From New Public Management to Open Governance (the back story)

I’m delighted to publish this – a guest post from Emer Coleman, Director of Digital Projects at the GLA, sharing her dissertation with us.

Anyone who has been following me on Twitter for the past year will know my struggles with “the dreaded dissertation” so it might be worth putting its origins in context.

In a previous life as Director of Strategy for Barnet Council I disagreed with a very deeply held belief in Local Government that the holy grail of resident satisfaction was how much you communicated with your residents. There was a correlation in Best Value surveys carried out every three years between “how informed” residents were and their satisfaction levels. But of course correlation does not imply causality. The simple edict went as follows Council Magazine + A to Z of Council Services + Managing Local News = Satisfied Residents.

Our corporate management team therefore wanted to do a huge communications campaign in advance of one of these surveys to ensure that residents knew exactly what their council did for them. The logic being that when they filled out their surveys on council performance they would recognize the council’s work. If only.

My Chief Executive at the time in response to my doubts said – “well if you want to change their minds you better put up a well argued case”. My dissertation is my attempt to do that.

In a nutshell it draws on the work of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas who draws the distinction between the System and the Lifeworld. In the system where government lives we believe in these simplistic correlations but in the messy and complex Lifeworld we know that human beings don’t act in rational or predictable ways.

My belief is that open data, open government and the open conversations that take place in public in the social web offer great opportunities to move from the rational ordered public sector way of doing things to a more humanized, communicative form of governance. I tried to example that in the case study on the London Datastore and by including contributions by so many people in the open data movement that have helped me in developing my public policy work around open data.

My work and practice has been incredibly energized by the interactions that happen on the web and through my engagement with developers and innovators committed to the public realm. Mark Drapeau (@cheeky_geeky) calls them The Goverati (though my tutor didn’t like the name much) but I do. So a big thank you to all of you (you know who you are).

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