Sharing and flexibility

Nice post from BIS’ Neil Williams on deciding up on a commenting system for the department’s website.

Go read the whole thing, but he summarises:

So what have we learned?

  • People blogging about what they are up to is dead handy. Stephen and Jimmy writing their posts, me reading them, has saved you thousands of pounds. Direct cause and effect.
  • Having the flexibility to embed stuff is awesome. Insist on it next time you buy a CMS. Hats off to the guys at Eduserv for really coming through for us on this one. We couldn’t put pages together like this and this and this without it.
  • The growing availability of embeddable stuff is way cool. I’m excited about what else we might be able to achieve without dev work – like page ratings using Bazaarvoice and forums using Talki.
  • We all need to think differently now. Few things we might want our website to do are going to be unique to us. Gov webbies, and suppliers of government web services, need to adapt and thoroughly check out 3rd party plugins before embarking on any kind of jiggery-bespokery. Why pay for our own learning curve when others have already been through it?

My take (which pretty much repeats what Neil has said:

  1. People sharing stuff via blogs is good and has measurable impact.
  2. In whatever you do, being flexible and open means you can make the most of developments in technology, or whatever.

Careers 2.0

Two strangely related things happened last week. The second one was Dominic Campbell‘s post, “Exciting times” in which he describes the progress he has made over the last few years, and how odd – and amazing – the whole thing is.

Suddenly I am attending Chief Executive only gigs to talk about how technology and the web can help local government both understand and deliver on the needs of the people it is there to support. Suddently I am invited to sit on the Practitioners Advisory Board of INLOGOV to help support their research and thinking around the future shape of local government (in the building next door to my old school in a weird twist of fate!). Suddenly we have the opportunity to put on CityCamp London (thanks to our amazing supporters) to bring together some amazing brains to consider the future of London and what role technology can play in reshaping both society and state in making it an ever better world class city to live and work in.

Dominic has done – and is doing – some amazing things. He’s built himself a huge reputation, not just here in the UK but also in the States, for innovative thinking about public services and where technology fits in.

I could never claim to have the same influence or impact that Dom has. But our careers over the last few years have some parallels – we both built reputations using online tools and by being committed to sharing what we know, as both a means to help practitioners get things done, and as a means of building business relationships.

This leads in nicely to the first thing I wanted to mention, which was at the beginning of last week, when Luke Harvey at the DWP invited me to talk to a bunch of technology in business fast streamers about my career, and some of my views on technology in government.

It must have been a weird careers talk. The profound oddness, just as Dominic describes in his post, of being pretty much nobody, but by writing a blog and slavishly updating Twitter, building a reputation and a career where people respect and act upon what you say. Sometimes they even give you money!

Here’s the slides from my talk. They are the usual mixture of well-worn jokes and ephemera. My honest advice for anyone working in and around government who wants to give their career a kick start would be to start blogging and to get networking on Twitter. Be helpful. Give stuff away. Always be positive. Make things happen. You never know where you’ll end up.

Quick thoughts on open government

I rather like using the phrase ‘open government’ to cover – if I’m honest – the stuff I’m interested in. Indeed, the eagle eyed among you may have spotted that the tagline for this blog is now the suitably pompous “Open government and everything else”.

In many ways I like it because it enables me to put the use of social software in government into a wider context – important given the age of austerity in which we find ourselves. I’ve never thought that social media usage was an end in itself, but perhaps sometimes the actual end was never articulated particularly well. ‘Open government’ does that nicely.

The O’Reilly book, Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice (which I would recommend) offers a useful definition of the three elements of Open Government:

  1. Transparency – open data and that sort of thing
  2. Collaboration – working together better within government (knowledge sharing, learning, enteprise 2.0 type stuff) and also collaborating with service providers, social innovators etc
  3. Participation – crowdsourcing, use of social media, co-production etc

My friend Dave Coplin posted up a video of a talk he gave outlining these principles, which is rather good and well worth watching all the way through.

So how are these things actually going to happen? I think the two main contributors are going to be:

  1. Technology – which I would break down further to include social technology, cloud computing and open source
  2. Culture – including sharing, learning and innovation – all of which government needs to get better at to make open government a reality.

Another thing that is vital to open government is a combination of the two things above, in other words, the culture of technology. This is something I have banged on about before, but the greatest recent example was the one I documented here. Technology provides the platforms and the infrastructure of open government, but open government itself is not predicated on technology. However, I do think it is key to take technology seriously, and not to dismiss it as the stuff of geeks and weirdos.

Here’s a good (if long) discussion about “government 2.0” – often used as a synonym for open government, but which for me has a slightly more technical bent. For me, ‘government 2.0’ means “what can technology and technologists do to improve government”. Open government is more “what can everyone do to improve government”.

Expect a bit more on this from me in the near future as I extrapolate in my usual half-baked way on the various threads involved in open government.

Hack Warwickshire

Warwickshire County Council‘s approach to open government and IT strategy is impressive. Check out their IT strategy blog, where they detail their use of the cloud, for example, and their open data site. Great stuff, and good to see it happening at a council where I used to work! I spent a year as a Business Analyst there, between 2005 and 2006.

On the open data blog, Warwickshire have announced a competition, called Hack Warwickshire:

After the recent launch of our Warwickshire Open Data web site, we are really keen to see the new and innovative uses that our information can be put to. Whatever your idea, whether it is an incisive data visualisation, a web mashup, an app for your mobile or a way of integrating with social networking – this competition is a way for you to get involved with the open data revolution, build something cool and possibly get your hands on a brand new iPad with which to show your winning entry off.

Sounds good to me. Well worth following what these guys are up to.

DavePress podcast 2 – Andrew Beeken

In the second DavePress podcast I chat to Andrew Beeken of the City of Lincoln Council about the new open data site he has just launched, data.lincoln.gov.uk.

[audio:http://media.libsyn.com/media/davepress/DavePressEp2.mp3%5D

If you can’t, or don’t want to, use the flash player, you can download the .mp3 instead or subscribe with iTunes.

If you have any feedback – or volunteer to be a participant in a podcast, please do so in the comments below, or emailpodcast@davepress.net.

For those that want to know, here’s how the podcast is produced.