Design: Co-creation – Ideal Government 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 GDS design principles and design-driven public services Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:43:51 +0000 Like a contented snore from a prolonged snooze, here’s a quick and now rare post to acknowledge the new GDS design principles:

1 Start with needs*
2 Do less
3 Design with data
4 Do the hard work to make it simple
5 Iterate. Then iterate again.
6 Build for inclusion
7 Understand context
8 Build digital services, not websites
9 Be consistent, not uniform
10 Make things open: it makes things better

It’s a great start. For digital services it strikes me as close to ideal; better than we could have thought to ask for. What we would still ask is that the notion of “starting with needs” and “doing less” be extended to policy and public services more universally.

On this basis it makes sense and feels achievable to go 100% digital for that hwich can be digitised. But it’s not just a digital thing. This is the culture we need across the board.

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Let’s rethink the logistics of personal data in government #3: Census Thu, 14 Oct 2010 15:09:40 +0000 More or less the first post on IdealGov over six years ago was on Finland’s register-based census. But now, thanks to all sorts of developments not least this week’s Mydex launch, we can see how the UK in 2012 2011 could do better than the Finns a decade earlier.

The non-ideal 2012 [correction: 2011] Census will see Lockheed Martin paid £500m-odd of money we can ill afford to undertake a clunky process of data gathering which will take 2-3 years to complete and feed back.

But if everyone had a personal data store such as Mydex….

….one could simply add to the personal data store the fields needed to complete the Census questionnaire. ONS could invite people to volunteer this information, or could see how far it got compelling it by law with threats of dire consequences. It could poll the information once every ten years if that were good enough for statistical purposes and for planning public services. Or it could poll people’s personal data stores ever 10 months, 10 weeks, 10 hours, 10 minutes, or 10 seconds. Lockheed Martin could go back to making rockets and bombs. We’d save a pile of money. And we’d start to be able to plan public services based on real needs and preferences instead of an out-of-date decennial view.

The immediate question (to anticipate any ONS trolling [amendment: pushback]) is universality. How can you possibly make PDSs universal in the way the census needs to be? Perhaps the answer is: given the huge benefits both to the individual and the state of working with PDSs, how much incentive can we plan for the individual to help this to spread far, wide and fast? Remember the core principle has to be gaining the individual’s trust, so intrusive data gathering and playing fast & loose with the data is ruled out.

But if you want a Big Society fuelled on accurate, up to date data on personal needs, circumstances and preferences this has to be the way to go. The 2012 2011 Census is going to feel about as far from Ideal as procuring a Stealth bomber to run the country’s Neighbourhood Watch Schemes.

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It’s not about identity. Or privacy. It’s about saving money Tue, 21 Sep 2010 21:17:09 +0000 Does it matter that the Coalition hasn’t published a post-ID-Scheme identity policy yet? I dont think so. It’s no more helpful to obsess about identity than to obsess about privacy. These things are important, but the overriding Coalition priority is to save money.

Happily, the urge to save money will usher in the right identity policy and in turn protect our privacy.

The area to focus on is data logistics. When Alan Mitchell and I browsed through hundreds of complaints about public services recently we observed that very few are about privacy and none at all about problems with identity. But the vast majority point to poor information logistics. The key person – official, professional, or the unhappy individual – just didn’t have the right information at the right time.

This causes irritation, frustration, offence, and vast expense. It’s extremely annoying for individuals not to be able to get hold of information they need, to have the wrong information, or to have to give the same information over and over again. It’s unjust, time-consuming and possibly worse to get the wrong treatment or service because the service cant get the information or has the wrong information.

It’s unnecessarily expensive for public services to attempt to maintain hundreds of different records about the same person (but neither feasible nor desirable to amalgamate them into panoptical mega-records). If you provide services on the back of incomplete and inaccurate data there’s every chance the service will be poor and unnecessarily expensive.

And it’s hard to plan and prioritise if you’re not in touch with your customers and people try as far as possible to withhold data from you. If we built churches using the last census there would be a few Jedi cathedrals lying empty.

