Tag Archives: IT Policy

Cameron’s Vision of ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age’

Today I attended a conference hosted by the grandly titled ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age Network’.  Forget the pompous sounding name, make no mistake – the ideas promoted by the PBA Network will rock our world for the better.  The keynote address was given by David Cameron.  One thing that was certainly  ‘post-bureaucratic’ was the venue – a freezing old brick warehouse in Shoreditch where we all shivered our way through the morning.

The ‘big idea’ is that if you open up Government data to the masses then inevitably better decision-making, better behaviour and thus better government will follow.  The more you think about it the more compelling this becomes.  Remember what happened when the expenses data reached the public domain?  Think about the change in behaviour from MPs that has driven.  Reflect how much better a job the public and press did at auditing that data than the civil service ever managed. The tragedy is that none of it would have been possible without an illegal leak.  The Government has always contrived to protect data from the taxpayer and the taxpayer has always been the poorer for it.

Openness of Government data changes the very nature of government.  It empowers the citizen.  It gives us the tools to make decisions locally based on facts rather than instinct.  Anyone who has worked at  senior level in business  will have been taught that, yes, good decisions can be made by people with no more than good judgement and good instincts but the very best decisions are most often made by people with good judgement  and a credible fact-base (i.e. data).   Inversely, poor decisions are made when you swap the word ‘good’ for ‘poor’ in any one of those three variables (judgement, instinct, data). Sharing the whole fact-base rather than a cherry-picked sub-set of it gives us transparency. Transparency removes the political elite’s monopoly of access to ‘good’ data.  This gives us the power to better assess politicians judgement and instinct. I’m sure that will terrify them.

For Cameron this new age isn’t just about technology or having ‘government data’ (really ‘taxpayer’s data’) available to us all on-line.  He was careful to link this ‘big idea’ to his wider theme that it is not the ‘state’ that should try to solve our problems – it’s ‘society’.  There is a big difference between the two.  We are all passive slaves to the ‘state’ – we are all empowered leaders (if we wish to be) in ‘society’.  His policies are aimed at allowing a renewed sense of ‘society’ to flourish after years of abrogation to the State.  In much the same way he wants groups of parents with a coherent plan to set up their own schools outside of Local Authority control he now plans employee co-operatives taking over various other local services such as libraries and job centres.  He also sees a revolution in planning law to let neighbourhoods have first call on their own development plans and greater use of technology to speed these processes up.

When you listen to these disparate policy threads being pulled together you realise that Cameron really does have a vision for Britain which has far more substance and genuine philosophy than his critics would dare admit.  This philosophy is attractive to me because it is so closely aligned to my own. Unfortunately, only the geeky dweebs like me intuitively ‘get’ this stuff.  The big problem is that Cameron hasn’t yet mastered the best language or killer phrases that lands the enormity of these ideas and this coming new age with the majority of the electorate.   Cameron is often charged with being sound-bite over substance.  The irony here is that he has real substance and he hasn’t yet found the sound-bite!

You cannot roll back technology.  Make no mistake these changes are coming. We will either get there quickly because of government or we will get their slowly despite government.   Change is difficult – you can embrace and adapt, or take the King Canute route.  David Cameron’s instinct is to adapt and embrace the times he lives in. Just one example of speeding us down the right path is his x-prize style competition.  Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has central control instincts to his core and he would continue to resist these forces and Britain would suffer for it.

The Conservatives  need to work harder to get these messages across.  Predictably, despite Cameron talking for 45 minutes on the subject today the only reportage of his appearance in the media I’ve seen is his reply to an off-topic question on the bullying PM.  The vision thing doesn’t seem sexy enough for for the main-stream media to cover – we need to change this.  This is ‘progressive’ politics in the purest sense of the word.  We are talking about fundamentally shifting power from the state back to the citizen – that is the very essence of liberation.   The new society we build can be an engine for solving many (not all) of the nation’s ills at very low cost to the taxpayer.  The same way technology has lowered the barriers of entry to, and cost of doing business – it can be just as transformative on government.  It is a new age, whilst our first steps into it may be ugly, painful and chaotic – on the other side it will be a golden age – but only if we have the bold leadership and the right policies to shepherd it in.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Center right, IT Policy, Politics, UK, UK Politics

Is Cameron Missing a Trick with Twitter? Is he heck!

