“Two households, both alike in dignity,”

Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 1 William Shakespeare


While growing older may have given me a more considered view of life there are some things that even now will drive me into a rant. One such thing is people in responsible, public facing roles who grab a headline by stating the obvious. Take, for instance, Eddie Copeland Head of Technology Policy at Policy Exchange: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/people/research/item/eddie-copeland . I don’t know Eddie but he has a blog http://policybytes.org.uk and an impressive CV ranging from being a Parliamentary Researcher, a Congressional Intern, and Project Manager of large infrastructure projects and so on.

His offense on this occasion is his recommendation, widely publicised in the press and on the BBC last Tuesday, that the Government should offer the elderly lessons in the internet to encourage them to ‘discover life online’. I know that this is a sound bite from the Policy Exchange Manifesto which suggests that £875m is the figure required to get the final 17% online but aren’t we entering into a world of unreality here? Actually I would challenge the idea that we need £875m to tackle the problem of the final 17% (approximately 6.2 million people); that’s £141.13p per person more or less – what’s the 13p for I wonder?

It’s not that I would deny people working in the field of digital inclusion access to a slice £875m it’s an agenda that’s very close to my heart and I do not for one minute underestimate the importance of the work; it’s the approach and the short sighted attitude that makes me so cross. This is a technology manifesto intended to influence Government policy and the headline grabber is get older people online to help with problems of loneliness.

Contrast this with the interview on Giga Om with Usman Haque on May 20th just one week earlier: https://gigaom.com/2014/05/20/thingful-wants-to-crawl-the-internet-of-things-but-is-this-the-right-model/ . Usman Haque also has an impressive CV he is a founding partner of Umberellium http://www.umberellium.co.uk , founder of the Internet of Things data infrastructure and community platform Pachube.com. He is an architect, creates responsive environments and dozens of mass-participation initiatives in cities, festivals and galleries throughout the world.

His view is that being on line empowers people and gives them the opportunity to take control of their environment. He is interested in how cities can talk to people and how people can interact with where they live. While there is a view that you have to have the skills before you can interact – a little obvious – that view misses the point. If you are setting out policy you are driving something forward not focussing on remediation of the obvious problem. If the vision for the future is realistic and enticing then the means will be found to redress the issues but if the focus sets out that we have to do A before we can progress to B then we may never realise the vision never mind succeed in including the final 17%.

Policy Exchange also falls into the skills trap: teach the skills and surely the rest will follow. It is widely recognised today that skills only approaches have pretty much failed – which is why we still have the 17%, the long tail that grows ever longer. We have to address the issues of trust, confidence, and belief and benefit which means that skill is just one piece and it doesn’t follow that it has to come first.

Policy Exchange and Eddie Copeland are seeing people as passive participants in the digital world; consumers and employees. The trick is to see people as active participants who are taking control and realising value in a digital economy. In the digital world full time mono occupations have gone forever and we need to be agile, self reliant, just in time learners. Let us look at the means to achieve that as a headline.


I didn’t vote for that, did you?

What comes first the business magnate or the politician? Does success in one field naturally lead to an involvement in the other? I ask this because I’m fascinated by the parade of successful business leaders entering Ten Downing Street (sometimes by the back door) and I can understand the desire of Governments to court investment and expertise. I am disturbed, however, when the pronouncements of the business world both in private and public emerge as political rhetoric and public policy.

Politics, Technology and The Internet are conjoined and difficult to separate. I imagine most people who read this blog will know Joe Trippi’s “The Revolution Will Not be Televised Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything” and “Learning from Obama” by Colin Delany. As nothing succeeds like success we are accustomed to receiving our political messages through a range of media; witness the successful use of Social Media by the Labour MP Tom Watson.

There is the promise of the empowered masses as set out in “Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens when people Come Together” by Clay Shirky and “We Think: Mass innovation, not mass production” by Charles Leadbeater. The Arab Spring is held aloft as an example of populations engaged, empowered and active in establishing democracy with the help of social media sharing.