If we can fix this (and we think it can be done) then people can get better, more responsive service, restored individual responsibility with a path to empowered self-service. HM Treasury also gets a triple dose of cost savings.

It means restoring control over personal data to the individual and building trust on the side of the individual.

User-controlled digital identifiers within an identity assurance framework are prerequisite, and that is just what Cabinet Office is now quietly proposing. Better privacy is a by-product (and a legal requirement, let’s not forget). But the compelling reason to pursue better data logistics with user-driven services is saving money.

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Databases can’t fix society. But society can fix the databases Sun, 08 Aug 2010 20:47:33 +0000 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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Patient Opinion embeddable widgets Mon, 05 Jul 2010 13:18:08 +0000 Hurrah – I like the new Patient Opinion widget:

Sam did some of these for publicexperience. His one let you just type your experience straight in. The PO one just offers recent feedback, with options for filters. Has PO got the other sort I wonder?

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Seeking best practice to inform ‘next’ practice Thu, 24 Jun 2010 09:59:12 +0000 Following on from Will’s post below, I’m pleased to say that in places (albeit all rather far from the Westminster media hub) people ARE using the burning platform of the current economic situation as a reason to re-think how they go about doing what they do. There are places where a requirement for a shift in both mindset and culture is being made more explicit, leading to a re-think about the nature of leadership, and how you measure success.

One example of this is a project commissioned by Nesta. The Innovation Unit is leading a programme of work pursuing Radical Efficiency (innovation that produces better outcomes at less cost) in 6 localities in England, all focused on early years services. One element of this – very similar to the approach we take in thepublicoffice – is to showcase exemplars of innovative practice, which can inspire people with the art of the possible.

I’m on the urgent lookout for new exemplars of innovation in the way outcomes have been delivered – especially (but not exclusively) in complex social policy areas. CAN YOU HELP? I’m particularly interested in any examples of work you can point me to which illustrate the themes below:

  • Uncover, build and really work with existing community capacity, networks and resources to deliver services
  • Overcome barriers to engagement with existing services (e.g. improving information and awareness, re-branding, tackling fear of judgement and stigma around accessing support)
  • Meet people where they are at – physically relocate services to places where people already are or go regularly and where they feel comfortable
  • Work with new ‘units’ of users – moving from children or traditional family units to really extended units of support (e.g. grandparents, close friends etc)
  • Rethink the role of the professional; create a much more mixed economy of support in the delivery of services, e.g. peer:peer, professional and non professional, formal and informal
  • Create a system with a diverse mix of service providers, formal and informal, private, voluntary and public sector

Suggestions needed ASAP. Prizes definitely on offer for suggestions that we use 🙂

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Ideal Government context to a wonderful bit of gov spend visualisation Mon, 14 Jun 2010 09:32:24 +0000 The original “Ideal Government” agenda – quick wins; co-creative service design; foundation of trust – is now happening so thick and fast I’m not even pretending to keep up with it. That’s because Ideal Government stuff is now a fringe hobby topic for me; I’m fully focussed on new ways we can all protect, manage and realise the value of our personal data (with Mydex CIC) and with what this means in terms of opportunities and threats for large organisations (Ctrl-Shift Ltd).

What I’d say on the “ideal government” agenda which we’ve been watching and commenting on here since 2004 is just this:

– much or most government IT is still “far from ideal” too expensive; ineffective; poorly designed; large parts of it of dubious legality under European data protection and human rights law

– there’s a terrific start in open data and the quick wins arising from mashups etc, but we’re barely 5% into just this part of the new agenda. There’s so much more to come. We can have theories about the implications of it but we’ve yet to see the reality in all its glory and unintended/unexpected consequences.

– We haven’t yet seriously started on co-creation or participative public services where the systems delivered are formally designed successfully to meet a real need, and created, measured and improved with active input from those it’s intended to help

– Nor have we seriously addressed the questions around personal data and the foundation of trust. Cancellation of the benighted ID scheme and Contactpoint is barely more than a welcome signal of intent.