Yesterday, David Cameron received a direct appeal from Conservative Uber-Blogger Tim Montgomerie to take up Twitter.  You can watch the question and response here.  Yet more pressure on the Tories to play ‘catch-up’ with this medium came with this report referenced in yesterday’s FT.

Whilst I have nothing but respect for Montgomerie and his ability to use the internet to enthuse & engage Conservative activists I think he’s dead wrong on the value of Twitter.  Cameron is right not to waste his finite time on this fad.  Cards on the table: I’m a relative newbie to Twitter, I resisted the hype for a year or two but when I started blogging I joined hoping to drive some traffic to this blog.  I suppose from that point of view it has been successful. I haven’t sussed it out all the etiquette yet, but there are a couple of things I have learned – all of which for me suggest DC should stay away:

  • The oft-published league tables for ‘number-of-followers’ are nonsense – any quick Google search will show you how to quickly ‘buy’ followers, and there is a juvenile (yet compelling) culture of ‘I’ll follow you if you follow me’.  Look at the million plus followers C grade Radio 5 DJ Richard Bacon has signed up.  If you believe the headline then one in sixty people in the UK is clinging to his every 140 character utterance.  If you actually look at his account you have to scroll through literally thousands of Far Eastern sounding names before you find a single person who appears to be a potential 5-live listener.  Either he has a huge cult following in China and the Philippines or his PR agency have recruited a decent ‘follower farmer’.  It can only be a matter of time before the Media suss this out and ‘number-of-followers’ stops being a measure of digital credibility and gravitas – and actually becomes the reverse.  You also need to drop the assumption that because someone ‘follows you’ they actually bother to read your tweets.  A quick look at a sample of twitter accounts shows many follow hundreds or even thousands of people.   Once people are following that kind of volume, you realise your most profound tweets are lost to many in the sheer noise of the place.

The magic is having quality followers not the quantity of them.

  • For Cameron a ‘quality’ follower would be a swing voter who is only following a handful of other people. The reality is that most people on Twitter are either IT Geeks, Media/Marketing Types or Political Animals – the vast majority of this crowd are dead set in who they will vote for. Those who aren’t political are unlikely to be inclined to follow Cameron.  He would either be preaching to the converted or the lynch mob.
  • Staying off also avoids the potential banana skin of the ill-advised tweets after a shandy or two. I actually follow our local Labour MP in the hope she drops a clanger.

It is therefore simply not a good use of the man’s time and a distraction from methods of campaigning that could engage the people he isn’t currently reaching. Don’t get me wrong Twitter is a neat communication technology and it has its place – but it aint the game changer its proponents think it is and DC is right in sidestepping it.

All that dissing Twitter said, if anyone wishes to follow me I’m @guythemac – I tweet rarely, and only use it to draw attention to new material written on here – I’m sure most of my few tweets are drowned out in the ether – but that’s OK –  I have some time to waste – David Cameron does not.

*This article is a tidy-up of a response I left on Conservative home – that debate there can be seen here.

7 Comments

Filed under Centre Right, Politics, UK, UK Politics

Million Pound ‘Crowd-Source’ Website: Not as Crackers as it May Sound.

Recently the Conservative Party has been trying to convince the public that it ‘gets’ the internet.  The best example is Maude’s Conference announcement that much more government spending would be published on the net so an army of “armchair auditors” could find the dodgy or wasteful and bring to account.  Make no mistake, it is a cracking idea and should be adopted by every party.