What happens when these two ends of the political spectrum become entwined; when the successful business leader seeks to influence government and promotes the ideas through those channels of influence? You may endorse the meritocracy and argue that it’s a natural progression but I find myself thinking: “I didn’t vote for that; did you?”

As a case in point Marc Zuckerberg recently launched FWD.us a lobby group promoting immigration reform in the US. This group has the support of some high profile tech names not least Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in addition to Marissa Mayer and Eric Schmidt. FWD.us has come in for some criticism not least from Om Malik founder of GigaOm  who has questioned the objectives and reasoning of the organsiation in terms of its underlying philosophy and its suitability to take a political stance, not least on the thorny subject of immigration. He questions Zuckerberg’s standing on privacy he also questions the perceptions of the supporting Silicon Valley crowd.

Steve Lehar has written about whether the world we see is real or simply a copy created by our brain in “The World in Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience” This idea of a perception bubble is used to describe a situation where people become disconnected from the real world and they see it in terms of the shared values of themselves and their close circle. An example would be the people we choose to follow on Twitter or Facebook because they reaffirm our beliefs about the world in which we live; those who don’t we choose to ignore. There’s an interesting piece on Gigaom Research by Derrick Harris.

So what! I hear you shout. Well The New York Times highlighted recently FWD.us has run into trouble already: Its subsidiaries have taken a swipe at Obama’s Healthcare strategy and has promoted a controversial oil pipeline currently attracting environmental objections. I can understand if people write this off as an American phenomena but I’m not so sure. In 2011 Eric Schmidt made a quiet entrance to Downing Street to “talk business with the Government” the discussions reportedly involved economic growth in the UK and the role technology could play. Shortly thereafter Schmidt gave a speech on the importance of developing programming skills in school age children in preparation for the future. On the face of it you can’t argue with that and I for one would subscribe to the inclusion of programming skills in a National Curriculum. However, move forward a little over 12 months and we get: “Coding essential to future curriculum, says Michael Gove”  A Speech by the Education Secretary following the government’s ditching of the national curriculum programme for ICT. The speech included the quote: ““For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate,” said Gove. Having spent many years working in the field of digital inclusion I have all sorts of questions about “digital natives” and the speaking of “fluent technology” by young people across the spectrum. In asking those questions I am mindful of other thinkers in the world of digital society such as Sherry Turkle in “Alone Together”, Evgeny Morozov “The Net Delusion” and Jarond Lanier “You Are Not A Gadget”. An education for a digital age is more than an ability to programme.

Do we draw a red line and say thus far and no further? Where do we draw that line? Maybe we should look out of our perception bubbles and see where we are in relation to the real world. I’m curious as to what FWD.us means; is a shortening of Forward or does it stand for Facebook World Domination? Probably neither but it does make you think doesn’t it?

If Data Is Currency Then Who Is The Bank?

In 2003 I was fortunate to partner with colleagues at Birmingham City to participate in the Digital Challenge. We made a bid to create a means of delivering public services in a personalized way to individuals through channels of choice; does that sound familiar? In 2003 there was no ubiquitous smart phone so we faced up to the challenge of creating our vision with the technology of the day. It was the journey not the outcome that mattered though at the time we were focused on winning the challenge. An important debate considered how much information we were prepared to forego in order to receive the services we wanted; we questioned how widely shared those values were and how much that value derived from the benefits we envisaged. We were ahead of our time in our thinking but the technological challenges were too great and our ability to sell the idea missed the mark.

The GigaOm podcast on Monday 22nd April on the importance of mobile to retail featured Dr Phil Hendrix and Doug Stephens. I will leave the podcast to speak (no pun intended) for itself; it’s well worth a listen but it was the quote “If data is currency then who is the bank?” that caught my attention. Our online identities reside in a number of places but will they ever be aggregated? Will one identity become more important than the others? We don’t hear as much about identity as we used to; at one time there was a lot of discussion about single, transferable identity hence we can now “log in” to different sites with our Facebook ID, or our Twitter ID or our Google ID.

