Open the business case

So I have been doing a bit of research into being “Open” as a business strategy, inevitably it led me to Open government thoughts.

We can all cite merrily the bazillion reasons for buying Open source/Open tech, using Open standards, championing Open platforms and generally being the cheering public and sometime consumers of, or contributors to, Open projects.

But what about when you are the supplier? What about when you are the business, looking at the business model and not just being the vendor of Open technologies? It’s a tricky one. In this blog post I have shared some of the things I found out, and as ever, I would love to learn and understand more.

Here is a starter for ten:

“Companies that keep their intellectual property too close to the vest risk missing out on critical business innovations that idea-sharing could generate. Open business models foster collaboration with customers and suppliers to everyone’s benefit.

The more companies learn about open business models, the more they realize how much they have to change their own innovation activities to take full advantage of these paradigms. It’s not simply a matter of searching for new technologies. To thrive, companies must adapt their business models to make them more open to external ideas and paths to market.”

Henry Chesbrough, “Embracing Open Business Models”, Optimize Magazine, 1/1/07

Ponderables for a business case

  • While you are Open, you still own the data
  • What you gain by being Open is distribution
  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

(The above is a synopsis of a conversation I had with @steveathon, in Sydney, over IM, whilst his wife made gingerbread – thanks for giving up your evening Steve)

But that’s irrelevant: Crisis forces Open consideration

The one thing I saw repeated article after article was that it usually takes a crisis for a business to even consider the benefits of being Open. None detailed more clearly than this business week article by Michael Arndt. I advise reading the whole article but here copied is the bit that I think is most interesting:

Their companies converted to Open innovation—relying on outsiders for their next products or services—only after falling into a crisis….

Whirlpool came around that same year after top management realized that big-ticket appliances had become a commodity. As a result, prices and margins were in a permanent decline, steepened by the recession. Unlike P&G, it didn’t respond initially by Opening its portal to product suggestions from outsiders. But it did enlist proposals from all employees. Further, it trained some 3,000 in the innovation process and began collaborating with suppliers. Now, in Phase II, Whirlpool is inviting consumers to help, said Moises Norena, global innovation director….

GSK’s goal was to boost its share of externally developed products to 33% in three years. Instead, it hit 50% even sooner than that. Among the Open-innovation products is a new form of Aquafresh that turns to foam in your mouth. Rutledge said the idea came from someone in the oral-care business who had background in gel foams like Gillette’s Edge, but it never would have hit the market if not for technology that came from four outside partners….

Makes blinding sense right? A hard sell into a thriving business, relatively easy to a business in trouble who are pretty willing to do anything, especially when that ‘anything’ is something others have done successfully.

So – government: Open and as a platform

If we accept that fact that crisis triggers a consideration of an Open solution (and I am sure that there are many who will disagree) – a bit like how we can tell that someone is about to leave their job/is scared they are about to get booted when they start updating LinkedIn and asking to connect with lots of people: we can recognise that Government only really embraced Open principles after it realised its own crisis, economic mainly, but also engagement with the citizens of this country.

Not, sadly, for all the reasoned and logical arguments, lobbying and hectoring over the last decade or so. Shame that, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it has happened – in a very roundabout and reactionary manner, which does leave everyone feeling a bit unstable and scared, but the blame for that cannot be laid solely at the door of Open – it’s crisis, innit.

Martha Lane-Fox and Transform’s paper: Directgov 2010 and beyond: Revolution not Evolution really is all about giving Open a go (not going to expand on this here but many have, if you want to read).

Interestingly when researching this a bit, I discovered that Tim O’Reilly has opened up his book: Government as a platform for comment, as he says:

You are reading the text of an O’Reilly book that has been published (Open Government). However, the author of this piece—Tim O’Reilly—understands that the ideas in this chapter are evolving and changing. We’re putting it here to get feedback from you—what are your ideas? This chapter uses the Open Feedback Publishing System (OFPS), an O’Reilly experiment that tries to bridge the gap between manuscripts and public blogs.

