Power of Information Task Force

Tom Watson posted up his speech announcing the Power of Information Task Force on his blog yesterday and it contained some really good stuff. I guess that those who want to can snicker about the notion of creating a task force to promote innovation (shouldn’t we be organising without organisations?), but I’m glad that there will be some folk looking into this stuff, and it would be nice if they do so in an open and collaborative way.

Only last week, the Prime Minister became the first head of Government in Europe to launch his own channel on Twitter, which I can tell you from experience, is extremely useful to his ministers at least.

But we need to make it easier for others too.

Hazel Blears
with be leading this agenda when her department will address this in a White Paper on engagement in the summer.

But I want to take the Power of Information agenda further and do it faster. So today I am announcing the establishment of the Power of Information Taskforce. I’m pleased to say that Richard Allan has agreed to Chair the Taskforce. Richard has a vast breadth of knowledge in this field. He’s also an all round good guy and I know he will help us provide clarity to government departments as they contend with the power of information agenda.

Most interesting for me were the bits that focused on community engagement and participation. Let’s have a look at one or two now.

And in the week where the digital world went crazy over Mystarbucksidea.com (I’ve already voted for free Wifi), NHS choices launched a blog about diabetes, bringing together the people who treat the illness and the people who receive treatment. It’s a brilliant ideas and hopefully will foster a new information community who can work together to improve things.

I was diagnosed a type 1 diabetic about a year ago, so have quite an interest in this. I was 27 when I was diagnosed, which is a funny age I think, and led to it taking quite a while for the doctors to figure out if I was type 1 (meaning injections) or type 2 (meaning I had to eat less). I still haven’t got to grips with it yet: I’m supposed to inject myself four times a day but manage it twice at best, largely with the result that I feel pretty crap all the time. Last summer I was hospitalised twice and suffered a crippling bout of depression. I guess I am exactly the sort of person that this blog is supposed to be reaching out to: I’ve got the disease, I’m crap at dealing with it, and I like blogs. I hadn’t heard about it though, which renders it pretty useless. Still, now I do, thanks to Tom, I’ll engage with it, leave a comment or two and see what happens. The blog idea is nice, but I wonder whether more of a social network type approach would be better – linking me up with other diabetics who have been through similar issues.

My officials have been working up draft guidance on how public servants can use social media. And the Power of Information Report made a series of recommendations about this too.

I want the taskforce to ensure that the COI and Cabinet Office produce a set of guidelines that adheres to the letter of the law when it comes to the civil service code but also lives within the spirit of the age. I’ll be putting some very draft proposals to the taskforce to consider later this week.

Here, here. I wrote in the wake of the Civil Sef affair that Public servants should be blogging, or engaging through other social networking tools. Public servants are too often characterised as faceless bureaucrats and the more that can be done to dissuade people from that notion, the better. But to get more public sector workers being open, they need to feel safe to do so, and sensible policies will help to do that.

We will also look at, and learn from, the way people are communicating with each other.

The 19th century co-operative movements had their roots in people pooling resources to make, buy or distribute physical goods. Modern online communities are the new co-operatives.

This is a point I have been meaning to blog about for some time: the relationship between online collaborative communities and the co-operative movement. The point is that while the tools are new, the relationships aren’t, and people have been working together to tackle problems since the year dot. What the tools do is make the process easier and more transparent and because they also make it easier to do without forming institutions or organisations, they also remove some of the political undercurrents too. More needs to be written on this, I think.

And when we know we get a delivery channel right we should use the ‘collaboration’ part of Ed’s vision to best effect, to gain, social leverage, as Professor Shirky would say.

Let me use a recent story to illustrate this point. I recently registered my local Labour Party with groupsnearyou.com. This is a new site provided by the MySociety people. It’s a site for people who run small scale community focused groups.

Through the site, I found West Bromwich Freecycle.

I’m the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East and I didn’t know about an important recycling initiative going on in my own patch. This information now means that a bag load of clothing for a small child and a habitat sofa are about given a second chance to give pleasure.

Nice example, not least because of the use of an existing network to connect with others. The delivery channel – in this case the connecting of local groups – does not therefore need to be created by the government, or the Labour Party, rather by interested folk, doing things in an open and collaborative way like MySociety does.  This taps into another long running question of mine which asks whose responsibility is it to push for improvements in civic life using social tools? Is it the government, at whatever level? Is it organisations like MySociety? Or is it every individual with a laptop and a broadband connection? I am beginning to suspect the answer is the latter – individuals pushing the boundaries and demonstrating where the value is, with the institutions following up once the point has been proved. Organisations like MySociety can help but they aren’t necessarily needed

Overall, a great speech to hear from a cabinet minister. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

4 thoughts on “Power of Information Task Force”

  1. Thanks for the correction, Simon. I wasn’t sure when I typed it, but in classic blogger fashion, couldn’t be arsed to fact-check!

  2. I’m taken back by the scope of such an project – that is I find it difficult to put the same process in a USA situation. It may have or will be taken on in the way outlined. But to have significant government official – no matter how close his to PM (or President) would be a very big deal. The one question I have relates to your opening statement about the use of a task force – the in situation of innovation. If there are some comments that this hesitation is based, direct to them.

    Levy

  3. “Is it organisations like MySociety? Or is it every individual with a laptop and a broadband connection? I am beginning to suspect the answer is the latter”

    That would be awesome, but until Ning gets good enough to make building sites like WhatDoTheyKnow into a point-and-click exercise we’ll have to keep filling the gaps, sorry!

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