Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


March 2008

web 2. 0 in e-participation: mass collaboration in decision-making?

There is a great debate going on in the UK on the possibilities of Internet to improve democracy.
It all started from the idea from Gordon Brown of having a large-scale debate about a “british statement of values”. OpenDemocracy responded to the challenge and launched a discussion on how to have a National Conversation.
Why is this important? Because it spells out clearly the difference between web2 and its perception by government.
The questions posed by the government were:
– how to make sense of large numbers of web contributions (if they occur) ?
– how to ensure both that there is a good input and that it is fairly representative and is secure from ‘capture’?
Most of the public blogosphere feels distance from these questions.
Anthony Barnett of ourkingdom says here :
“while the Minister’s fears are understandable they may be misconceived.
The web is not just a version of ‘The general public’. Voting does
indeed disaggregate everyone into private, anonymous individuals, whose
‘x’s are then counted.” He then suggests some very important points on “How to use the internet to assist a national debate” which I recommend to read and keep.

Paul Johnston of “The Connected Republic” says here:
“it is also clearly wrong to think that any conversation however
brilliantly managed is going to generate consensus. So I do not think
online conversation is going to deliver a perfect set of answers.
Rather much of the value has to lie in the process itself.”

The PodNosh blog says here:
“I agree with Paul about the web being a great place to generate ideas,
but these ideas will come from those who choose to join the debate.
they won’t reflect public opinion and in truth a wide ranging debate on
all areas of public policy can already be found on the web. All the
government would need to do is to seed it with some key (and
rasnparently from them/it) questions and stay in the conversation, not
aloof from it.”

I share this distance from the questions, which are however very common from policy-makers. We (web2 people) still failed to convey what this is all about. This discussion and disagreement is a good place to merge the gap.

Finally, I think that for supporting large-scale discussions, VISUALIZATION tools are very important. Tools such as debatemapper , or the bbc project for sensitive debate.

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launching a more “official” EU community on public services 2.0

For your information: a new community has been launched (in beta) about the impact of web 2.0 (or social computing) on public services.
It is hosted in the EU epractice portal. It aims at exchanging experiences, knowledge and opinions on the topic, and it will benefit from early releases of content from studies by IPTS (the institute I am currently working in), such as cases studies and foresight analysis.

I am currently moderating it and posting more institutional content, while this remains my personal blog.
I would be very happy if people reading this blog would join the community.
You need to register to ePractice first, it’s a very useful information site on EU eGov related issues. I know the platform is not perfect, but let’s see if we can make it work.

the ideal format of government bills just launched a campaign to make bills available over the internet in a standardised format.
This could be very well applicable to other government data, e.g. the planning applications.
An that is also what private companies ask government to do, for example Google Transit with public sector data.
So, this described format could well be the stage 4 of the benchmarking model we are trying to discuss here.

See mySociety proposal:
Free Our Bills! (

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limits to transparency

Some interesting news from the U.S. about limits to transparency.
Just to show that this is not a one-way street towards greater transparency.

Are feds involved in bid to undo state open govt law? | ZDNet Government |

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i didnt see the elephant: a eGov2.0 vision taking form?

In my previous post, I failed to point at the most important point.
If tories and labour agree on the same issue, and give it priority,
if Obama does the same in the US
this is the beginning of a new VISION of eGov2.0 shaping. Which is after all one of the goals of this blog.

So now my question is: do we see anything like that in non anglosaxon countries? Are politicians talking about transparency and public data in other parts of Europe, for example?

My gut feeling is NO, absolutely NOT. Anglosaxon countries are more web-savy, and have a strong tradition of debate on public data.
And it makes sense. After all, if you don’t have a MySociety in your country, the impact of transparency and public data availability is much smaller.

But I would be so happy to be wrong.

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on the political consensus around transparency

Both main parties in the UK agree on the importance of transparency and web 2.0.

mySociety » Blog Archive » Two speeches

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“what can go wrong” with web2.0

I think this post is relevant for this blog as well.

Erosc workshop: results of the post-it session “what can go wrong” « Socio-economic impact of Social Computing

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Self-celebration: 1000 views on slideshare for the tutorial

The tutorial on web2.0 in eGovernment, which I held at the EU ministerial conference, passed the 1000 views on Slideshare. I promise, they are not all mine 🙂

Not only this: it has been for months the no.1 Google result when you search for eGovernment and web2.0

Sorry for the narcisism. It’s the impact of blogging…

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why transparency is bad news for eGov practitioners

Let’s take a more concrete look at the implications of transparency as eGovernment driver.
Remember the previous post:

A mathematical explanation of this discussion « Benchmarking e-gov in web 2.0

Put it bluntly: if transparency is the new driver of eGovernment, that’s bad news for eGov decision-makers, because it means SMALLER EGOVERNMENT BUDGETS.

Putting services online meant: databases, middleware, authentication, workflow management systems.
Transparency means: cleaning data, maybe workflow m. s., a website… and that is all.

On the one hand, this is very good news. It means that real impact of eGovernment (as explained in previous posts) can be achieved with little investment.
On the other, this is a big limitation. “Putting services online” was a driver of overall IT investment in the public sector.
An e-government manager could invest in other fundamental areas, such as back office transformation, infrastructure, skills, interoperability, with the “excuse” of putting services online.
This is not the case for transparency. It is less able to DRIVE investment in other e-government areas. So it is a less effective driver of e-government investment.

However, transparency promotes meritocracy and accountability, and it exposes government inefficiencies, so it could be a better driver of overall government INNOVATION and REFORM, rather than IT INVESTMENT only.

I hope this is not too confusing. I didn’t expect to come to that when I started this post. I was planning to have a cynical perspective, but this looks very promising!

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