Next to every paragraph, there is a link you can use to comment on what you’re reading. We are grateful for any feedback you have: questions, comments, suggestions, and corrections are all welcome and appreciated.

It’s fascinating, and I know most of you who read my blog love this stuff, so get commenting :)

So, government has embraced Open, through a combination of natural crisis response behaviour with some well-timed logic in the form of a paper that they could respond to and point at.

This is good – but a LOT of information and a lot of confusion. It does help though to separate the confusion created by the crisis: money and engagement; and the confusion created by an Open and transparent government. See? It feels easier already, right?!

So how should we, as the Joe Bloggs in this wonderful Open world of government work with this?

Well, if we understand the business reason behind being Open and the ponderables, it gives us a place to start.

The trigger

Response to a crisis: no money, gloomy jobs market, disengaged electorate, nothing else is working so why not? (oh and the expenses palaver)

The business reason

  • Martha said it would work
  • It has worked elsewhere
  • We have tried everything else

Going back to the final three points I made in my list of ponderables up there:

  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

What’s in it for us?

  • Well, assuming that one day soon government will realise the value of UGC and digital reach, they will soon find a way to run consultations in a proper consultative fashion – and find a way of receiving the feedback and including it in policy development: this ticks the box of those dealing with the crisis of a disengaged electorate
  • and assuming we have good collaboration around well-consulted policies, you never know, the solution they seek – much like the foaming toothpaste GSK stumbled upon – may be found more quickly than they thought, and a regenerated economy may be triggered by Mrs Miggins at Number 47 – you never know
  • and of course, we all know that the geeks will inherit the earth – and they will do better things with government data, whether that be services for us all or a hugely successful commercial opportunity that highly acclaimed, sets us as digital leaders and is syndicated across the globe. Dunno, might happen?

Shutting up now

The point of writing this was to share what I had learned, and the resulting clarity of mind I had with regard to the chaotic world of government at the moment. As well as unpicking the business reasons for being on the supplier side of being Open. I hope it was interesting.

Many thanks to Gordon Rae @socialtechno and Steve King @steveathon for the Links/conversation/insight

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

Small essay on Rewired State, Open Data and future of public service

So I have been out of government now for over two months… seems a lot longer. It has been incredibly good to focus on Rewired State properly and to try to grab hold of and contain what we started, so that it does not spiral into something useless. The Guardian have been utterly generous and supportive in this move and I have been working with them as well – which continues to be fun.

Some of you may have noticed that we are talking quite a bit with the dev community and our friends about the future of Rewired State; these discussions have been lively and brain aching – but very good. We are running one in Manchester on the 22nd October, as there is a large and engaged RS dev community there.

So, I thought I would do a very small update (that escalated) on what seems to be coming out of this time of looking at RS’s future.

The data goldmine

Firstly, there is still a great need for people and businesses to centre themselves around the trojan work of the Cabinet Office in opening government data through data.gov.uk and legislation.gov.uk. Those of you who have been fans of Rewired State may remember that when we ran National Hack the Government Day in March 2009, there was no such thing; Richard Pope scraped all the data he could lay his hands on in the days and weeks before the event and the potential for what could happen with open data was laid bare for all to see.

Within no time Cabinet Office were working up data.gov.uk and brought in all manner of luminaries, futurologists and geeks – as well as a small number of us already working in departments across Whitehall – we set to work: teasing, coaxing and cajoling the data out of startled officials, who had no idea of the value their spreadsheet/database or even micro fiche (on one occasion). It was an incredible achievement and one that we should be proud of; it was speedy, open and a bit messy – but how fabulous and refreshing, and what superb grounding for creating a crude base that works for everyone – something that we can build together as well as tailor to individual needs. (I would like to rally people back to this cause now – it needs to be worked at and supported as a community, we can do that – there is no *way* of doing this, but I know that Thayer Prime @thayer, Richard Stirling @rchards and James Forrester (sorry have forgotten yr twitter handle, James!) would gladly tell you how you might help).

