WRITTEN ON October 13th, 2008 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Across the Board, Transformational Government, What do we want?, Wibbipedia/MindtheGap

Let’s admit it – three years into “Transformational Government”, amidst all the data nitwittery, nationalisation, general control phreakery and wars on terror and various forms of self-medication government has some quite exciting things going on thanks to technology.

It’s not just the online tax disc, is it?

How about

David Miliband blog
Identity developments: Higgins, InfoCards, Mydex, Prime
MySociety family of democracy web sites
OPSI Public Sector Information Unlocking Service
Patient Opinion
Power of Information Taskforce
Scotland’s privacy expert group
Showusabetterway competition
The Key problem-solving group for head teachers by TEN UK
Tom Watson blog –
Whitehall Webby’s blog

I’ll recompile and sort into alphabetical order if I get much more input (this should probably be the IdealGov blogroll).

This is all preliminary to thinking about Transfomational Government 2.

The fact is, we’re three years into Transformational Government 1.0. I think we felt here that the world was already ahead of that at the time (or perhaps headed in a different direction) and has since moved on further. So we’re going to need to start to think: what should Transformational Government 2 look like? What do we want? What would be better? But that’s for later.

For now let’s build that list of things that are going well: the inspirations, surprises, and the “about time too’s”

8 Responses to “Reasons to be cheerful: year three”

Steph Gray wrote on October 14th, 2008 1:10 am :

Let’s add the global bloggers of FCO, UKTI and now DFID.

Ingrid Koehler wrote on October 14th, 2008 12:36 pm :

All great, and some of these will make a big difference, like unlocking and reusing information. But what I’d like to see in Transformation 2.0 (along with more of the same) is the hyper-local. Folks making big differences on a small scale. Here’s a start – Digital Mentors – I’m watching with interest.

Phil Booth wrote on October 14th, 2008 3:25 pm :

I don’t agree, I’m afraid.

What we have seen so far is not ‘Transformational Government 1.0’ but rather something more akin to ‘Transformational Government 0.1 beta’.

I’d be willing to bet that most initiatives that have succeeded so far (and that’s very few, for all the money spent) have done so IN SPITE of the programme, not because of it. All of the showcase stuff seems to be limping, tied in knots or holed below the waterline. What you list seems to consist mainly of things done by outsiders to discipline government, or the odd exception to the rule that our elected representatives know bugger-all about IT… much less the network.

The entire programme is misconceived. The very name of it gives the game away: government should not be attempting to transform people’s lives with IT (managing their identities, trying to predict their behaviour to improve delivery of monolithic services[1], etc.) it should be transforming itself. ‘Transformational’ is management consultant gobbledegook – it sounds aspirational, sounds like government is doing something, but actually never delivers.

A quick reality check: ask yourself, what would a ‘transformational’ government look like?

And what might a government *transformed* by IT look like? (Don’t fool yourself you’ll be getting the latter, while they are pursuing the former.)

Forget ‘Transformational Government 2.0’. Now is the time to get back to basics. The information culture of government is broken, its policy of rampant aggregation and blanket data-sharing utterly bankrupt and (worse) corrosive of the very thing that government IT *has* to have in order to work – i.e. trust.

Secure the messaging layer.

Give people control of their data and proper redress – now THAT’S ‘regulation’.

Establish the ‘plugs and sockets’ and allow the professionals to buy best-of-breed solutions that work for them (hey presto! USEFUL integration…)

Get the hell out of big, flashy IT altogether – politicians and IT programme managers are fundamentally in conflict, and always will be.

Freeze the budgets while you do some proper thinking. You won’t realise any of the value of the network if you attempt to control it, centralise it, surveille it – but you will destroy some of its value if you try.

The damage done so far suggests to me that the appropriate way forward is NOT to focus on the appallingly few successes, and use these as a justification for moving forward.

Government has to admit its mistakes and learn from them (ha ha). It must understand why it has failed, why it will continue to fail and where it must NEVER go.

Only then can it begin to articulate a meaningful vision, rather than the tsunami of bullsh*t, jobs for the boys, ten-years-out-of-date-before-it’s-built, weeping open sore disaster that is the current policy.

