Monthly Archives: July 2011

Government Digital Service blog, and e-petitions

The new Government Digital Service, the part of the Cabinet Office tasked with taking forward various elements of the digital agenda in Whitehall (and beyond) has a new blog.

Very nice it is too, and anyone with an interest in online innovation in public services really ought to subscribe. Simon has some background on the blog’s setup.

Simon also refers to the first project coming out of the GDS, with involvement from the Government skunkworks team of under the radar innovators, headed up by Mark O’Neill, is the return of e-petitions to central government.

E-petitions were originally on the Number 10 website, where I used to have an awful lot of fun moderating the damn things during my stint there. Now they are on the DirectGov domain.

Interestingly, the e-petitions system is using a new system, developed in the Ruby on Rails framework, rather than using an existing project like the MySociety system, or indeed WordPress which was used by Kind of Digital’s WP guru Andrew Beeken to build a petitioning system for Lincoln Council.

One issue with the e-petitions system I picked up quickly, as did others was the fact that it now requires the user to select which is the relevant government department to deal with the petition. As Stefan writes:

An eager e-petitioner clicks the button to start the process and finds themselves with a simple form to complete. The first task is to give the petition a title. Pretty straightforward. The second is to identify the ‘Department that looks after your issue’. That’s a poser. There is a drop down list. There is a link to a page which explains which department does what. But the list is of ministerial departments and the help page gives little more than mission statements. Many of the bits of government which people have at least some understanding of don’t appear at all – there is no HMRC, no DVLA, no NHS, no Jobcentre Plus. Might a petition be appropriately directed to the Scotland Office, or should it go to the Scottish Government instead?

It sounds like this is being worked on to fix – but I’d argue this is a major barrier to participation and probably needs to be fixed if e-petitions are to have a significant impact.

I’ve written before about my view of e-petitions – they’re a blunt object and the process questions they raise are far trickier than the technological issues. One of the first petitions to be submitted was by the blogger Guido Fawkes, demanding the return of capital punishment for certain crimes.

As Anthony writes:

What will it tell us, and tell the Parliamentarians who have to then debate the issue?

That lots of people support the death penalty? We know that – most polls (though not all polls, as Guido claims) show that a little over half of people still support the death penalty, though the number has declined over the years.

That a hundred thousand people want hanging back enough to fill in an online form? What does that add to the knowledge that twenty-five million or so want it across the country?

And what if Parliament debates the issue and rejects it by a large margin (as happened in the ’80s and ’90s)? Will signers, and Guido, go away happy that the issue has been given a good airing in the democratic forum of the nation? Or will it just be used as another example of the perfidy of elected politicians in refusing to do what fifteen-hundredths of one percent of the Great British People tell them to do?

In which case, what’s the point?

Government IT costs – the bloggers’ view

Once again, the quality commentary on the latest reports into government IT spending is coming from blogs.

Simon Dickson:

The real story, such as it is, is the Committee’s apparent recognition that the current process – reliant on a small number of large suppliers being given over-spec’ed, over-detailed, over-sized and over-priced projects – is the ‘root cause’ of the problem. And it’s quite nice to see them challenging the Cabinet Office, about whether its initiatives are tackling that root cause, or just the symptoms (paras 10-11).

Paul Clarke:

Can it really be that a single office computer can cost £3,500? Read that again. £3,500.

No. Of course not. And it almost certainly doesn’t.

Charges made for desktop computing in the public sector are invariably composed of an element for the hardware, plus a rather greater element to cover installation, support… in fact quite a bit more. IT managers (disclosure: I used to be one in the public sector) can play quite a few tunes on this figure; using it to cover centralised development work, packages of software and all manner of other “hidden” costs.

Dan Harrison:

According to the BBC’s article on the report issued by the public administration committee, departments sometimes pay up to £3,500 for a single desktop. What this figure includes, who knows? Undoubtedly there are some howlers out there—some costs that need to be called out and reigned in. Big time. But comparing desktop costs both within government and with those that you or I would pay on Amazon is bananas.

Storycamp

After being suitably inspired at June’s LocalGovCamp, the effervescent Nicky Getgood has been working away to get StoryCamp up and running.

She describes it thus:

StoryCamp is a time and picturesque space for storytellers (digital or otherwise), independent publishers, those in local government, hyperlocal-land and beyond to meet, share stories and ways and means of telling them.

If you can see the importance of telling a powerful story to communicate and would like to think, discuss and learn more about how to do this effectively, or share examples of storytelling that has had a real impact, then StoryCamp is for you!

It’s taking place on October 1st, in Ludlow in Shropshire.

There’s a blog, and an organising group, and you can sign up for the event here. I think it’s going to be great.

Webchatting: barriers and evaluation

Yesterday’s live Kind of Digital web chat about overcoming barriers to implementing social media went really well.

You can relive the whole thing over on the KoD website, or download a rather basic PDF of the transcript.

Our next chat has been scheduled in for Tuesday, August 16th at 11am BST. It’s going to be on the thorny subject of evaluation of digital engagement activity – great!

You can sign up for a reminder over here – hope you see you there!

What is Twitter?

There was a bit of discussion on Twitter this evening about explaining Twitter to the uninitiated.

(If this sounds a bit navel-gazingy, that’s because it probably is. Hang around in any online space for long enough and you soon end up in meta-conversations of this type.)

Emma Maier of the Local Government Chronicle is organising some collectively written guidance on a Google Doc – here’s the link and I recommend you get stuck in!

Of course, a longer guide is the one I wrote for Learning Pool a couple of years ago, and which is soon to be republished in an updated form.

In the meantime though, I thought I’d knock together a quick single page effort, which ought to be handy for the absolute beginner.

I’ve embedded it below, but if you can’t see it, go to the ‘Useful Stuff’ page on the Kind of Digital site and you can download a PDF.

I’ll be doing some more of these – LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and blogging are all bound to feature. Would these be useful? Any other topics spring to mind?

Let me know!

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.