Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


November 2008

can we make an XBRL for public service ratings

XBRL is the standard language for business financial reporting. It is increasingly used by business in dealing with government, indeed it is mandatory in some contexts.
As said before, nowadays feedback on public services is dispersed in different websites. As a result, the impact of this feedback is reduced, as government and interested parties are forced to check many different websites, and struggle to actually find the feedback. Users are disencouraged to provide feedback, as they don’t know where to post it. A clear example is feedback on health services in the UK, which you can post on NHS choices and PatientOpinion, as well as of course your blog or on facebook or anywhere.
The solution is not a unique website or a portal. The solution is to make this feedback machine readable, findable and interoperable so that it can be found and re-aggregated as necessary.
How to do that? I am no expert on this, but I think something like XPFL (eXtensivePublicserviceFeedbackLanguage ? ) or microformats could be used. Does this make any sense?

 Of course, this kind of standards emerge when there is a market demand for it. And despite the current surge in interest on citizens’ feedback, it’s difficult to say if this could work. Worth a try?


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Analyzing Europeana/2: positive signs of transparency

While I highlighted the running of Europeana yesterday, I see that at least the reaction from the Commission shows some positive signs of transparency. It answers key questions in quite a specific manner, probably because the high attention this launch and closing attracted.

But the sentence “on the basis of expert advice” shows all the difficulty of government dealing with large scale ICT projects without adequate internal skills. It will be interesting to see if the site will be up and running well in December of if problems will persist. I think we are at an important moment of European ICT policy. May I suggest to make a good thorough case study of Europeana in order to learn lessons for government in general?

Rapid – Press Releases – EUROPA

On the first day of its launch, Europe’s digital library Europeana was overwhelmed by the interest shown by millions of users in this new project. On the basis of expert advice, Europeana had anticipated up to 5 million hits per hour on the site. The real interest was 3 times as strong. This massive interest slowed down the service so much that after having already doubled server capacity yesterday at noon, the Europeana management in The Hague (Netherlands) and the European Commission last night had to temporarily take down the site to take pressure off it.


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is Europeana another demonstration government shouldn’t do portals?

In the context of the debate on the role of government on the Internet, many voices claim that government should not develop portals, but expose data and web services so that private intermediaries create value added services. Gartner is evangelizing on this; Princeton scholars published a recent paper on the topic; both and emphasize this in their “coopetition” with government portals.
Basically, they argue government is not very good at doing portals and service to users. I quite agree and argue on similar lines.
We have now another example to add tho the list of government mismanagement of IT.
Europeana, the European Digital Library, went online with grand declaration on November 22nd, crashed , because of excessive demand after few hours and will re-open in one month.
Probably the last bit is the most worrying. Ok it can be cool to crash due to excessive demand, but in today’s world of “clouds and virtualisation” one month sounds like a geologic era. Compared to this, Twitter is a fully reliable service!


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Lyon ICT 2008: tools for casual participation

Next week I will be in Lyon at the EU ICT conference . My presentation revolves about next steps of web2.0 tools in government. I focus on casual participants, the concept I already wrote about .
Here is my presentation. Thanks to the usual great interviews of Jon Udell, I came across the metaphor of Lisa and Bart Simpson as type of users we should address in designing e-gov tools.

Should you be around in Lyon, happy to meet up – drop me an email

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users ratings of public services? better qualitative than quantitative

One of the main web2 trends in public services is about user-generated ratings. I see this is becoming quite spread, from patientopinion to fixmystreet to ratemycop and more. It’s one of the few web2 trends which is getting real foothold. Of course the key aspects is that this feedback is public (many-to-many).
Today I read that the italian minister for public administration, mr Brunetta, proposed/decided (in Italy you never know) to let users rate public services via SMS smileys (positive or negative).
It struck me because it’s an idea that came to my mind recently: imagine the impact when 3g costs will come down, and people will get used twitter live from the queue in a public office. This will change public services for good. There you have what I call “casual participation”.
But I don’t think Brunetta’s proposal could work, first because it’s not about making this feedback public, but especially because quantitative feedback does not work well. You trust feedback when you can read between the lines and understand the person has good arguments.
When you don’t have authentication such as in blogs, it’s the content that attributes trust to the person, not viceversa.
Quantitative feedback is instead very simplistic and much easier to manipulate, as the problems eBay is experiencing now show. In particular, it can give rise to easier destructuve behaviour, as showed.
So in summary, the minister’s idea is nice but simplistic, qualitative feedback is better than quantitative, and feedback data should be public.

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help needed: evidence that local government has more interaction with citizens?

Can anybody point me to evidence supporting the claim that local governments have more interaction with citizens than central government?

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Web2 is about values, not technology. And it’s the hackers values

I see a consensus around that web2 is about values rather than tech (see also page 17 of my report here). Alorza expanded my three layers model to five (mine was already a re-elaboration of a visualization by Forrester); Paul Johnston exposed a similar concept at a workshop two weeks ago.
I recently read Pekka Himanen, the Hacker Ethic, and realized that in fact the values of web2 are exactly the same that he describes very effectively: openness, mutual sharing, passion, creativity, peer review, fun, rejection of hyerarchies.

Then he writes (sorry my translation from italian):

 “we have seen how this model (hacker) can create great things in the cyberspace without the mediation of companies and government. It remains to be seen which great things the direct collaboration of individuals can do in our “flesh and bones” reality”

Which is a great anticipation of what we see happening, at least partially, in services such as patientopinion.
I often say that web1 was geocities with 250K personal homepage, while web2 is 70 million blogs. It’s a difference in scale that generates a difference in nature. A quantitative difference that generates a qualitative difference.

That’s the same about the values. Web2 is the hackers’ values, being taken up not by a group of geeks, but by a generation of people. And that makes a hell lot of a difference.

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trasparency as new flagship for public service reform starts taking foothold

Just read this from the guardian (hat tip Paul Johnston). The new Brown agenda puts transparency at the centre of public service reform! This is exactly in line with the proposed vision in my article. It’s becoming well accepted, nearly mainstream – at least in the UK.

Government 2.0 is a rubbish name for a good initiative | Technology | The Guardian

Most especially, read the strategy for “world-class” public services which the prime minister published last week: “The whole agenda of reform will rest on improved transparency of information about public services and their performance, as well as transparency about the standards that citizens should be able to expect. The internet has given a powerful voice to consumers to give feedback on private-sector services – that feedback is now spreading to public services and must be embraced.”

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