Power of Information – Ideal Government http://idealgovernment.com What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Databases can’t fix society. But society can fix the databases http://idealgovernment.com/2010/08/databases-cant-fix-society-but-society-can-fix-the-databases/ http://idealgovernment.com/2010/08/databases-cant-fix-society-but-society-can-fix-the-databases/#comments Sun, 08 Aug 2010 20:47:33 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2092 The closure of ContactPoint and the onset of the Databankendämmerung is – let’s say it again – cause for celebration. It’s also cause for congratulation to those who campaigned long and hard, with negligeable resources, against the brick wall of prevailing wisdom to get rid of it.

That’s not to say the underlying problems ContactPoint was meant to help with – caused by poorly co-ordinated and overstretched childrens’ services – have gone away; they haven’t.

The question of how technology best supports front line professionals, without disproportionate and unwarranted intrusion remains unanswered. It’s part of the scope of the Munro review, which provides first feeback in September, and a final report in April 2011. I suspect we’re in good hands here. I’d hazard a guess that Dr Munro will focus relentlessly on the crucial matter of protection of the relatively small number of children at real risk, and not attempt to boil the ocean of the welfare, diet, propensity to obesity and general wellbeing and conformance to social norms of every child. And I also bet that the role she recommends for ICT in helping child-protection professionals will be conformant to data protection and human rights law in a way that ContactPoint was not.

The Databankendämmerung must spread, just as we must escape the limitations of the Accentureweltanschauung. There are other ill-advised and intrusive central databases on which we should call time: eCaf; NHS SCR; the NHS Detailed Care Record; NHS Secondary Uses Service; long term comms data retention generally and the Intercept Modernisation Programme in particular. Kind friends won’t let me forget that I’ve promised to do a special celebration to mark the end of the Benighted ID Scheme and its lavish quantities of nugatory PA consulting.

The LibDems always opposed the “Database State”. The Tories were quick to spot that the last administration had taken a wrong turn and were politically vulnerable. But when Labour Ministers stopped listening exclusively to Cheltenham and Whitehall and resumed listening to the outside world (about eight weeks before the last election) they too quickly came to their senses as well.

It’s best not to see this in political terms, because really it’s a question of information logistics. Remember Troubleshooter? If John Harvey-Jones could revisit us and contemplate the dozens, hundreds of databases which public and private organisations run each trying to scrape, grab and update their versions of us, and then looked at the average householder spending a week and a half updating the different customer service systems of every entity we ever have to deal with (through episodes from moving house to losing a wallet) recording and sharing the same data over and over again, filling out endless forms with different callcentres and web sites and usernames and passwords, ….he would just laugh his vast laugh, wouldn’t he? And as he laughed he’d start to calculate the waste and loss of value, and huge tears would roll down his generous cheeks.

The Database State is an issue of civil liberties, justice and equality, of course. But there more than that: it’s been clear for a good year that the country heading for bankruptcy. It has been clear for a decade we need radical reform of public services. It has been clear ever since people started chipping in their ideas to IdealGov that the role of technology in this radical reform is about user participation, about quick wins and creating a foundation of trust.

The radical money-saving reforms have to be based on accurate personal data. They have to be built with tech systems that work. They have to draw on people’s supportive, active participation.

Some databases are valid and unobjectionable of course: DVLA, TV licensing, the electoral roll. Many public-sector databases can be fixed. The point about the Databankendämmerung isn’t that all databases are evil. It’s that the state can’t fix society’s complex human problems with giant databases.

Weirdly enough, however, the opposite will turn out to be true. Even the worthwhile databases are still plagued with errors, omissions and duplications, They need our help. Databases can’t fix society. But, given the tools, society can start to fix the databases. That’s a much more promising way forward.

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OS consultation http://idealgovernment.com/2010/01/os-consultation/ http://idealgovernment.com/2010/01/os-consultation/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2010 11:24:23 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1991 My short response to the Ordnance Survey data consultation

I think the phrase “making public data public” says it all. When a tautology is radical it’s an oblique way of saying we’re in the wrong place.