Data.gov.uk provides us with a rich seam of sustainable information, information that could be the building blocks of the revitalisation of enterprise in this country. Right now, the people who are realising the benefits are developers with defined and respected skill sets – either for worthy social causes that have always bugged them, or perhaps more commercial use – like timetric.com <- those boys were always years ahead of the market and I am so pleased to see them growing steadily and continuing their extraordinary business. Yet still, even though there are mobile app developers out there making stuff that we all find useful, it is still really the preserve of the geek – this data wash – and in order for government to really see the value of this, it needs to translate into value for the general public, a circular feed of data that washes through the community bringing information, perhaps income  and brings communities together – as is the wont of this digital age.

The work now needs to focus on how we interpret the information on data.gov.uk into something of value to everyone, not just in the way they can receive it, the ‘cut’ of the data that might perhaps give them a differing view of a school, rather than just Ofsted and their data, for example – but how can everyone have a go.

Efforts like Landshare really grab my attention. If you go and have a look at what they do, then imagine that local councils work with Landshare, and use the data they have to perhaps build a view of their community – perhaps the elderly lady who has given her garden to Landshare, has a drive that she would also like to rent out as she is no longer driving and has no car. Now she can create an income and join a new community. If she is encouraged to do this online, perhaps she would be willing to add to an information drive to map – say – all the disused land in the UK, and provide feedback online to build such a data set; or post boxes in her area, or anything really – you see where I am going with this? So from the open data drive, there is potential for a person who would be the last person you would expect to derive direct financial and community benefit – is that not the whole Big Idea?

We are not far off this, but we are drifting a bit, I feel, and very fragmented. With the retirement of Andrew Stott – who is a great and, when necessary, brutal champion of open data – and an absence of an obvious figure-head – it has crossed my mind that the Coalition may not see this as a focus for their agenda. If this is the case then I think we need to build our own head of steam, and drive this movement to the tipping point we need to enable the explosion of innovation and potential revenue.

It’s tricky at the moment because we are in the inevitable chaos stage, with data not exactly pouring but stumbling and limping from departments into data.gov.uk – Martha working to get people online with raceonline.org, Helen working with UK Online centres, Open Knowledge Foundation, My Society and us working on a variety of challenges that err on the side of the geeky as well as the Guardian Open Platform and their more commercial work with government and industry. The emergence of initiatives such as linkedgov.org – a dev community based effort to make the data make sense shows the tiny shift outwards from the information trough that has been feeding the data-hungry devs – if I remember one thing from every single Rewired State event, it has been the constant cry for more data (so much so that on many occasions the audience has joined in as the developers end their presentations with pleas for data) – well luckily, there is always more, and always will be: lovely sustainable stuff that it is :)

But taking the big vision, the proper head above the parapet moment, what has to happen as a big leap into translating this stream of data and tables into a valuable source of information and commerce to everyone who is not blessed with binary brilliance. This is unlikely to be one thing, or enabled by any one person, but it will be a steady rise in the number of initiatives that realise value of this information for many communities, that weave themselves into the heart of every day life that will bring us to this epiphany.

So… please can we all rally back around data.gov.uk and start having a look over our shoulders as we work the code, and see where we can sling something of value out there, the more we sling, the more likely we are to build value for everyone.

To this end, these are the events Rewired State is running over the next few months. We will create many prototypes from the public sector data, some will go on to great things, some may become parts of other things and others will just slumber on until they may be useful in the future. In the mean time, we have found some brilliantly fun ways of playing!

Very important point to note here is that Rewired State will work with everyone if they are looking to do things better, are asking for our help in order to do things better – you will definitely see a rise in a number of events that are sponsored by companies that may seem to be from ‘the past’, we always look at the ethics and drivers for working with such bodies, so please trust that we are not just taking any buck we get. We work on a 50:50 balance. 50% of the work we do we try to be fun/creative/worthy and 50% is commissioned, paid help. This way, certainly for the next 6 months, we should be able to move forward and bring value, whilst remaining true to our original plan of showing government what is possible, whilst they show us what is needed.