However, there’s a less favourable response to Jeremy Hunt’s recent attempt to move in this space.  Jeremy says a Conservative Government would pay a million pounds to the company that produces a website successfully engaging the public to provide instant feedback on policy initiatives.   It’s an open competition and any company – big or small, can enter. The belief is that the ‘Wisdom-of-the-Crowds’ will help avoid the policy banana skins you fall victim to when in a Westminster bunker sunk in ‘groupthink’.  Labour has given us textbook examples of what needs avoiding – think the ten-pence-tax-band, the Ghurkha saga, Childcare vouchers etc.

Predictably, this idea has been seen by the media as less ‘cracking’ and more ‘crackers’.  In typical discussions on the proposal the word ‘gimmick’ is bandied about freely.  Howls of “X,Y or Z Website already do this” are used to then make the point that the Conservatives don’t even understand what is already out there, “waste of taxpayers money” is another accusation from the Labour camp (irony noted). Without a loud challenge to the naysayers it has the whiff of an own-goal.   It should not have.  This is an idea with genuine merit. The cheap shots are a reaction to the headline without reference to detail.

The devil is, of course, always in the detail.

The inspiration for the ‘competition’ is the fabled ‘X-Prize’ foundation.  This has proven that you can drive innovation (at low cost) through competition.  Its first famous success was a prize for a privately built ‘spaceship’ that could reach orbit.  Now that sounds ‘crackers’! – but it worked.  A small company working in a small hanger in the United States managed what twenty years earlier had taken super-powers significant parts of their GDP to develop and still defeats many nation state-funded space programs today.  With an eye on the prize, an eye on a tight budget, and without the politics and grandeur that stick to state funded programs – they innovated, accelerated and delivered.

The critical success factor was in the detail of what you needed to do to claim the prize.  It wasn’t about drawing up plans for a spacecraft.  It wasn’t about building a mock-up.  It was about building it, launching it and doing it.  In short: delivering it.  No delivery, no prize.  And it wasn’t about a one-off either.  To claim the prize you had to put three people into space, in the same machine, and bring them back in one piece twice in two weeks.  Any cost of failed development was shouldered by the private enterprise – not the taxpayer.

And so it can be with this ‘crowd-source’ government prize.  Get the right criteria in place before the million can be claimed and you have it cracked.   This cannot be about simply knocking up a website with ‘Web 2.0’ or social media features.  It can’t be about just naming the technology or ripping off an existing platform and rebranding it.  No – it has to be about ‘delivering it’.  So to claim the prize, you should have to have something like the following auditable criteria met (I’ve plucked the numbers from thin air by way of example):

  • 250,000 UK taxpayers as registered members.
  • At least 25,000 unique visitors a month for a six month period
  • Mechanism built in to ensure ‘trust’ (perhaps similar to ebay user ratings)
  • Watch system and checks and balances built into identify and catch and attempts to manipulate the system (which defeats deliberate attempts from the judges to manipulate the system)
  • Ease of use (could be demonstrated by requiring 100,000 of your registered users clicking to confirm that they believe the site is worthy of the prize – with any inducements for clicking leading to disqualification)
  • 24/7 uptime of 99.99% over a six month period

And you can add and add criteria to the list.  You could happily have very many websites co-existing for years as they tried to hit all the required performance indicators – the only winner in the development period would be the taxpayer.  It would cost us nothing, the government would be getting the kind of voter input it could only previously dream of and when there is finally a winner it would have a solution they would be far, far cheaper, far more stable and far better user-tested than any other government IT project.  A million pounds really isn’t very much at all in the scheme of Government IT projects.  This could easily represent the biggest taxpayer ‘bang-for-buck’ in recent history.

So Jeremy, ignore the naysayers – press on with this and let’s prove that perhaps the Conservatives really do ‘get’ the internet.  Your success or failure will rest entirely on those claim criteria…. get them right prove the naysayers wrong!

9 Comments

Filed under Centre Right, IT Policy, UK, UK Politics