The UK needs vibrant emerging online services built on universally applicable data sets which the taxpayer has paid for already.

The agency “trading funds” rules aren’t particularly helpful to this. It’s not welcome news to anyone who hoped make new fortunes and careers out of privatising the Ordnance Survey.

But it has been clear for pretty much a decade (or 70 “Internet years”) that we need open mapping data and postcodes. Perhaps we should dither for a few more years, and then think about arranging some focus groups?

Hm. Slightly falling short on the #CMRD there. I hope others make more substantive, courteous and mutually respectful contributions. Go do it!

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Time to say what we want from government IT http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:54:19 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1942 It’s time to say what we want from government IT.

Let’s do this together. Let’s say “wouldn’t it be better if” about how tech affects transparency, costs and the quality of public services and how they affect our lives.

@ntouk and I have long since been fed up with what one senior Whitehall official yesterday called “this £trillion attempt to drag us into 1983”. Many of us have had a go at the draft government IT strategy on the Opposition’s makeITbetter site. Officials across Whitehall are now furiously revising it, so let’s hope the final published version is better.

Meanwhile we can speak freely. We can look to the realities of the wider world, and we don’t have to pretend that everything to date has been fine. Now it’s time to find our voice and say what we want.

The Centre for Technology Policy Research and IdealGov are launching a six-week competition, which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party. And everyone can, like, bring stuff (as we did to mypublicservices).

Practicalities. Please add any comments of suggestions about the process to this post. The final crowd-sourced “White paper of Wibbi” will be created on an open wiki here. Please feel free to register and edit, or to add comments at the end.

Party: IdealGov and CTPR are chipping in £1000 to the launch party to which everyone who has contributed is invited. There will be prizes including signed photos of our very own tech mandarin Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

Political engagement:An Opposition front bench team has already agreed to listen attentively to our results. We have also extended invitations to Labour and LibDem leaderships and to officials to attend the party or have the results presented. [UPDATE: Big news: still on day one and we’ve now also heard back that this will get presented to a LibDem front bench team and to the people drafting the Labour manifesto. This is subject to the project attracting enough substantial input of quality. So this is now definitely an opportunity to put good ideas in front of all three main UK parties. We’re also up for inviting SNP, Plaid & Greens to launch party. Everyone needs a good government IT policy.]]

This initiative is formally adopting the principles of #CMRD, the “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” called for last week by Michael Wills and first practised at an Intellect/Identity and Passport Service event this week.

Above all, we need to state in plain lay terms the role of contempory technology in future public services should be. Specifically, our work will need to cover off the main headings:

– governance of public-sector IT
– technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
– procurement of technology and tech-based services
– design that works for front line staff and users
– basis for participative public services
– public data
– personal data
– trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
– political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
– and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money.

This is not a time to splash out. The country’s broke. So first we need to spend less on IT, existing contracts notwithstanding. But then it’s two orders of magnitude more important that our IT plans support far more efficient public services.

Suggesting we deploy hundreds of PA consultants (or Deloitte or whoever) to mooch around filling out timesheets and expense claims for absurd day rates is not going to get you invited to the party. But any suggestion that draws the best expertise available into the gift economy (and by no means are all consultants nitwits) is most welcome.

This project is not a platform for venting anger at wrong headedness or past mediocrity (whoops! did I just do it? Old habits…) Take that frustration but use it to say what you want in the spirit of the #CMRD. Please bring your beliefs, principles, and passion, but the IdealGov and CTPR moderators will give short shrift to anything actionable or which reeks of partisan preconceptions. Scepticism is justified, but cynicism not.

We may need a “babies and bathwater” section to set out for controversial systems such as CfH or the ID Scheme what must go but what also should be retained. We should give praise where due, eg for Power of Information work. And our suggestions must be practical enough to keep the lights on, ie to keep essential services running uninterrupted while new and better plans emerge.

