If you liked that, you might like the talk I did specifically about the 97ers last year at TEDxBrum
If you liked that, you might like the talk I did specifically about the 97ers last year at TEDxBrum
“Yes but *why* is open data important?”
When acting as Commissioner on The Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy I was often asked what was the single most important recommendation we could make. I always replied “open data”, here is why:
You know how if you go online to buy a pair of blue trousers. You have a bit of a mooch around and regardless of whether you bought a pair or not, blue trousers will thereafter follow you around the Internet. In your Facebook page, your gmail, your online news channel, somewhere on those pages you will have blue trousers suggested to you.
We know this, we even expect it even though we used to find it creepy. These machine learned behaviours and smart algorithms are just something we accept, something we have come to assume as normal.
But this only happens because that blue trouser data is open to freely move about.
Now in Parliament, the information is not ready yet for this kind of movement around the web. It is *designed* to be destination data, you have to go to it, on the website.
But way more importantly, more significantly, our learned behaviour pattern means that if something is not actively moved into our digital space, we are more than likely to miss it. When Parliamentary data is open you will find out about what is happening in Parliament that might interest you, using exactly the same voodoo that is used to serve you every variety of blue trouser.
Let’s say you are a lady who is totally nuts about chickens, you have hundreds of them as your pets. A Bill is going through Parliament that is going to make the ownership of chickens illegal. Until that data is open, you will only know about this by seeking out the information elsewhere – yet how could you realistically know about everything going through Parliament? Once the data is open, you will have the Ban the chickens Bill across all your online spaces, and you will be able to then do something to fight your chicken cause. And so it is important.
As a part of my role as a Commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, I have been running a series of informal chats at my dining room table with tea and cake. Some of these I have recorded (see here for the first ever one) and some I have not, because they have accidentally happened! This post captures the latest and final one I will host before the Commission retires to start putting all the evidence and knowledge gleaned into some robust recommendations. (If you want to do the same thing with tea cake and democracy then feel free: please contact the team on 0207 219 2606 just so we know).
We always start from a general chat around the main themes of the Commission (detailed here on the Parliament website alongside key dates) and then disappear down a few rabbit holes before the conversation really kicks off. I have two recordings of the latest one (because I tried to take a photo *and* record on my phone – mistake!).
There is also the rather wonderful mind map of notes taken by Lucy Knight, to give you an overview:
The discussions usually fall back into the merits and failures of a representative democracy in a digital world. And I am not going to attempt to write a blog post covering all of that – but if it interests you, please do explore this topic more, it is worthy of some mulling.
What I would like to leave you considering, though, is the question about responsibility:
In a representative democracy, experiencing change as we are, is it the responsibility of Parliament to actively engage and empower citizens, re-invigorating and reminding us of our role ? Or is it the responsibility of the already engaged and enthused citizens to ensure that the majority of peoples’ voices are heard?
This question sits behind a lot of the conflict and confusion, I think, and I would be interested in your thoughts. Here’s a poll (for fun)
And whilst we are on the topic of polls, I have another one running (albeit statistically pointless as I am not gathering any data about those taking part, but interesting nonetheless for those who like this kind of stuff). The results are publicly available here – and occasionally surprising: https://www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-MNQG6PS8/
Should you wish to engage with the Commission formally and have your voice heard – please do – the ways to do it are:
Twitter – Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy on Twitter
Facebook – Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy on Facebook
LinkedIn – Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy on LinkedIn
Post a comment – Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy Web Forum
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week I was standing by for a call from the Speaker of the House of Commons, my life has its colour I tell you, he was calling me at 10:15. By 10:30 he had invited me to join his Commission on Digital Democracy… and my life was complete. Without boring you to death about why, there is one thing that drives me, that empassions me, that will keep me talking to dawn – and that is the implication of the digital revolution on democracy. In. Every. Possible. Way. Imaginable.
Here is what the Commission is going to do:
The objective of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is to consider, report and make recommendations on how parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom can embrace the opportunities afforded by the digital world to become more effective in:
- representing the people
- making laws
- scrutinising the work and performance of government
- encouraging citizens to engage with democracy
- facilitating dialogue amongst citizens
In addition, the Commission aims to consider the implications for Parliament if it is to become more relevant to the increasingly diverse population it seeks to serve.