But all is not well in data land because along with that shared login comes personal information and that personal information is being harvested.

I’ve read two different views of this recently: Tom Cochran writes in the All Things D blog Where he highlights the benefits in exchange for service argument. Nothing is free and if we want to enjoy personalized information, any time anywhere access to relevant information and the convenience of the cloud combined with shared access across different devices then there is a cost; that cost is the personal information that service providers harvest when we use those “free” services. Cochran’s view is that it’s worth it, he writes:

“There is a zero-sum relationship between personalization and privacy”

A case in point is put forward by Mathew Ingram who writes in GigaOm about his experience with Google Now:

“There’s no question the kind of data collection Google has to do in the background to power its Google Now service can be a little intrusive — perhaps too intrusive for some. But it also makes the results extremely useful.”

Om Malik takes up the contrary argument in his piece on the recently announced Facebook Home in which he argues that it “…destroys any notion of privacy”. In his piece “Why Facebook Home Bothers Me” Malik argues that the genie is out of the bottle and that “it’s too late to debate” but his concern is that:

“…. Facebook is going to use all this data — not to improve our lives — but to target better marketing and advertising messages at us”.

What we need is a more purposeful use of data; what Derrick Harris describes as “…a data democracy, not a data dictatorship” . This is something that I’ve argued for on a number of occasions.

When we sat and debated the use of personal data back in 2003 we did so with the mindset of a benign dictator giving to those who we deemed ready to receive; in our defense our motives were of the best kind. Ten years on we have moved on from our pioneering spirit and we have learned, just as the technology has moved on and changed in ways we couldn’t even imagine then enabling our vision. People have the right to empowerment through digital inclusion it is not the place of a minority to decide nor is it their place to take that data and use it to profit themselves without due consideration of the rights of the majority.

In “Who Owns The Future” Jarond Lanier argues that the disparity between those who harvest data and those who give it for free contributes to inequality in society. We should listen to him and when we give our data in return for a “free service” we should consider the cost.

The Geek Layer

And Gov said “Let there be data” and there was data and he looked and he saw that it was open.

In the past I’ve had my doubts and my rants about the claims made for open data and its potential for bringing transparency to political process. I think my frustrations came from the idea that Gov 2.0 was the answer to everything and all we needed was the right “app” and all problems would be solved. For someone like me who has spent many years working in the realm of digital inclusion this just didn’t make sense.

The Geek Layer on Prezi

“The Power of Information: An independent review by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg” was published in 2007; that’s 4 years ago. The Governments response came from Hilary Armstrong at the Cabinet Office in June of that year; she highlighted three Government challenges:

  • Engage in partnerships with user-led online communities;
  • Ensuring that it fully understands and responds appropriately to changes in the information market; and
  • Advising civil servants on how best to participate in new media

Acknowledging that things would not happen over night she expressed confidence: “to unlock the value of the information we collect on behalf of citizens; to deliver better public services; and to support world-class innovation that underpins a growing part of our knowledge economy.”

I believe that the challenge has been met and open data is about to come of age and that is why Penval is supporting Shropcamp.

I confess to being heavily influenced by the work of the Institute for the Future: particularly Anthony Townsend’s work funded by The Rockefeller Foundation: “The Future of Cities, Information and Inclusion” in which he looks at how open data can be used at all levels of urban society from strategic planning through local governance to individuals in communities. Used in this way, data can lead to understanding and understanding empowers people to coproduce service designs that properly meet their needs.

From the work Penval has undertaken on digital inclusion I know that very shortly we will start to see the fruits of the work that Government has done on KHub. Local Government statistics that can be combined with location data to inform local decision making through an interface called Local Government Inform. The journey from raw data to information is a complex one but one of the side benefits of that process will be data that can be accessed by communities. I believe that we are going to see the emergence of a new kind of community champion; someone who understands how that raw data can be turned into something those communities can use someone who has not just the technical capability but also the skills for working with people in the community. I call them the Geek Layer. As we start to understand the impact of the Localism Bill, the close relationship between planning, community assets and the coproduction of services it is the Geek Layer that will empower local decision making and really generate public value

What would Penval like to see? The time has come for the ideas that underpin smart cities to find their application in rural communities. I would like to see the Smart Parish, and I have ideas about the ways in which open data can make that happen. If you want to share those ideas and contribute to the thinking then we look forward to meeting you at Shropcamp on the 19th April.

