I *heart* Ivo Gormley – his film’s quite good too, but disturbing

At today’s epractice.eu conference in Brussels we were shown Ivo’s spell-binding film: ‘Us Now‘, clips of which are shown here. The next showing of it in the UK is here… sign up. 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.


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.


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

Back from Brussels epractice.eu conference

Expect a small flurry of blog posts now. I have just got back from David Osimo and Dominic Campbell‘s conference in Brussels, that – apart from being thought-provoking – gave me some much needed train/MAC time to knock some stuff off my ‘to do’ list (and add to my list of things to yell for help on through my blog).

Anyway, Brussels/EU/stuff…

I was there with James Darling to speak about what we did at Rewired State. What was great was that, quite by chance, we happened to be on a panel of people showcasing everything that they had done with data. It was billed as a web 2.0 conference, but as we all know this is far greater than meeting the general cry for a MyFace or Spacebook account. Here’s the list of people we were on a panel with:

  • Jack Thurston, founder, Farmsubsidy (EU) – looks a bit like fatboy slim, Jack is the champion of ‘getting stuff done’ in the EU, hoping to do a rewired state type event (making a big play for boy wonder‘s geekery skills – join the queue). He was disappointed that so much of the panel, and day, was showcasing UK talent and achievement, I concur and look forward to this being done with more of a European show-off
  • Adrian Moraru, IPPC: how MEPs vote: he had a great voting record hack to show, but as they had run out of funds, it is no longer available online to view. Shame, I hope they get their funds, and/or the geeks get their hands on the Opensource info and recreate it for us to enjoy. I am v interested in Adrian’s work and hope we have more Eastern block talent shared at future events
  • David Price, Debategraph: this kind of went over my head in the quick ten minute showcase; however, it is one that I will go and have a proper look at. I believe that somewhere in here is the answer to monitoring online consultation.

So then us. You see? All hacks.

This then lead into another panel, lunch, Ivo Gormley’s film: Us Now and an afternoon of meso and macro level approach to Public Services 2.0. I am pretty sure it will all be shown and available, keep watching FutureGov… it was very good and worth watching/following but I will not do a blow by blow here.

Conversation at lunch revolved around data provision and procurement of talent such as the geeks at Rewired State. For the former, I look squarely in the direction of Richard Stirling, Power of Information Taskforce. For the latter, I am slightly more out of my depth, however the Agile Procurement Manifesto, based on the Agile Manifesto, proposed by the agile procurement group (borne of UKGovBarCamp09) looks like it will begin to address this. (This is a bit of a teaser, the wiki will be up shortly and I will definitely show you where and when.)

Ivo Gormley’s film inspired the most thought for the day but I will do this in a separate post. All in all it was a good day, and I am excited about what is happening across Europe in this public service 2.0 space.

Do watch the recorded video from the day as and when you can, and definitely get to see Ivo’s film.