1) mote – eye – beam. Get the damn services sorted out before you start trying to ‘personalise’ them! I want a good school for my kids and a clean hospital, not junk mail telling me I should go for a ‘health MOT’ or systems that undermine my role as a parent. It may come as a surprise to many politicians and civil servants that most normal people find the idea of government getting personal with them creepy and intimidating at best.

David wrote on October 14th, 2008 3:42 pm :

I’m going to be extremely controversial and go mainstream; apart from the tax disc, most of the things you mention are entirely invisible to the general population – don’t get me wrong, I like most things on your list, some are doing a great job, and some have great potential – but most people are oblivious to them. In my book, that doesn’t make them ‘succesful’ when measured against the potential for public service transformation. I’m not knocking the list, but more trying to put in perspective the challenge.

Here are some things that may have their issues, but are being very effective:

Police National Computer

It’s vital, but boring. It works, the data is pretty safe, and the fact that occasional abuse by individuals ends in prosecution is comforting. Moreover, the difficult things like provenance, when to include stuff, when to delete it, is pretty mature.

HMRC online filing

Online tax returns are great – and have much greater potential. HMRC need credit for doing something extremely difficult here. Saying that HMRC are doing a great job in anything information related tends to be suffixed by a ‘ho ho ho!’ but the poor blighters have actually done some really good things…honest!


https://www.spire.berr.gov.uk/ is something relatively few have heard of, but it has made life dramatically simpler for business trying to get an export license. It’s also stopped the tree-killing paper process, and couriering around large amounts of forms. Greentastic and efficient!

Local Govt

I’d also like to do a big shout out to all my peeps in local government who are innovating – too many to mention. Just take http://southampton.gov.uk/ and look at the ‘pay for it, report it, appply for it, supply it’ stuff and their local information. Many, many local councils are orienting their information and online service provision around real people in ways that don’t cause orgasms amongst us technorati so we don’t tend to notice. Potholes, parking, noise and rubbish collection are what people care about more than Tom Watson’s blog (great though it is – and again, I ain’t knocking it!).

…and how much of this was done because or in spite of trans gov, I’m not sure…

David wrote on October 14th, 2008 3:45 pm :

Oh yes, one more I intended to mention – http://www.wales.nhs.uk/IHC/home.cfm – Informing Healthcare Wales. In broad terms, they are doing what NHS-CfH should have done from the beginning. Lots of early and meaningful consultation with healthcare professionals and patients, building on existing working solutions, and evolving towards a sophisticated architecture that does a proper job. Hurrah for Wales.

Ideal Gov administrator wrote on October 15th, 2008 3:12 am :

Phil – you’re jumping ahead of me! For me any succesor programme to TG 1.0 (or 0.1 as you have it) has to acknowledge the difficulties it has created to be credible. But the political reality is we have to start any conversation on the subject by saying what is going well. Not that I disagree with anything you say…

Fred Perkins wrote on October 15th, 2008 10:43 am :

I’m struggling a bit here. Why are blogs, discovery sites, and lobbying sites examples of “things going well” ? Yes, they take advantage of technology, but aren’t they in large part no more than outlets for frustration, rather than instruments of transformation?

Government is not alone in having realised that it’s remarkably easy – and powerful – to encourage or set these things up, so promoting a message that “we really want to hear what you think/want..” – yet cheerfully ignoring 99% of what is suggested. “But we have consulted…”

Lest I appear totally cynical, I DO think the online tax disc is a triumph to be celebrated, and an example of cross-department co-operation I’d never have believed we would get to.

But I’m struggling to think of anything else about which we can say “Isn’t that great, and just how government is being truly transformed.”

Sadly, so many applications of technology, even in quite mundane areas, have just been excuses to add further useless complication to government/citizen interaction.

Erik Chase wrote on October 18th, 2008 10:17 pm :

All are great! Detroit where I live is a nasty, racist place with rats in the street. Our politicians are violent, unprincipled men and women who htink money solves everything. So to be able to get our tax discs online would be something we can only dream of. I wish I could come to your country but it requires fingerprinting, and as an unemployed car machanic my fingertips are in very poor condition.