We have yet to deliver really good public-service IT in the manner Google started to deliver good search in c. 2001. When it’s really convenient and helpful people (cf Google then, or Facebook c 2007) people will adopt it. Martha will prevail, eventually.

Only once we/they’ve adopted it en masse will people seriously think about the consequences and underlying implications and start to ask the hard questions about whether we’re right to trust it (cf Google Buzz 2010, Facebook 2010 or even BP 2010). What Ross Anderson and FIPR have to say is both urgent and important now, but I fear it may be 20-25 years until people catch up with it.

All that is just a preamble, or context, to the observation that this visualisation of government IT spend is wonderful. Thank heavens people such as dharmafly and the Open Knowledge Foundation are getting excited and making stuff.

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Why #idealgits will pay special attention to design Sun, 10 Jan 2010 17:00:28 +0000 No public service has ever been formally designed, from intention to execution. Every single one of them should have been.

That was the nub of an Aha-Erlebnis conversation with the late and much-lamented Charles Cox (who at that time was MD of EDS, responsible for delivering more on-line Whitehall services than everyone else put together).

Our government IT problems go deeper than procurement, staff, management, suppliers, contracts, lack of checks and balances. The new services were never designed, in any formal sense, to solve the problems they’re intended to solve for the people they’re intended to help.

This is folly, when we’re constructing more or less from scratch a vast new edifice of virtual public services. It’s doubly regrettable when we have astonishingly innovative and effective designers in the UK, and a world lead in service design.

That’s why we will include a section on design in the CTPR Ideal Goverment IT Strategy project.

Thinking of future public services using the language and techniques of design is more fun and more powerful. The Design Council‘s RED team showed it. IdealGov found it out for itself with ThePublicOffice. It’s clear from Total Place. Matt Poelmans keeps proving it in Holland with BuergerLink. thinkpublic exemplify it. Donagh and I proved it again with the fun we had doing the independent European conference Malmo09.

But design thinking immediately takes us beyond mere “IT strategy”, comments Professor Alison Prendiville in charge of the UK’s first Masters of Design graduate course (at London College of Communication):

…this is less a question about IT and more to do with the service design and the role Government IT plays in delivering that service. ‘Mypublicservices’ is great as it demonstrates the difference that individuals can make through their own personal efforts.

I also think that Government IT should be about empowering citizens, if this leads to incentives and improved feelings about community, less quantifiable metrics, then this can only be good.

My only fear is that ultimately Central Government is very much driven by measurements that rely on quantitative feedback and mechanisms that are very different from the user experience goals that define a good service.

She goes on to ask how one goes about converting them.

We have to welcome the more ambitious challenge.

Free government data (from Power of Info) plus new ways of self-organising make a powerful mixture. We will start to question everything government does. And we’ll believe (as Ivo Gormley showed in Us Now) its possible for us collectively to do almost anything ourselves.

Professor Nutt’s new crowdsourced alternative to the ACMD is this week’s straw in the wind. From participatory medicine via lifelong learning to gritting our own rural roads, we face the prospect of questioning and then potentially redesigning and rebuilding pretty well everything.

That’s why we want a strong section on design at the heart of the CTPR Ideal Government IT Strategy #idealgits.

It’s to ensure we put our efforts and investment along lines which are formally designed to achieve success, from intention, through specification, choice, development, feedback and improvement. We need what thinkpublic call “self-improving public services”.

Of course we hope that involving design expertise in #idealgits will allow us to present the output in a more attractive, comprehensible way of more universal appeal. But it’s about substance, not just style. The main reason is simply it’ll be so much better than any strategy which does not include design thinking. We’ve got to raise the bar.

Afterword: Unlike many other disciplines I’ve come across the designers I know will have no difficulty fitting in with the new “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” #CMRD. I gather there are designers who are spiky, difficult people but the ones I have met have been a delight to hang out with, full of fun, empathy and creativity. So welcome aboard! Please add your thoughts about design in future public services here.

