Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

A Masters in Public Technology?

Tom Steinberg:

There is barely a not-for-profit, social enterprise or government body I can think of that wouldn’t benefit from a Duncan Parkes or a Matthew Somerville on the payroll, so long as they had the intelligence and self-discipline not to park them in the server room. Why? Because just one person with the skills, motivation and time spent learning can materially increase the amount of time that technology makes a positive contribution to almost any public or not-for-profit organisation.

I agree, though Tom’s developer-centric view of this should probably be widened for it to be a bit more inclusive.

6 days to stop MPs concealing their expenses

A quick repost of an important message on the MySociety blog:

Uh oh.  Ministers are about to conceal MPs’ expenses, even though the public hasjust paid £1m to get them all ready for publication, and even though the tax man expects citizens to do what MPs don’t have to. They buried the news on the day of the Heathrow runway announcement. This is heading in the diametric wrong direction from government openness.

You can help in the following three ways:

1. Please write to your MP about this www.WriteToThem.com – ask them to lobby against this concealment, and tell them that TheyWorkForYou will be permanently and prominently noting those MPs who took the opportunity to fight against this regressive move. The millions of constituents who will check this site before the next election will doutbtless be interested.

2. Join this facebook group and invite all your least political friends (plus your most political too). Send them personal mails, phone or text them. Encourage them to write to their politicians too.

3. Write to your local paper to tell them you’re angry, and ask them to ask their readers to do the above. mySociety’s never-finished site http://news.mysociety.orgmight be able to help you here.

NB. mySociety is strictly non-partisan, by mission and by ethics. However, when it looks like Parliament is about to take a huge step in the wrong direction on transparency, we’ve no problem at all with stepping up when changes happen that threaten both the public interest and the ongoing value of sites like TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow.

I’ve sent an email via WriteToThem to my local MP, James Plaice. Here’s the text I sent (mainly copied and pasted from other sources) – feel free to re-use it for your efforts:

I am writing to express my concern at the recent decision to conceal the details of MPs’ expenses. I do not understand why it is necessary for MP’s to be the only paid public officials who will not have to disclose the full details of their expenses and allowances.

After all, members of the Scottish Parliament have to declare all oftheir expenses – why does the British Parliament need to be different?

As my local MP, I hope you will be lobbying against this concealment and that you will also be of those enlightened MPs who, knowing that they have nothing to hide, are willing to publish the full details of their expenses anyway.

FixMyStreet on DirectGov!

Tom Watson reports via Twitter that MySociety’s FixMyStreet is now embedded in DirectGov. On the page in question, a boxout gives you the option of reporting a problem via FixMyStreet rather than through the usual route of DirectGov linking you through to your local authority.

An interesting example of making volunteer effort a part of the ‘official’ government offering. I have had some interesting discussions with some local gov folk about how useful FixMyStreet actually is, so it will be fascinating to see how this is received.

5 years of MySociety

I had an enjoyable time at the MySociety shindig last night at The Hub in King’s Cross. There were lots of cool people there, and I got the chance to bend people’s ears about digital mentors, which was fun for me if not for them.

David Wilcox has a great post about MySociety, including a video from Tom Steinberg back in 2003, pushing the idea of a ‘Civic Hacking Fund’. I think I prefer the name they ended up with.

Simon Dickson likewise muses on the impact MySociety has had on the development of government webby stuff in the UK:

You can do a tremendous amount of good with relatively little money, as long as you have good people involved. People who understand the context, who have a feel for the technology, and who have a passion for what they’re doing. That’s been the very basis of MySociety’s success, and (I hope) my own here at Puffbox.

I also got the chance to catch up with Amy Sample Ward, who works with NetSquared in North America helping non-profits get the most out of technology. She’s now based in London and will be doing her best to help UK NFPs catch up. It’s difficult not to be caught up in her enthusiasm to make things better, which is great. Again, David Wilcox has don the interview, which I’ve embedded below.

[HTML1]

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.

Google launches UK politics site

googleukpolitics Completely unrelated to the Google UK-hosted barcampukgovweb, I’m sure, but Google have launched a dedicated UK politics site, with lots of UK politics related widgets for your iGoogle page, and a YouTube channel. One of the widgets available is based on TheyWorkForYou, MySociety’s service to keep you up to date with what your MP is up to. Tom Steinberg mentions it on the MySociety blog:

There’s no doubt that this sort of modular re-purposing of our information is going to happen a lot more in the future, and it’s great to start out with the best of possible partners.

Good work all round.