Contributions from all stakeholders are welcome: officials, industry, front line staff, anyone who speaks from personal experience of public services. Pertinent Art is always welcome, because it can speak to our condition so powerfully.

We last did this in 2004, remember. Now its time to do it again.

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RB Windsor & Maidenhead’s transparency drive http://idealgovernment.com/2009/11/rb-windsor-maidenheads-transparency-drive/ Wed, 25 Nov 2009 11:49:38 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1862 Interesting post on transparency in government by Liam Maxwell on the Conservative local government blog:

…Once you have gone through the obvious and straightforward, many of the sustainable cost savings we need to generate come through changing peoples’ behaviour: to become more cost effective, to continually recognise and eliminate even small amounts of waste.

That requires personal responsibility and that requires visibility of the problem – hence our push for transparency.

The Transparency Initiative

The Royal Borough Windsor & Maidenhead council has embarked on a process of continuing, increasing transparency and openness.

Some of the initiatives are:

* Procurement: every piece of expenditure over £500 is published (except things like individual residents’ payments for personal care).
* Smart Metering allows residents to see, in real time, how much power is being used in public buildings – you can see this in action here.
* Tables are published of what meetings Councillors attended and which they missed.
* We’ve expanded the number of Overview and Scrutiny Committees from one to five and every Cabinet decision has to be commented on by them.
* Expenses: every expense claim by councillors is published, no matter how small.

Liam’s author of the CPS It’s Ours paper which proposed broadly VRM-like solutions for public-service IT. While he’s putting these principles into practice in RB Windsor & Maindenhead, he’s also clearly signalling that he thinks they have a role to play in opposition IT policy for Whitehall.

Is this working in Windsor? Is the same (or more) being done elsewhere? Does it translate to the national scene? Very glad of your comments.

UsNow director Ivo Gormley speaks to the Malmo09 unConference http://idealgovernment.com/2009/11/usnow-director-ivo-gormley-speaks-to-the-malmo09-unconference/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/11/usnow-director-ivo-gormley-speaks-to-the-malmo09-unconference/#comments Sat, 21 Nov 2009 11:50:20 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1843

Ivo Gormley directed of the cult hit film UsNow which showed how crowdsourced and participative activity is changing life, from couchsurfing through football. It then asks the question what all this means for government. “Goverment is the most slow to change, which is paradoxical because they have the most to gain.”

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Putting government data online by TBL http://idealgovernment.com/2009/06/putting_government_data_online_by_tbl/ Wed, 24 Jun 2009 21:41:00 +0000 http://putting_government_data_online_by_tbl Nice Tim Berners-Lee note about putting government data online, tweeted by the director of digitla engagement.

Power of info task force report – commentonit! http://idealgovernment.com/2009/02/power_of_info_task_force_report_commentonit/ Mon, 02 Feb 2009 00:01:00 +0000 http://power_of_info_task_force_report_commentonit The Power of Information task force report is out. And – hurrah – it’s in beta format, so you can comment on it just like it was on Sam’s Commentonthis service. Cool! Set too! I’ve been hard at it all w/e so havent read it yet myself….

FoIA: that’s the way to do it http://idealgovernment.com/2009/01/foia_thats_the_way_to_do_it/ Sat, 24 Jan 2009 01:31:00 +0000 http://foia_thats_the_way_to_do_it Yeah. And this too is much closer to ideal:

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 21, 2009
January 21, 2009

SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires
transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is
said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages
accountability through transparency, is the most prominent
expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an
open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea
that accountability is in the interest of the Government and
the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a
clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.
The Government should not keep information confidential merely
because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure,
because errors and failures might be revealed, or because
of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never
be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of
Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed
to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive
branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit
of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of
the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure,
in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied
in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The
presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions
involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should
take affirmative steps to make information public. They should
not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies
should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is
known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines
governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and
agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and
transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal
Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA
reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392
of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office
of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to
increase and improve information dissemination to the public,
including through the use of new technologies, and to publish
such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit,
substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by
any party against the United States, its departments, agencies,
or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby
authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the
Federal Register.