So, here goes – in date order:

6th October sees the start of a very exciting few months, with developers in the community in and around Rewired State working with NHS Choices data and digital signage boards in UK train stations and bus stops http://rewiredstate.org/events/nhs-big-screens. The idea here is to set a challenge to see what can be done with raw public data, using a slightly different medium. These boards can play such a great part in games, mobile and interactive web applications and we are very excited about what will come of this developer challenge. We still have places, do sign up, it is for glory not pay – but will definitely inspire the old creative developer juices. You will be able to see what we did, live, on these screens between the 13th and 31st December across the UK.

On the weekend of the 30th and 31st of October we are running a Carbon and Energy hack event with 10:10, Carbon Culture and the Guardian http://rewiredstate.org/events/carbon-and-energy. This is a true hack weekend. There is so much that everyone would love to do, but so little time, so this is a bit of a playground event for developers of all creeds. It is not paid, we do need sponsors for this, however – as we need to cover some costs – but it will be fun.

On the 13th and 14th November we are running a developer weekend on behalf of DotGovLabs http://rewiredstate.org/events/dotgovlabs_weekender. They are going to be launching a platform to bring together Big Society challenges and it is a massive experiment. From the beginning they have asked for Rewired State to be involved, after we ran an event with them last year, and we are very happy to throw our hat in to see if this is a potential way to match data and real need – using agile development as one of the potential solutions, or a part of the solution at least. It is an experiment. It is paid and we can accomodate a few more developers (as I write this).

There are a few more events lined up for this year, including a postponed one for the Technology Strategy Board in November, but we won’t recruit again until we have signed everything up properly.

Next year we will be running National Hack the Government Day as ever in March, Young Rewired State is currently billed for May, and we are testing the waters to see if there is any interest in Rewired Stately: an event aimed at developers aged 50+. We will also run events that we are asked to run, and we will maintain the balance between paid/sponsored/free.

Currently we are an incorporated Limited Company, needs must to work with government – but we are working right now as a not for profit, we don’t have shareholders who wait for dividends – well right now the only shareholders are myself, James Darling and Richard Pope, and we are not taking dividend payments. Any profit we make goes back into running the unpaid RS events; (in the past we put our profit into the community, such as HackSpace, but that is getting a bit more tricky as everyone has less cash to spend). But we are growing, and we will need help to grow, so it may well be that in the next year or so the basis of our funding may change, but we won’t hide this if and when it happens.

Why? Why not?

I get asked why a lot. Why should we do a Facebook fan page? Why should we get on twitter?

There are many sites, if you Google these questions, that will give you compelling reasons for doing so. The simple answer really has to be why not?

If people are getting information from these sources, if online journalists are reaching audiences you need to engage with through their blog posts, twitter streams and Facebook information pages, then – if you are in an organisation that can afford to be there too – then why would you not?

The question is, can you afford to be there, as much as it is can you afford not to be there?

Young Rewired State – it happened

Young Rewired State is now over. The good news: 16 applications/websites were developed enough for presentation (within a weekend, with roughly 12 real time hours of dedicated work) <- that is pretty impressive. The projects will be uploaded here: http://www.rewiredstate.org/projects (and most are, the apps developed by the 15 to 18 year olds are from ‘how’s my train‘ onwards, no need to separate them on the site yet).

We diverged the Rewired State *thing* into a second event for young people, simply because we were curious, what would a different age group do? This curiosity built into something else when we found, through talking about the concept, that there were a few useful things that could happen:

  1. government wants to bridge the gap with young people, (by ‘government’ I mean both civil service and politicians)
  2. there are some scarily good coders, scientists and statisticians out there – and they are aged 15 – 18
  3. someone needs to boot someone else in order to make the connection

We’re quite good at that.

The event happened – and you can follow #youngrewiredstate on twitter or !yrs on identi.ca to catch the tweets over the weekend (and prob after) or google *young rewired state* for the blog/tech press coverage.

