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Minister wants more mashups

'Wiki thinking is the way of the future'

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The new minister for transformation has advocated the cause of user generated content on public websites.

Tom Watson said one of his priorities for the transformation of government is that data mashups, in which users can take and combine data to meet their own preferences, becomes embedded in the thinking of all departments.

Speaking at the Tower 08 conference, organised by the Cabinet Office and IT industry association Intellect, Watson said: "Government is engaged in a big debate. I genuinely think if anything holds us back it's failing to comprehend the possibilities of what we can do with data mashups. My job is to explain it across government."

As an example, he cited work done by mySociety.org and the Department for Transport on producing commuter maps, and said the Cabinet Office is talking with the charity about further possibilities.

Watson also reiterated the government's support for the principles outlined in last year's The Power of Information report (pdf), which advocates the increased use of public sector information by the public, charities and community groups. There are 14 specific recommendations in the report. He said the government will report on its willingness to follow them "shortly", and acknowledged it would entail a change in attitudes.

"One of the things for service delivery that we need to know is what customers are saying," he said. "We need a cultural change, and 'wiki thinking' is a way that we can go forward."

Watson's speech placed a heavy emphasis on the potential of web 2.0 projects, in which content provided by users is the central feature of a website. He said government can use the technology to provide tools that would give people more power in their dealings with the public sector, but that so far it had not done enough in the field.

"The public sector has not been making transformation quickly enough," he said. "I see my job as helping to accelerate the pace of change.

Among the other priorities he mentioned for the next few months are to continue the programme of reducing the number of government websites, with an increased emphasis on Directgov and Businesslink, to improve content on these two sites, and to use new media to engage the public. He said this would involve more experimentation.

"We need to build stuff small, test it, then iterate, iterate, iterate," he said.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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