Who are the Neteratti?

Let me say at the start that I have never owned a Linn hifi. Nor have I, for that matter ever owned a Naim, Accoustic Research, Roksan or any other esoteric brand of equipment. I do own a Quad / Kef combination but it’s quite old and it’s currently in boxes because my current home is just not that big and the Other Half is just not that understanding. I do love music, all sorts of music, Jazz: folk rock, classical, rock and roll. I love it all, and I love it live from the Nantwich Jazz Festival to what’s on at the pub I just love it.

Now, I hear you say, what’s all this got to do with digital anything?

There was a brief item on the BBC News web site this week about CD player production ending at Linn. They have recognised that the future lies in streamed digital media and they are focussing their efforts on Studio Master Quality material for download. If you’ve ever heard a high end Linn system (they can cost up to £100,000) you will understand what they mean by Studio Master Quality. I’ve often bemoaned the success of the iPod. I’ve often bemoaned the success of a lot of MP3. It’s not that it isn’t good, it’s very good but we have sacrificed a lot of quality in our pursuit of cheap, easy to access music. Compressed dynamics, loss of spatial information, over hanging bass lines, screeching vocals that waft about the sound stage, in short, we’ve given up on real quality. I know that’s a Grumpy Old Man thing and it’s the music that counts, but if you’ve never heard a full spec Linn in all of its glory recreating a 3D sound stage with as near to full dynamic range as you can get, then you probably won’t know what I’m on about anyway. Back to my point; the Studio Master Quality material, like video, will use up a lot of bandwidth. People have stopped buying CDs because they can get music cheaply through existing bandwidth and its okay because they’re not concerned about the quality. Music is, almost, disposable. Here today, gone tomorrow and to some extent we’ve lost out emotional attachment to it – it’s become like static – we hear, we like, we buy (or steal, because the Internet is free, isn’t it) and then we throw it away. If we want Studio Quality Material, we will have to have bandwidth which means that it will only be available to people with bandwidth. Storage is cheap; bandwidth is only for those in the Cities.

Now, I hear you say, where’s he going with this? Surely not a rural rant.

Well, I could, but no, this is more about selective markets. I was very grateful for the excellent commentary that came out of the My Public Services Conference on Thursday. I couldn’t go, way too much on, but it was almost as good as being there. What came across strongly, to me at least, was the message that WE are the future of government services. That’s true but nobody seemed to pick up on the point that WE are a very select little group. On the global scale of things we are a self selecting Neteratti, well educated, committed, digitally literate, middle class select little group. We are no different to the people who can afford to buy a full spec Lynn and enjoy the experience.

What was that? Grow the group?

Well yes we could grow the group but that’s not the point. There was a very good piece this week by Stephen Collins from the Centre for Policy Development in Australia.  called “Culture in the New Order “. His view resonated with my own views about the necessity of culture change in government organisations.

  • a lack of a cohesive “whole of government” approach at any level of government
  • a view of accountability that inadequately rewards those responsible for success and innovation
  • inadequate trust and permission models across public sector management
  • a change to openness as a default, including removing reticence to participate or obfuscation of participation
  • a negative-only perception of risk

One of the things that people tend to ignore is that government organisations are not designed to be transformational. They are designed to be process oriented, reliable, auditable and while they serve all of us they are responsible for delivering services to the most vulnerable people in our society. With that as your key driver you don’t suddenly start transforming things just because a load of middle class Neteratti start shouting about it. The implication of this is that the core functions of local government will not change quickly or significantly over a short timescale. What will happen is that certain functions will move outside of government, and we see this happening already, and it will move into the realm of the Neteratti.

Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Yes and no.

The trouble is, as I see it, the Neteratti are a selective little group, privileged like the full spec Linn owners.  Their literacy is like the city’s bandwidth and their knowledge is the Studio Quality Master Material. There were a couple of other things this week that caught my eye. One was a Guardian Article “The Dark Side of the Internet” by Andy Beckett,   which was an excellent précis of Freenet and the implications of its wider use. I noted that someone in the Twitter stream commented that if the Government’s Digital Economy Bill goes through unchanged – and it will – more of us will become Freenet users.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

The non statutory government functions in the hands of a small select group navigating its way around the Internet unseen, non accountable and as for the rest? Excluded? Baileyhillmedia signposted an article by Joe Marchese “Why Facebook Applications will soon be History”. In it he wrote about the use of Facebook Connect APIs to enable applications to run outside of Facebook but using the Facebook Identity. Similar plans are in play for MySpace ID, and Google’s Friend Connect. In a sense it’s not unlike the E-Bay API which enables you to buy on E-Bay when you’re really buying from somebody’s on line catalogue. Brian Solis wrote about this a couple of weeks ago  the impact of portable identity on marketing. In short, when we access services we will do so in an invisible way. For many that might sound like a good thing: Seamless access to services using portable identity and delivered in a personalised, martini fashion.  I believe we run the risk that the people who control those services will also be invisible. For me it’s Gibsonesque! I’ve used that term twice this week and that’s what brought me to this place I suppose. William Gibson wrote a series of books in the 70’s which predicted the Internet of today: Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Count Zero, Johnny Mnemonic, The Difference Engine. In his books there was always a ghost in the machine that was the real control, insidious, hidden and self interested. When we shout loudly “WE are the future of government” I think we might take a little time out to understand who WE are and who isn’t there who ought to be and perhaps spend some time getting everybody there so that Gibson’s prophesy doesn’t become self fulfilling.

Hunting Elephants


Most people, I imagine will have read the piece called “Hunting elephants”. If not, do, you can find many versions by doing a web search on “Desktop Elephants”. I don’t even know who wrote the original so I can’t credit them properly; suffice it to say, despite its age it has real meaning today. 

If there’s an elephant in the room, we need to find it. The good news is there are signs that people are looking. The murals from the recent Congress Camp http://bit.ly/I0DW6 were a real treat to read because they chose not to ignore the elephant. They asked a series of very pertinent questions:

How do we:  engage citizens in participatory politics and make it habitual (single issue politics)Connect the connectors, create champions, and engage the disengaged.cultivate civic mindedness – make people feel important, crowd sourcing agency

Leverage existing, trusted sources?

Identify real constituents?

What does: accountability really mean, what do citizens really want?
How do: officials move forwards and differentiate spam from real? Elected representatives are reluctant to share, collaborate and add to their burden
  Making meaning and motivation Noise versus social – who gets heard, participatory technology
What makes: impact, if people know that they are making a difference?
  people input and not just vent?

The bad news is that many of the people in the room aren’t looking for the elephants:

  • CONSULTANTS don’t hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.
  • POLITICIANS don’t hunt elephants, but they will share the elephants you catch with the people who voted for them.

Rule number one: Make sure that you’re talking about the same thing as the other person. What do we mean by Gov 2.0? Is it really Gov 3.0, enabled by Web 2.0? I came across this first when reading the Silicon Flatiron post  that prompted an earlier post: “Is There An Elephant In The Room?”. The Silicon Flatiron Roundtable was a good thing because they were talking about the different elements of the Gov 2.0 debate whereas other places appear to focus only on the area in which they have an interest and as a result the different lines of enquiry start to diverge. Is this important? Well I think so. Web 3.0 is just starting to make itself known. The Internet of Things is what sits behind the new Augmented Reality Apps that are getting people excited. There is a good report from Vox Internet on the challenges for Europe though a deep breath before you start. Web 3.0 will have huge implications for Government and a lot will depend on what we do now. I’m not going to get bogged down in semantics so I’m going to use Gov 2.0 with Web 2.0 and hopefully we will all know where we are.