# # #

Go Bazzer O’Bazzer!!

Open government: that’s the way to do it! http://idealgovernment.com/2009/01/open_government_thats_the_way_to_do_it/ Sat, 24 Jan 2009 01:27:00 +0000 http://open_government_thats_the_way_to_do_it This is much more closer to ideal:

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009
January 21, 2009


SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented
level of openness in Government. We will work together to
ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency,
public participation, and collaboration. Openness will
strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and
effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes
accountability and provides information for citizens about
what their Government is doing. Information maintained by
the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration
will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy,
to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can
readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies
should harness new technologies to put information about their
operations and decisions online and readily available to the
public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit
public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances
the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its
decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and
public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed
knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer
Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking
and to provide their Government with the benefits of their
collective expertise and information. Executive departments
and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can
increase and improve opportunities for public participation
in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively
engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive
departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods,
and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of
Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and
individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and
agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve
their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities
for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the
Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the
Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development
by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within
120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive,
to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive
departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing
the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent
agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.
This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any
right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at
law or in equity by a party against the United States, its
departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees,
or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


Go Bazzer!

Baby P? Or the Department of Health’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery Programme? http://idealgovernment.com/2008/12/baby_p_or_the_department_of_healths_care_services_efficiency_delivery_progr/ Sat, 06 Dec 2008 22:39:00 +0000 http://baby_p_or_the_department_of_healths_care_services_efficiency_delivery_progr The ever-vibrant and fertile FIPR lists point out two antithetical news items today: (from the Guardian)

Christine Gilbert admitted to failings in Ofsted’s oversight of Haringey council, acknowledging that officials in the local authority where Baby P died were able to “hide behind” false data last year to earn themselves a good rating from inspectors just weeks after his death. Ofsted’s assessment of local authorities’ children’s services last year consisted of a checklist of the information managers had to provide to demonstrate, among other things, that they had adequate social workers and were assessing children promptly. Managers in Haringey misled Ofsted by providing inaccurate data, the chief inspector said.

Well, ethnographic observation suggests this is how public services work. Ask profesionals for pain-in-the-arse information and you get copious rubbish. Ask any NHS doctor.

Poor baby P leaves to the world he lived in for two violent years this insight: you cannot manage recalcitrant and difficult human situations just by crunching data.

But that wont stop them trying. Jacky points to this “efficiency measure” which will in her words let

the NHS Information Centre to extract data on individual service users from databases of people receiving social care from local authority databases and use it to report on the efficiency and effectiveness of social
care, to save local authorities the bother of understanding and interpreting their own data. Given the powers suggested as part of the Queen’s Speech this week, social care departments may be unable to prevent this, and the document above suggests that much of the exchange will be controlled by the companies who write and maintain the software used by social care organisations.

Now, I’m not throwing Mike Charnley-Fisher (hi Mike!) into this absurd blame machine created by the media for every public servant close to Baby P. Baby P was killed by immediate family & friends, not by Haringey Council, that unfortunate doctor now suspended or any other public servant. But I will take a lot of persuading that we have our priorities right sucking sensitive data out of social services via Dr-Foster-like mechanisms of dubious propriety into great data churning engines instead of pouring resources into front line services.

There’s nothing in this 15-slide presentation about anonymity and protecting the rights of individuals. They talk of “breakdown by client” of all this data. They’d better mean “by authority” and not what we would normally mean by “client” which is a person. If – heaven forbid – they mean what their words seem to imply they mean (and there are no reasuring words to assert the contrary) then I’m going to really fly off the handle. They talk of “transaction level extraction”. But nothing about the foundation of trust. Clearly intended for a different audience, inside the green zone of groupthink, protected by the mindguards.