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Consultation on MPs’ expenses Fri, 08 Jan 2010 12:16:12 +0000 The new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has a consultation up on MPs expenses. Do it, people! If we don’t fill it out now and feed back, we can hardly complain if we don’t like how MPs’ expenses work in future.

It’s a deceptively simple looking web site which is easy to use but pretty thorough in the feedback it invites. Designed, delivered and hosted by our friends at The Dextrous Web – nice one!

Tories announce £1m competition for large-scale crowdsourcing platform Wed, 30 Dec 2009 12:06:16 +0000 Cripes. HM’s Loyal Opposition has announced – if elected – a £1m prize for an online platform for large-scale crowdsourcing.

This almost comes onto the radar of big IT suppliers. It’s massive for smart little NGOs; it would have funded about a decade of early MySociety work.

I got it in an email (extract below). There’s probably a URL but I dont have it yet. This was announced by my local MP Jeremy Hunt. They’d take the cash from the Cabinet Office budget.

This is going to be fun!

Hi there – hope you’ve all had a merry and relaxing Christmas.

I just wanted to flag up the £1 million competition that we have
announced today for anyone who can develop an online platform that
enables us to tap into the wisdom of crowds to resolve difficult
policy challenges. In government, we will use this platform to publish
all Green Papers, and open up the entire policy making process to the
public. See briefing note below for more details.

This really is the most radical crowdsourcing announcement ever made
by a UK political party – not only in terms of our commitment to
opening up the policy making process, but also because of our use of a
Longitude/Netflix style prize.

We’d be really grateful if you were able to flag up this announcement,
and the press release below, to your contacts in the IT media. After
all, we want lots of people to enter this competition and develop
online collaborative platforms – so publicity is obviously crucial!

All the best

Hunt: Solving problems together – harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds

The Conservatives are today announcing a competition, with a £1million
prize, for the best new technology platform that helps people come
together to solve the problems that matter to them – whether that’s
tackling government waste, designing a local planning strategy,
finding the best school or avoiding roadworks.

This online platform will then be used by a future Conservative
government to throw open the policy making process to the public, and
harness the wisdom of the crowd so that the public can collaborate to
improve government policy. For example, a Conservative government
would publish all government Green Papers on this platform, so that
everyone can have their say on government policies, and feed in their
ideas to make them better.

This is in addition to our existing radical commitment to introduce a
Public Reading Stage for legislation so that the public can comment on
draft bills, and highlight drafting errors or potential improvements.

Launching the competition, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“Conservatives believe that the collective wisdom of the British
people is much greater than that of a bunch of politicians or
so-called experts. And new technology now allows us to harness that
wisdom like never before. So at this time of year, when families and
friends are getting together, we’re announcing a new idea to help the
British people get together to help solve the problems that matter to

“There are currently no technological platforms that enable in-depth
online collaboration on the scale required by Government – this prize
is a good and cost-effective way of getting one.

“Too often policy has been ill thought through with disastrous
consequences. When formulating and implementing policy why should we
not listen to the hundreds of thousands of experts out there?”


For further information please call Ramesh Chhabra on 07738 935 187

Notes to Editors.

In the bureaucratic age, decisions in government, business and other
organisations were typically made by a small, closed group of experts.
In the post-bureaucratic age, new technologies enable us to reject
this top-down approach to decision-making. These new technologies
allow us to harness the wisdom of the crowd, take advantage of the
power of mass collaboration and make use of the information and ideas
dispersed amongst large groups of people. Evidence from around the
world has shown that this post-bureaucratic approach can result in
more efficient and effective decision-making and problem solving than
relying on small groups of experts.

Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd in this way is a fundamentally
Conservative approach, based on the insight that using dispersed
information, such as that contained within a market, often leads to
better outcomes than centralised and closed systems. The Conservative
Party has already used crowd sourcing to develop new policies, for
example through our ‘Stand Up Speak Up’ initiative. To make sure that
we make best use of this approach, a Conservative government will
offer an unprecedented £1 million prize for any individual or team
that develops a platform that enables large groups of people to come
together online to solve common problems and develop new policies.

