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

UsNow film – opinionV1.2

I watched Ivo Gormley’s film UsNow (again) today at its launch – watch it here. (I posted about this after watching it in Brussels and wanted to revisit my thoughts, as I believe I still hold the same opinions :) (you never know!).).

I have a couple of updated thoughts, but pretty much what I wrote then is what I think now; for your viewing pleasure I have managed to copy and paste the old post below my updated stuff.

New points:

  • unfair Miliband editing (or not) but still as funny/uncomfortable today as it was when I first winced at it
  • it confuses public service and Politics, so much so that I cannot unpick it really; but I suggest you watch the film twice:
  1. with a Politics and politician head on
  2. with a public service/community head on
  • it still scares me: what are we actually inviting here? I would ask that anyone who reads this blog, and watches the film, has a really good *think* about the battle this film seems to wage. Before you take up arms and demand crowdsourced e-democracy, think
  • I agree and want crowdsourced public services, and proper consultation on policies that matter to me; Politics, politicking, catching Ministers out? I would rather leave that to the Press (as pointed out today, politicians are their staple diet) – this does not mean that it does not matter to me or you, but I don’t think I should be the one to monitor them this closely (I have a day job and a life)

As was reiterated today: don’t assume the electorate is thick, don’t assume everyone to be criminals… but, if we seriously want this to be the case, then we too must stop assuming that all Politicians are corrupt. (Hard, I know in the current expenses scandal – whole other post, that I will not be writing (not my bag)).

I know this may not be popular (and actually this is almost a direct copy from someone who commented in the Daily Mail on a post about MP expenses – and the comment was given a *boo* vote of at least -300 :) ) but: I would like to think that the country is run by people who know what they are doing, are paid well to know what they are doing and are given the relative trappings of success that come with being the most fervent in their field. I don’t like paying them; especially when I am absolutely terrified about mine and my children’s next ten years – but I seriously do not want to take on the country’s woes and debt too. I DO want to make my local community better, and I do still want to do stuff for charity (sponsor me here http://bit.ly/EydYT :) sorry) and I want to get involved in the stuff that I am passionate about – when government is debating/consulting on it.

I stand by my twitter update: @hubmum Crowdsourced public service management/delivery yes. Crowdsourced politics: No

Now… the old post, the stuff I wrote when I first watched the film:

Here’s the blurb:

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
Us Now is a documentary film project about the power of mass
collaboration, government and the Internet.
Us Now tells the stories of online networks that are challenging the
existing notion of hierarchy. For the first time, it brings together
the fore-most thinkers in the field of participative governance to
describe the future of government.

Now, aside from the fact that he is officially my new geek crush, Ivo has created an extraordinarily powerful and compelling film that leaves you pretty speechless and perhaps a little bit disturbed. Here’s why…

Take it as read that the best are interviewed in the film, Clay Shirky has much to say, as does Paul Miller, whom I rate highly, Tom Steinberg, George Osborne, Ed Miliband, Matthew Taylor and so on, really, all the greats (although the decision to interview Ed Miliband over Tom Watson confuses me slightly, but hey ho).

So… we have about an hour’s worth of superb dialogue and compelling argument that leads the audience to a clapping crescendo, nodding and chuckling to themselves about how right they were to believe in this stuff. But… I am left a bit disturbed.

To reduce the whole film to the comparison between the crowdsourced management of the football team: Ebbsfleet United and democratic government would not do it justice; yet it is what sticks, and disturbs.

Without you being able to see the film I know I am being a bit annoying, but let me try to explain. At one point in the film, for a disproportionately long time it has to be said, Ivo follows the success of Ebbsfleet United: a football team managed by its fans; the fans decide who plays, and where… and this ‘citizen-management’ has got them to Wembley (I think, am not a football bird but that seemed to be the gist). There are many clips of over-excited and dedicated fans ‘planning’ the match, deciding who plays where, and when. Great for ticket sales and garments, I presume… also engagement and enthusiasm in a woeful world, granted.