Marketing has seized on Web 2.0 with enthusiasm. People like Oliver Blanchard @thebrandbuilder are interesting to follow. Oliver describes himself as “Brand strategist, passionate Marketing & Social Media honcho, and harbinger of growth for smart companies”, and he’s not alone. Even the largest media companies are following the Web 2.0 hype: I highly recommend “The Book of Revelations” from Saatchi and Saatchi as a peephole insight into the kinds of things that interest mainstream media companies at the moment. Take time out to look at the S & S home page as well, great images from their campaigns. There is marketing in politics, of course there is, but are we in danger of confusing the channels of marketing with the channels of communication? Are we right to treat citizens also consumers? Don’t consumers have a choice? Once a government is in power we have made our choice so what are the lessons from marketing?

Conversation, Conversation, Conversation.

The empowerment of citizens is an important political manifesto issue. People taking responsibility for their lives and their services locally now has an economic imperative. Where does this leave politicians? Empowerment is all about what? What about mandate? Politicians will argue with some justification that when they were elected they were given a mandate, are we questioning the mandate, what has happened to the power of the ballot box? What is the future of Government? What does the manifesto of Power Politics look like? What is the role of consensus?

The route to the solutions is in front of us, we talk about it every day what we don’t seem to do is to pull it all together.


 Pulling It All Together


Pulling It All Together
There are some real barriers: Power politics, hierarchies, the googlarchy, the law of the power curve. We know what these are, so why aren’t we hunting the elephant? Because it’s a protected species? Maybe the ecology of people politics is due for a review, so let’s recognise the elephant in the room, look it in the eye and let’s get together.

Is There an Elephant in the Room?


I speculated that one of the greatest barriers to Gov 2.0 was institutional deafness. Nobody is listening. The result is Citizen Shock, if nobody is listening whay are we doing this? In fairness, there’s more to it than that, of course there is. Hindman’s “Myth of Digital Democracy” points to a very important one, citizen voices are hard to find, if you can’t find them, you can’t hear them.

There isn’t much in the arena of Web 2.0, Social Media, Gov20 that you could call really bad, as in of negative impact, by and large. There is much that we could term cynical, but on the whole people who operate in this space are a good crowd, they mean well. Day by day, the things I hear, read about and see have within them at the very least a direction of travel that is good. The people I come across are committed, enthusiastic, and intelligent all in all an impressive crew.  That said, all of this aspiration for communication, dialogue, citizen voice and transparency isn’t coming together, each remains on its own pathway, travelling in the right direction but not converging. We have a convergence of technology but not a convergence of ideas and I can’t see where people are really talking about it. It’s like there is an elephant in the room and everybody is pretending it isn’t there. Governments at every level are appearing to be more transparent; citizens are shouting louder but in the end its business as usual.

The Silicon Flatiron post  was relevant because they were debating something that not many other people are: how does everything digital and gov fit together and why isn’t it working? We need to be asking the kinds of questions that the Silicon Flatiron group were asking however, and this might sound harsh,  in this case the discussion and their conclusions shows the muddled thinking and misunderstanding that goes someway to explaining why we don’t get the convergence of ideas.

Are there barriers, if so, to what?

The Flatiron Roundtable identified transparency and efficiency as a benefit of what they call Gov 3.0: I assume that Gov 1.0 was old gov, Gov 2.0 was e-gov and now Gov 3.0 is…well what is it if all it delivers is transparency and efficiency? It’s government enabled by Web 2.0 technology; come on guys, Web 2.0 can deliver a whole lot more than transparency and efficiency? While the Roundtable group identified barriers to progress: regulation, privacy concerns and culture, I’m not sure that these are the barriers ought to be worried about.

Are there expectations, if so, of what?