Lessons learned

  1. the society that we live in does not start at 18
  2. we had a grand aim to *get young people to engage each other*, simply meaning give the tools and information and see what happens – in fact, the frustrations addressed the basic frustrations of life that government could solve (*for example* by giving up the data and letting the talented/passionate make it less horrendous to *for example* wait for a bus)

Interesting things and the most important things to note

  • our message is harsh but the reality is that government departments, ministers and civil servants took time (Sunday afternoon) out to come and see what young people were taking their own weekends doing to try to help/make better things
  • this event happened, as in we could afford to do it, because we were sponsored <- and a greater percentage of our sponsors were government (costs were food, travel, accommodation <- for the 15 to 18 yr olds outside London, server, printing)
  • there were three girls (out of 50) this was not for lack of trying, Dan Morris and I spent a painful three weeks on the hunt for more girl geeks aged 15 to 18 (something needs to be looked at there, but…)
  • Directgov are brave – we got funding from Directgov, and they sent a judge: Mike Hoban, and their directgov Innovate man: Brian Hoadley, proving their support and proving that they are listening <- this is good. We dedicated our one donated prize (an X-Box) to a recasting of the Directgov homepage, just to see what young people did with it. The reality was that they had little exposure and we have a raft of free feedback plus a few redesigns (here’s the winning one http://twitpic.com/f09io)
  • the catalyst effect of #youngrewiredstate means that all we do is chuck a rock in the pool; but we do it with friends, colleagues, communities, Ministers and civil servants and see what happens
  • we can inspire, Julia Chander from DFID (who already is doing awesome stuff in the social innovation space but really struggling with data, as in ‘what do you need?’) blogged her first post <- super chuffed about that

We can all see the 15-18 yr olds did what they signed up to do <- so much so that they were up and working, ahead of their mentors, on day #2 and perhaps ahead of the RS and Google people.

Government and the industry signed up also and has to be applauded for stepping wholly up to the plate.

It’s super hard to make these practical connections. Everyone is there for differing reasons, but the same goal: let’s make stuff better (we can worry about the *how* afterwards). A fact that is pondered in the Public Strategy blog.

Update: two blog posts that really round the weekend up for me are: from one of our *rather clever* mentors: Christian Heilmann’s and one of the 15-18 year olds who was involved in the dev: TFHell Jordan Hatch.

Homework

There have been two publications this week that have caught my attention, and I have been a bit surprised by the lack of reaction to them. The first was from the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, entitled Power in people’s hands: learning from the world’s best public services and the second from the Lords Information Committee on creating connections between people and Parliament.

Power in people’s hands

This is a very interesting report, driven by the fact that there is just not a great deal of money about and a recognition that the way out of any recession is innovation. This is good news for everyone, it means we are going to get creative. Liam Byrne MP writes the foreword and says that ‘in the next decade we need to be radical about power; realistic about money; and relentless on innovation’. The report has shown that there is a worldwide shift of power from the State to the citizen, but what excites me most is that Mr Byrne has picked out freedom of information and data to be the UK’s pièce de résistance : ‘We aim to be world leaders in making information on services accessible’. OK his words are not quite so dramatic, but in Ministerial speak that is quite a statement, the stall he has set out is the information one – and that is a huge win for the UK. We have a wealth of entrepreneurial and geek talent ready and willing to take such information and help create services that work at hyper-local and individual level. (You might just have to trust me on this one).

I suggest you skim read the whole report, but I am just going to cut and paste the bits that jumped out for me below if you need further convincing:

Overall, the importance of public services is likely to grow rather than diminish. For example, sources of increasing wealth creation – such as the emerging low-carbon, life science and pharmaceutical, and digital industries – will create new opportunities. But every person, and the country as a whole, will only have the potential to benefit fully if they have access to excellent schools, training and employment services.

… stepping up the drive to improve value for money by taking hard decisions on priorities as needs change, redesigning services, sharing assets better and cutting bureaucracy.

