Thursday, July 16, 2009

Citizens empowered by information

The new Cabinet Office survey of public service best practice has a strong power of information theme.

In late 2006 I was in the Cabinet Office trying to work out how the new wave of web2.0 activity applied to government. Since 2004 I had been working with what became the mysociety collective. Although never a paid up member of mysociety, I would often find myself as the link between external disruptive innovation and internal discomfort as i reassured civil servants who were suddenly victim of unplanned innovation. I followed closely all the other stuff mysociety got up to.

By 2006 it was clear that the new web technologies were becoming pervasive - not just a spot effect, but a more profound wave of change. Opportunities lay not only in reusing public information, but also in working with information people themselves were creating. We could see very large groups emerging online debating public policy issues such as childcare for instance. Hilary Armstrong MP the then Cabinet Office Minister and a former social worker could see how groups like netmums were enormously helpful to parents and rightsnet to social workers and benefits advisors.

So with David Halpern in the Strategy Unit, backed by Andrew Stott now Director Digtial Engagement and John Suffolk the UK Government CIO we commissioned the Power of Information Review for Hilary Armstrong to work out what this was about. Lots of work has flowed from Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo's original report.

Cabinet Office Strategy Unit have today published a global survey of best practice in using information along the POI lines. The chapter on empowering citizens in the information age is an interesting round up of what is going on. The conclusion is good:

New technologies are providing opportunities to open up information as never before. Governments around the world are responding to this technological revolution by re-evaluating the approach they take to information transparency. The shift required, however, is more than just a technical one. The starting point for government in countries such as the USA, which are at the leading edge of information transparency, is that government information should be in the public domain and easily available for use and re-use by citizens. This approach is underpinned by freedom of information legislation and practices which actively promote openness in government. Across other countries, government cultures will similarly need to change, possibly prompted by changes in legislation.
The final sentence is the important thing- the real benefits of the power of information require culture change, not actually legislation, nor even much money. To get this culture change political leadership is vital, but so is administrative leadership by the civil service cadres. Financial incentives always help of course. The technology community can support this if they keep showing directly what the potential is with clear vivid examples that relate to public service goals.

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