot make this link, just Google ‘free our data’). Now a report is due out, here in Beta for your comment for two weeks. Here are the pages most interesting to the data bit: geospatial data and general data.

I have had many conversations recently about data, and how it will ultimately be the tripping point for everything that we all want to happen. The fear seems to really be that nothing will happen because the risk that by freeing the data and people mashing it up will embarrass some and highlight what is happening in certain areas: for us I guess this really means what might it do to the value of our houses? Well… I have no argument for that, except that if that is what is really happening, then we need to know about it and we need to do something about it: government and community alike to change those figures.

Recommendation 9 and recommendation 13 are the ones to watch for this one.

Revised procurement rules

*sigh* anyone who has seen me so far this year will no doubt have been met by my current rage-inducing rant: procurement/HR/head count – driving me nuts. We need to get some stuff done quickly, with the right people at very little, sometimes no, cost. But we can’t – because of procurement. I know that this was discussed at UKGovBarCamp, and boy wonder has set up a google group to start a conversation about this: but nothing else has happened: this MUST be dealt with, and is missed entirely in the Power of Information report.

Growl

Brilliant talent

I don’t need to say anything about this, there are so many superbly talented people, engaging for free and giving as much as they can to help push this on. These people are essential to making this formula work, but stymied by the procurement issue, often, or a perceived ignorance on the part of the public sector to listen to them. This is changing, but needs some proper attention.

H/T to Tom Watson MP for going out of his way to recognise and support this community.

Global sharing

I am delighted to see that over the past year there has been much International engagement and sharing of ideas, concurrent events and the like. Not enough. But this is where the work of futuregov and their competition is so vital. The Obama messiah-like effect has opened up the global awareness of what it means to have transparent governance, from online to the story of Michelle Obama encouraging people to ask anything they liked about her and her husband, their finances, beliefs – everything (never before seen true transparency).

Although I am not so interested in the political opportunities here, but the lessons we can learn – as we are all breaking new ground. The standards have been set high: once again quoting Obama’s inaugural speech:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Now a commitment to do everything in the light of day is something that all of our politicians say, but I believe that Obama means it: and the people he has appointed to work with him seem to show that he means it. (Macon Phillips and Katie Jacobs Stanton for example).

Conclusion

I *believe* that this is the formula needed, I cannot think of anything else really. I know that Mitch is running his event on online public consultation which will be great – but I think in order to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s we need to do one on procurement rules: this would not be unconference style: this would need to be much more formal. But actually the trend seems to be moving in that direction, the freedom of the barcamp, through the practicality of the Hack Day, through Mitch’s semi-formal event to one aching with bureaucracy (procurement rules) – we need them all to make change happen.

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