Here is a picture of Grape my kitten sitting on the Commission papers this morning, after ripping them out of the printer – for those not gripped by my story
Today was the first meeting of the Commission I attended, (they are happening monthly) and I will write more things as they make sense in my head, but I wanted to share the process with you – also give you the heads up on how to get involved and when.
NOW March 2014: Evidence Gathering – Legislation (Making laws in a digital age) I have written this up in a separate post
April: Evidence Gathering – Scrutiny
May: Evidence Gathering – Representation
June: Evidence Gathering – Engaging the public
July: Evidence Gathering – Encouraging dialogue
(Find out how to share your views with the Commission on any of the above things, or all of them if you fancy, over here)
Then the analysis, no doubt “heated debate” and so on until we are at a point to publish a report in January 2015 that will contain recommendations. It may have been said in the past that these Commissions can just be a circle jerk, or words to that effect, but I can assure you with my hand on my heart that every single person on that Commission is passionate, brave and absolutely committed to ripping into the issues, laying out the entrails, sculpting a vision of a future and then recommending where the stepping-stones are placed to get there.
You may think my Damien Hurst style metaphor too gory, but you need the stomach of a lion to hear some of the blockers that, frankly, would make anyone a little bit sick in their mouth. We are an old Nation. The stuff we do, we do still because we have always done it that way, because of the Magna Carta, because of the way the House of Commons and the House of Lords was originally set up… because of a million things. This is not a bad thing, it just cannot be discarded. You can’t just turn it off and on again, much though many have been tempted over the years.
That’s OK, it is a challenge – we can do this, all of us, I reckon…
Kitten time again? OK…
This is her right now
But yes, please do share thoughts. Today was revolutionary for me, and I live and breathe this stuff, I talk about this in my spare time for goodness sake. It is my topic of choice at 3am when I have had way too much fun – I know, I am a barrel of laughs. But yet, in one session of two hours I learned so much, heard even *more* things that are affected by this digital renaissance and I do feel a little bit sick, I must admit, I do need to armour my stomach… but my goodness me, what an absolutely blinding opportunity.
I cannot tell you how 100% happy I am to be on this Commission, but also 100% scared, daunted and challenged – as are each and every one of those people in the room, not just the Commissioners and the Speaker, the students, the researchers. But it needs everyone to join in. Whatever you have been riffing in those long car journeys with your sister (may just be me, sorry Ruth), or in the pub, or at school or work send it in email@example.com or pop onto the forum, although it seems a bit dusty in there – it needs some lively debate. I know there are plans to bring our digital carthorse into Facebook, so maybe you will only get around to it when we career by, but if we do, grab your soapbox and vent your digital democracy spleen.
This is how happy I am (taken earlier today) #notaselfie
This was taken by John Pullinger, a legend of a man and DG of Information Services in the House of Commons <- if you ever meet him, shake his hand and thank him for being tirelessly brilliant.
There is something bothering me about politicians…
Surely not everyone who goes into politics is corrupt – yet that seems to be the general opinion. What happened to the person who was so determined to help the lives of himself/herself and fellow citizens? So much so that they dedicate themselves to public service? I refuse to believe that every one of them fell foul of some mystical spell that turned each of them into self-serving , corrupt individuals.
We citizens are not stupid; explain what you (politicians) are trying to do, why and how – and we will get it! We may not support every policy as an individual, but if you explain the background – we will be able to compute what you are saying (and argue intelligently if necessary).
This works in international politics as well.
Politicians are not a breed or animal any different to homo sapiens – there is no barrier except one that is perceived or projected.
So why do we find it so hard to communicate? Why are we more content identifying and vilifying the one rotten apple, thereby brushing aside the fact that we need to understand and support the earnest intentions of the rest of those politicians who are determined to make some sense of the management of this country?
The job I choose to do is around enabling this explanation to happen, but I am increasingly frustrated by the reluctance to listen. I can enable communication until your ears bleed, but if there is no willingness to listen then there seems little point.
Democracy relies on the intelligence and candidacy of the community – should we not start taking account of our own actions?
It is too easy to lay blame at the door of corruption – pour sugar into sachet… we need to wake up.