And for you working in local government and devolved: more exciting news, this does recognise you are the front-liners:

In considering lessons, it is also important to recognise that the public services that are covered in this study are delivered by the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by local authorities. It will be for these bodies to consider the most appropriate insights. At a time of necessary innovation, however, the best organisations look outward – for practices which can be replicated and to spark new ideas and challenge existing ways of thinking.

Here is the bit that interests me most, Chapter Two expands and I recommend that you read all of it if the following interests you slightly:

Empowering citizens in the information age

A revolution in the use and re-use of information on public services is being stimulated by new online technologies, giving the potential to empower citizens to hold services to account far more easily than in the past. The leading-edge systems, such as StateoftheUSA.org and data.gov, are not only disseminating information rapidly. They are also breaking down government monopolies on information presentation and use by making it easy for people to analyse information themselves. At the same time, blogs, wikis and other web 2.0 tools are enabling citizens to get more deeply involved in validating information and collectively making decisions. In Cologne, for example, participatory budgeting uses new technology to give citizens a stronger voice over how public money is spent.

The shift required for governments to enable such changes is cultural as much as technical. It is no coincidence that American public services have been at the forefront of these changes,  for they already had an understanding that all government information should be in the public domain. Government should, however, do more than just liberate information. The global leaders will be those who invest in ensuring that information is high-quality and balanced, can be shared through common standards and facilitates joint working by professionals and citizens.

Fascinated yet? Whole report here.

So Cabinet Office is saying it needs to get revolutionary on us… and now Parliament, specifically the House of Lords, agrees. For those of you not clear about the role of Parliament and the role of the Cabinet, let me grab some explanations for you: can’t use my own words as I may explain it wrong, so forgive the use of even more quotes.

The Cabinet Office aims to ensure that the Government delivers its priorities. It does this by supporting collective consideration of key issues by Cabinet and its Ministerial Committees, and by working with departments to modernise and co-ordinate government, aiming at excellence in policy making and responsive, high quality public services.

Parliament is an essential part of UK politics. Its main roles are:

  • Examining and challenging the work of the government (scrutiny)
  • Debating and passing all laws (legislation)
  • Enabling the government to raise taxes

*more detail on Parliament here

And so the fact that the House of Lords has come to a similar conclusion about its own work is equally as important.

Creating connections between people and Parliament

The report has been written by the Information Committee which ‘considers the House’s information and communications services’. The report has the tagline: are the Lords listening; and if you read my explanation of the difference between Parliament and Cabinet then perhaps it is important to us that they are. The report is in such an easy to use format that it negates the need for me to pull out the interesting bits. Go and read it here it seriously is a very important report. You could just read Chapters 3 and 4 if like me you are most interested in communication and data, but I don’t recommend it (read it all!).

CHAPTER 3: ONLINE COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT

CHAPTER 4: SETTING PARLIAMENTARY DATA FREE

And of course, always the best bit, the list of recommendations:

CHAPTER 11: SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTIONS

Especially good is this one:

We recommend that information and documentation related to the core work of the House of Lords (including Bills, Hansard, transcripts of public committee meetings, evidence submitted to committees, committee reports, records of divisions, expenses and the register of Lords’ interests) should be produced and made available online in an open standardised electronic format that enables people outside Parliament to analyse and re-use the data.

I am not sure that I need to conclude this post other than to say I hope that I have helped you find two very interesting reports! And apologies if I bored you…

Snapshot of UK govnt use of social tools – and Press Office involvement

Caveat: this is not exhaustive, it does not include all departments (even the Home Office!) It is literally a snapshot and I sincerely hope it will be taken and used by anyone who needs it. I am aware that Ross Ferguson in COI is preparing a repository for this sort of information, so I will not duplicate with another collaborative space, but here is the info for the time being (I have not summarised, nor offered opinion – this is just the information I have been given… enjoy):

DIUS (Steph Gray)

At DIUS, we’ve been experimenting over the last six months with a variety of social media tools and online engagement projects, particularly in the area of consultations and collaboration with stakeholders.