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds – case studies


Innocentive is a website used by leading companies such as Proctor and
Gamble and charities such as the Rockefeller Foundation, to tap into
the wisdom of the crowd and get answers to otherwise intractable
research problems. There are over 160,000 scientists and other experts
in the Innocentive network, and they are incentivised to take part
through cash prizes for solving problems.

Improvng the Netflix algorithm

Netflix, a US-based DVD rental company, wanted to improve the
algorithm it uses to recommend films to users. Instead of hiring a
research team itself, it threw open its dataset, and offered a $1m
prize for anyone who could improve its algorithm by 10% or more. This
approach yielded a solution far more cheaply and quickly than relying
on an internal team of researchers.


Peer-to-Patent uses the wisdom of the crowd to improve the patent
process, and has been trialled by the US Patent Office. Under this
approach, patent applications are posted online, so that instead of
relying on a small group of bureaucrats, anyone in the world can check
whether the application is valid. This approach seems to be much
faster and more efficient than the traditional closed approach to
appraising patent applications.

Solving maths problems

In January 2009, Timothy Gowers, professor of mathematics at Cambridge
University and a holder of the Fields Medal, posted a hitherto
intractable maths challenge on his blog, and invited readers from
across the world to collaborate and solve the problem. The resulting
comment thread spanned hundreds of thousands of words and drew in
dozens of contributors. Six weeks later, the theorem was proved.

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds – 10 potential applications

Here are ten ideas to get the ball rolling: ten problems (ranging from
the serious to the somewhat seasonal) that we think could better be
solved by the collective wisdom of the British people than by a bunch
of experts sitting round a table. But the whole point of our
competition is to stimulate discussion about the different problems
that we can solve together if we had an easy to use online platform
for collaboration…so here are some of the possibilities:

1.    Identifying and rooting out wasteful government spending.

2.    Designing credit card bills that anyone can understand.

3.    Finding a safe place to park your bike.

4.    Rating the quality of schools and hospitals, to help other
people make informed choices.

5.   Making government information – for example on how to fill in
your tax return or set up a new business – clear, simple and useful.

6.   Creating new technology that blocks all spam emails.

7.    Locating current and planned road works, and working out a route
that avoids them.

8. Deciding how National Lottery good causes money should be spent.

9.   Picking the England squad for the 2010 World Cup.

10.   Designing a strategic plan for your community or city.

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds in policy making

In the post-bureaucratic age, opening up the policy making process can
help us to design better policy and transfer more control to
individuals and communities. The Conservative Party is committed to
harnessing the wisdom of crowds in a number of ways:

-         We will introduce a Public Reading Stage for legislation, so
that the public can help to spot errors in legislation, and feed in
their comments during the legislative


-         We will set government data free, enabling the public to
collaborate and develop new social and commercial applications.

-         We are publishing online, and in real time, the expense
claims of our Shadow Cabinet, enabling full and instant scrutiny.

-         We have published online a leaked version of the
Government’s IT strategy, so that people can post their suggestions on
how to develop a better set of policies.

A Conservative government would seek to make extensive use of this
approach. However, there are currently no technological platforms that
enable in-depth online collaboration on the scale required by

We are today announcing that a Conservative government will offer a £1
million prize for any individual or team that develops an online
platform that enables large scale collaboration and meets the
specifications that we will be publishing alongside the official
opening of the competition following the election. This platform will
then be used by a future Conservative government to throw open the
policy making process to the public, and harness the wisdom of the
crowd. For example, a Conservative government will publish all
government Green Papers on this innovative and open platform. The
source code of the platform will be made openly available, so that it
can be used by local councils, social enterprises and other
organisations free of charge.

While leading institutions such as the Gates Foundation, Google and
Netflix have successfully made use of procurement prizes, this £1
million prize will be the largest prize ever offered by a British
government in the modern era. The prize will be funded from within the
Cabinet Office budget.

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