Where this all goes, which is a bit disturbing, is when Ivo transcribes the football playing field onto the Cabinet table, and starts showing us how we could be choosing who sits in what position, where on the table, what part they play. Cabinet Ministers becoming as suggestible/manageable as Ebbsfield United.

Visually compelling stuff indeed. But can you imagine what Sir Alex Ferguson would say? Let alone the rather confused Government of today?
I am not going to get into party politics here, but I absolutely believe that all Ministers sitting in Parliament, whether in power or opposition, are there because they are fundamentally driven to *do* something.

What scares me about Ivo’s film, or just this Ebbsfield bit, is that there is no way I would ever sign up to a society governed by crowdsourced decisions and I am terrified that the digital revolution might, if not managed properly, tip the balance of lively debate into anarchy.

Why?

Because I expect the government voted in democratically by the citizens of this country, to do their job. I don’t want it, I don’t have the time nor the where-with-all to do their job. I don’t want or need the responsibility of running the country, from central to local government, every morning when I wake up. It is enough for me to keep my family going. I *want* to trust the people my country decides are fit to run the country (every four years) to do their job so that I can do mine.

Yes, there will always be dissent, and there will be challenges to the decisions taken by those in power. However, I rely on the Press to keep on the case on this one. I *believe* that if there is a travesty, the Press will pick it up and expose it, I will read about it and believe that if there has truly been an abomination against democracy, that the person/party/people involved will be brought to justice. I do not want to be the person to do that, I want those in the know to do that.

At this point I can feel the groundswell of outrage at my naivety, but I am being a generalist on purpose here… I am really scared abut what *we* are trying to do with our digital enablement of government.

Running a country is a tortuous business, I imagine/assume. It is greater than running a consultancy, a bank, a hedge fund, a football club… all of which we accept requires skill that we do not question. The fact that I belong to a democratic country means that I cannot just sit on my backside and wait to be told what to do, I am allowed to affect the decisions taken, should I care to. The problem is that I don’t always know what these decisions are, where to find them and how to engage/influence.

Surely, the digital revolution is more about a release of shared responsibility for the governing of a country. It is not an abdication of responsibility for those we vote in: please let’s not propose governance that relies on crowdsourcing decision-making on a macro, mesa or micro level. What it is is a new channel for the decision makers (who are busy dealing with enormous stuff, like war for example) to understand what is concerning the citizens of the country, enabling them to address these without relying on expensive ‘citizen insight’.

It also should mean that us citizens will stumble upon apt policies in the making, that we can affect, engage with and potentially influence – because our government is able to understand our concerns and will act accordingly. (Effective consultation.)

That is what I want to achieve by working in this space in the UK government departments. To make sure that those needing to know what we, citizens, think, can do so without too much effort (monitoring of social space); assist engagement where appropriate and be a guiding hand in what is *frankly* a daily explosion of information and data.

Why?

So that they can do their job and we can do ours.

Cabinet reshuffle – what I understand has happened (from my Twitter and Facebook!)

Simon Dickson‘s twitter feed has been invaluable today:

Simon Dickson's Twitter feed

Simon Dickson

The new department’s url has indeed been registered http://www.ja.net/services/whois/lookup.php?query=decc.gov.uk&output=nice by the lovely Daniel De Cruz. But still nothing there yet.

The detail of the new Cabinet is on the Number Ten website.

A facebook update suggested that perhaps Tom Watson MP, our blogging e-Minister, was being re-shuffled. No official word yet, but Jeremy Gould managed to track down one blogging chap for The Telegraph who mentions him in the last paragraph. It says that he will be working on Government strategy. We don’t think this necessarily means that he is no longer the Minister of all things ‘e’, but who knows.

The new Minister for Technology, Telecoms and Broadcasting: Stephen Carter has an interesting history that seems quite apt in this day of financial chaos. Who knows how this will work out, but it will be worth watching. I wonder if the social tools he uses extend beyond golf now.

I don’t pretend to understand politics or politicians – but I am quite into my comms ;) – so this appointment probably holds the most interest.

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