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Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy

Month

January 2008

Example of benchmarking transparency: farmsubsidy.org

Jack Thurston of Farmsubsidy gives here very good insights on the problems in data availability and illustrates one example of measuring transparency.
Some important variables are described: format of data, completeness of data, timeliness of data.
Which of course reminds me of the 8 principle for reuse of public data.
I will have a look at the methodology, maybe this could be re-used for other kind of public data?

Farmsubsidy.org Newsletter: Issue 1 | farmsubsidy.org

Can really transparency be the key eGovernment goal?

Beside proposing it, I also have some doubts about transparency as new “killer value” of eGovernment.

First, I cannot forget that the very first episode of “Yes, Minister” was called “Open Government”. And it made fun about this rethoric – that was more than 20 years ago.

Secondly, I wonder if this is just for the people really interested in public affairs, which is not the majority of the population. Putting services online appears more concretely useful than providing information about the in-working of government.

Thirdly, it’s much more difficult to deal with for government than putting services online. It could make government ungovernable.

So I am not sure that citizens and government are so keen on transparency.

But I also have strong arguments in favour.

First, just have a look at the “The Power of Information” review carried out for the UK Cabinet. It capture most important points.

Secondly, transparency may appear not very concrete, but can be a strong driver of innovating public services, maybe the most important one in absence of competition. Just think what would be the impact of publishing the mortality rates of different hospitals.

Thirdly, government are not monolithic institutions. There are innovative people inside, including politicians, who want change and can use transparency for their advantage.

Fourth, transparency happens also outside government control. Citizens can publicly complain on blogs, and there is always http://www.wikileaks.org .

UPDATE: Fifth, government can benefit to better understand complex multi-dimensional problem by making data available for analysis by more people.

benchmarking egov2.0: first proposal on transparency

Here’s a first proposal for benchmarking egov 2.0.
Traditional benchmarking is done by CGEY with a consolidated methodology (http://tinyurl.com/243rn6).
It still focuses on making services available online: a vision still based on the e-commerce bubble of the late nineties. Very much detached from web2.0 trends. And it is still the only widely recognized way to measure e-government achievements across countries.
The methodology works as follows: a) select 20 priority services (such as tax declaration, change of address); b) assess how much you can do on the web from 0 (no information available) to 4 (full electronic transaction including payment); c) calculate the average across the service for each country.

The NEW benchmarking could address instead other issues:
– web transparency;
– privacy;
– users engagement;
– simplification.
A first proposal on measuring web transparency:
a) select 5 key type of data such as:
– beneficiaries of public funding (agriculture, EU structural funds, etc);
– draft legislation;
– planning applications;
b) assess to what extent these information are available on the web
– 0 (no information available)
– 1 (information available in non reusable, non-machine readable format)
– 2 (information available in reusable and machine readable format such as good html, xml, dbase)
What do you think? Does this make sense?
What are the most important public data which should be available and measured?
Are the proposed level of transparency right?
Thanks a lot for your answers! let’s make this a collaborative effort towards an open benchmarking method!

building negative scenarios: why web2 will NOT change public services

As part of our work on future eGovernment, I developed this negative scenario of why web2 will not have a positive impact on public services.
Of course, it’s not that I really believe this, but it’s important to anticipate the problems and the risks, in order to have a realistic ideas of the opportunities and possibly avoid the risks.
Here is the presentation.

building a vision of eGov 2.0

I would like to build with you a concrete vision of “how an ideal govt website 2.0 should look like”.

This vision can be described through quality criteria for ideal govt website. And then transformed into indicators for benchmarking.We like it or not, benchmarking remains a powerful incentive to innovation. I work in the EU Commission, and at international level benchmarking has been a driver of eGovernment implementation – and a reason for many mistakes as current benchmarking focusses on availability of transactional services.

And I believe we don’t have a clear shared idea of what a good govt website should look like in the future. There is some good work on transparency and public data (the power of information, the 8 principles) but not on other aspects.
Here are some sparse (and controversial) features of an idealgovt website 2.0 I would like to discuss:

– users can comment on the govt website to: comment on the service received and help other users with using the service

– users’ search terms appear on the homepage as tag cloud (see delaware.gov)

– collecting service ratings by users ( i dont like it)

– in every page you have an amazon-like service: users who looked at this page also looked at this. Ideally across different public websites!!

– all pages searchable by google (no “robots.txt”)

– strong transparency (see “the power of information”) and extended FOI. For example: all beneficiaries of public funding made public (see farmsubsidy.org). All feedback/ customer satisfaction results published.

– civil servants blogging and facebooking ( i dont like this but let’ discuss)

– citizens contributing to improved decision-making (extending peertopatent.org to other govt fields)

– lots and lots of RSS, also for internal search

– widgets and mashable applications (eGov delivered via iGoogle and Facebook)

– or no portal at all – just a search engine and mash-up?
I would like to make this list as complete as possible. And to discuss the controversial features. For the moment, only considering front-office issues.

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