  • We developed an interactive version of the Innovation Nation white paper (http://interactive.dius.gov.uk/innovationnation/) published earlier this year, inviting stakeholders to comment on the text of the document and engage in discussions online with policy officials.
  • The centrepiece of the Department’s Science and Society consultation (http://interactive.dius.gov.uk/scienceandsociety/) has been a ‘hub’ style site, incorporating a blog, video hosted on our YouTube channel (http://uk.youtube.com/diusgovuk), shared calendar, links to online mentions of the consultation and ‘widget’ versions of the consultation questions for bloggers and stakeholders to embed on their own websites.
  • We’ve hosted blogs to support the policy development process in some of our key policy areas including Higher Education (http://hedebate.jiscinvolve.org/) and Informal Adult Learning (http://talk.dius.gov.uk/blogs/adultlearning/), continuing discussions which have started offline, into online spaces.
  • We sponsored ‘Meet the Freshers’, an online soap opera on the social network Bebo (http://www.bebo.com/meetthefreshers), supporting our £3m student finance campaign. The partnership included input into the direction of the series, video messages and online promotion linking to a campaign profile page on Bebo where young people can ask questions and get advice on student finance issues.
  • Our Science & Innovation news desk use Twitter (http://twitter.com/DIUS_Science) and Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/diusgovuk/) to promote new events, visits and press notices and provide multimedia materials for journalists and bloggers.
  • Internally, we’ve been helping press and policy teams to keep up to date with stakeholder news and mentions of the Department’s work on blogs with easy-to-use online ‘dashboard’ tools such as Netvibes – including one we set up to help track mentions of the key issues and partners DIUS needs to engage to address the current economic challenges.(http://www.netvibes.com/diuscommunications#Economic_Challenges).

FCO (Claire Collins)

The Press Office in the FCO has an embedded web team managing the digital news output – working closely with other digital/web collegues.

Within the team in press office is a news editor, an assistant news editor and the photographer.

In terms of social media:

Twitter:

We manage the FCO’s twitter channel http://www.twitter.com/foreignoffice updating frequently throughout the day on news events. We also use twitter to respond to comments and direct messages. Twitter is now seen as a mainstream form of communication in press office.

Flickr:

As the photographer is based in press office and part of the team – we populate the flickr site – in real time – and the site acts as a photographic news channel supporting our news articles. Press office direct the wires and journalists to flickr to download images rather than distributing via email:

http://www.flickr.com/foreignoffice. Anyone can download the photos and comment on the photos.

Press office blog – hosted on tumblr:

We are ‘beta’ testing a press office blog which will act as a way of rebutting inaccuracies in the press and be a way for us to promote upcoming ministerial events etc. We will also use the blog to highlight letters to editors – all in all a useful tool for press office and getting positive response in testing.

YouTube:

Press Officers regularly commission videos for ministerial visits or events in London which are hosted on YouTube – and pulled across onto the website by the news editors.

FCO blogs – press office are involved with this.

There are also the various campaigns which individual press officers work on – which have a social media angle – such as ’64 for Suu’ or the London Summit. These campaigns are a collaboration between the web team (DDG), press office and strategic communications all increasingly taking into account social media.

DCMS (Mark O’Neill)

We use YouTube for Ministerial films and we are looking at (finally) doing some videoblogging which will be hosted somewhere :)

We have internal blogging which is available to anyone who wants to use it – mainly the Board and internal service providers. We have external blogging for Ministers.

We have our own platform for consultations but are looking at Communtariat and UserVoice for some future initiatives.

We are piloting Yammer for internal microblogging but so far there is no demand from the business for a corporate Twitter account. Similarly we have not had any demand for a corporate presence on Facebook though a number of our sponsored bodies are doing interesting things.

Oh and we use Netvibes for simple news dashboards.

Press Office use all the above and lead on content.

DEFRA (Daniel De Cruz)

Beta testing a blogging policy official at http://blogs.defra.gov.uk/3rd-sector. Press office enthusiastic but not yet doing anything.