I would question the statement that “because web 2.0 technologies are pervasive in the private sector, individuals expect to use such tools when interacting with government”. Says who? Published estimates put the number of non ICT users at about 30%, that leaves 70% of whom a proportion will be occasional users – shopping and flights – there will be some of the remainder who will possibly use one or more social networking sites, acquire downloads, play games, the rest will be sophisticated users of on line resources. Where does it say that there is an expectation that government will be accessed this way? The majority of people, when asked how they want to access Government services will say “telephone” focussing on the convenience, not the social added value. It so happens that the people who use government services the most are also the people least likely to be digitally engaged. Government may well be beginning to respond but they are responding to a minority who are not the big users of their services. There are big assumptions here about digital inclusion and it’s time to start “inclusion proofing” as a matter of course.

Who is communicating with whom, and what are they saying?

Technologies can increase communication between government and its citizens, and this may give us a clue to the statement about transparency and efficiency, this is one way communication. You don’t need web 2.0 to do this – you can do this with a town crier and get a better response from the people. Web 2.0 is more than this and we ought to be discussing it with a view to its full potential. It’s true that if the public does not like what the government is saying it can vote them out the next time – the power of the ballot box – but there is a fundamental problem with this approach. Web 2.0 is about dialogue; here we are talking about one way communication, government to citizen. What information ought to be in the public domain? Well, all of it, surely. Everybody will cite privacy issues and the impact of unintended consequences. These are real concerns but they are data protection issues, not web 2.0 issues. How should information be released given the issues around data, ownership, presentation and propriety? All of these things are approached from the perspective of one way communication, from government to the citizen. In an environment where the objective is to inform so that sensible dialogue can take place then the regulations that are seen here as a barrier are actually enablers. By applying the principles of regulation, compliance and data protection the way is clear for public access and as the information is held by a public body, financed from the public purse then, outside of the regulations there is no decision to be made on what the public should see – it’s their information. A dialogue, a true dialogue on what the concerns of the citizen are should inform the way in which information is presented and then it doesn’t matter who does the formatting or who owns the application.

Is there a challenge, if so, what is it?

The challenge was identified by the Flatiron Roundtable as getting employees to interact with each other, share ideas and adopt best practices…. to use technology prudently to improve transparency, efficiency, and citizen interaction. There is some muddled thinking here, let’s be clear what it is we are discussing: Government being transparent and efficient, government reaching out to citizens, citizens with the tools to speak to government. It’s not just in this roundtable discussion. Participants in this arena frequently move from one thing to another without being clear what it is they mean and then it’s all lumped together under the heading of Gov 2.0 or Gov 3.0. I would question the assertion here that the challenge is technology adoption by employees. That ignores the “too hard to do pile” which is citizens with the tools to speak to government and government with the ability to listen and respond.

Does the solution need to be owned?

When talking about citizen engagement the Flatiron Roundtable felt that government should “Appear receptive to individual comments” I disagree. They should “appear” nothing, they simply should be receptive. Yes, this is about “Keeping citizens updated and knowledgeable” – but once again that is about outgoing messages. It’s important to separate out the idea of instant referendum from the idea of a contribution. Groups naturally form around shared issues not around debate. Any government or corporate body will want to control the flow of information in and out. This has to go beyond the idea of involving citizens by “giving them ways to report emergency situations or issues”. The desire to control input via “sentiment analysis, third party manipulation and mandatory self-identification” is about controlling bad news and nobody likes to hear bad news. The Flatiron roundtable assumes a hierarchical, top down organisation, in fact it sees this as necessary when in fact what we should be talking about is shared information, matrixed management and transformed, innovative organisations which means bottom up. This is about owning the solution. Government does not need to own the solution.

Have faith in the people, trust them to do it; educate (a new phase of digital inclusion) if the voices of innovation are crowded out by the voice of dissent maybe we’re not making our intentions clear OR maybe we ARE doing something wrong. Hindeman says that citizen voices are not heard because they’re too hard to find, the power curve rules as does the Googlearchy. Why not invite the citizen voices to find you? The underlying assumption that we have to shout loud enough to be heard and then we are ignored because nobody can find us cannot apply if we are to have true dialogue it’s time we were invited in.