DWP (Neil Franklin)

  • Putting a WordPress environment into place
  • Viral video (youtube etc)
  • Monitoring (using bespoke dashboard – still being built)
  • Talking to Press Office about boosting monitoring capability

DFID (Julia Chandler)

Sent you two quick tweets:

juliac2@hubmum neillyneil covered us I think, but to confirm, DFID is on twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook, Youth reporters too

juliac2@hubmum oh yes – and your question – Press interested but not really involved yet. they do help with checking blogs/moderating comments

Press office are interested, but so far have not involved. As mentioned, they moderate blog posts pre-publication (hasn’t resulted in too much upset, but has helped with a couple of potentially risky comments) and they help with moderation.

Twittering is very experimental – but reasonably steady – again, we sit opposite, so run any drafts past them.

Flickr and YouTube they leave to us, but one or two press officers (particularly those who work with 2 of our junior ministers who are interested) have got involved in doing quick video interviews when the ministers have been overseas.

Our white paper team were involved in our open consultation, but press not really involved.

HM Treasury (Daniel Atkinson)

Externally we have a corporate Twitter account which we used to post the highlights of the Budget and had ministerial tweets during G20. Normally it’s used to announce website updates although we are looking to broaden its usage.

We’ve used our Youtube channel to help explain the Budget, feature Q&A sessions from the G20 summit and highlight ministerial activities.

Flickr we use to share images of the Treasury for those who require them which has helped to cut down on the number of individual requests we receive for generic images.

Internally we have a blog by the permanent secretary. This has proven a popular means of engaging staff  in both the wider work of the department and specific events.

The Press Office has been enthusiastic at our use of social media although we’re working on collaborating more closely. The Press Office also check social media content when necessary.

Twitter responses

Local government/authorities

alncl@hubmum Monitoring of soc med fed back to press team by me (where relevant).

alncl@hubmum Twitter, YouTube and FB at the moment, Flickr in the pipeline. Press office feed RSS to Twitter and FB, more planned with YouTube.

martinxo@hubmum #snappoll SM used by webteam only at the mo’, slowly talking to other depts/services, press office not the best place to start IMHO

Commission for rural communities

russelltanner@hubmum we’re using Twitter, Youtube, wikis (internally), commenting/ discussions on website, led by comms team

BERR

neillyneil@hubmum See my lists of gov YouTubers and Twitterers on my blog. & Here at BERR @digitalbritain is led by a press officer.

neillyneil@hubmum …and exploring SNMRs now, inspired by @lesteph

Neil’s blog post is here on UK government on twitter http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2009/the-uk-government-on-twitter/

‘Andrew Stott is trending on twitter’

I can honestly say that I never, ever thought I would read that… anywhere.

However, Andrew has been appointed as Director of Digital Engagement here in the UK, and as such, his trendiness was bound to happen.

So… :) no doubt there will be a gazillion posts about this appointment, and here is my tuppence.

First reaction, open-mouthed ‘wha…?’

Then consideration.

I have worked with Andrew on the transformational government, website rationalisation agenda; and as such know him professionally. He has a brain the size of several planets, and ‘does maths’ in a fashion and speed that always floored me. He was passionate about the rationalisation work, and really worked us all hard to make sure that it happened. And it is this characteristic that leads me to completely review my opinion of the Director of Digital Engagement post.

To be honest, I rather thought that this would be given to some super clever bod from outside government, who would come at the job with a wealth of experience, challenging ideas and determination to ‘make stuff happen’. Then, as so often happened before, said person would begin to flag in the face of the enormity of the expectations of the job, burned out within a year to 18 months and left to go and do something else, broken.

Well… that won’t happen now; so this job that seemed a bit of a ‘nod in the right direction, but basically impossible’ is actually not that at all. If they wanted it to be that, they would not have appointed Andrew.

So this post really is going to do something and mean something. Well, really you could knock me down…

I am going to watch this with a sort of bewildered awe, I think; and hopefully the stuff Andrew decides has to happen will be good, build on what has already started, and sustainable.

Well I never.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 135 other followers