New(ish) Labour plans Whitehall 2.0
Replacing social policy with social networking
The UK government has dulled the glamorous sheen of Web 2.0 by pledging guidelines on how civil servants should
exploit use social media for developing policies and getting their messages out to the public.
The Cabinet Office has published an Interim Progress Report on its information strategy, carried out by Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo, which details Whitehall’s efforts to “get” social media in its efforts to communicate with we the people.
The interim report’s appearance coincided with the setting up of a Power of Information Taskforce – which will include Steinberg – to flesh out the strategy and which was revealed in a speech by Tom Watson, MP, Labour’s minister for transformational government.
In his speech, Watson argued that freeing up data “will allow us to unlock the talent of British entrepreneurs” while “engaging people – using the simple tools that bring them together – will allow the talents of all our people to be applied to the provision of public services”.
Watson promised the COI and the Cabinet Office would “produce a set of guidelines that adheres to the letter of the law when it comes to the civil service code but lives within the spirit of the age”.
We think this means Civil Servants need an approved way to dip into sites like mumsnet to share their wisdom on, for example, how to claim maternity benefits. We presume it doesn’t mean putting in place a bureaucratic procedure to ensure that all civil servants Wikipedia edits on Avril Lavigne have been signed off by the Cabinet Office and Number 10.
Watson said draft proposals would be ready for the taskforce by the end of this week.
Government also needed to adopt social media, Watson argued. “Whitehall is arguably Britain’s most important knowledge factory,” he said, “but we’re using out of date tools.” So, it would appear Sir Humphrey and pals will be forced to thrash out policy and career paths over blogs, wikis, forums and shared workspaces instead of over the port and cheese board.
Watson also pledged to overhaul the way information produced by government bodies, for example regulatory information or Ordnance Survey mapping data, is disseminated and charged for. “There has been a lively debate about whether the overall benefits to the economy and society are better served by giving the data away at marginal cost.” He said he had asked the Treasury and BERR to help build arguments in this area.
More disturbingly, perhaps, Watson reminisced about how hard it used to be for “any community organiser or activist to “get people together to do something”. He recalled how he spent his formative years in “endless hours of turning the handle of a manual duplicating machine whilst my dad fermented [sic] revolution in the pub.”
He went on to claim that “social media has removed the requirement for my son to turn the handle for his dad. It allows people to organise a demonstration or a lobby at a single click, with global effect.”
Which is funny, as we’d never thought organising spontaneous demonstrations was part of the government’s remit. ®
Public ownership of the nation's data!?
Just in case the concept of 'public ownership' in the case of ordinance survey data isn't oxymoronic enough for you, be delighted to know (if you didn't already), that HM Govt. believes it somehow has copyright to the tide data around Britain's shores.
The tide comes in, the tide goes out, the tide comes in again... Anyone with a calculator/slide-rule/pencil & paper plus requisite brain cells and time on their hands can sit down and work out the future tide times for their bit of coast, even the whole country if they are really keen, but woe betide them if they should have the temerity to make that information public. Not even charging for it, but make it public gratis and for nothing.
Yes, the full weight of the Govt. will duly come crashing down on you---even reaching out to grab you beyond these shores---to cast your miserable self into outer darkness---well, quite a stiff fine or even a spot of porridge actually (assuming the local law allows it).
Personally I somehow can't get past the idea that the tides are 'public domain' in the truest sense of the word, but then what do I know; well it's low tide here at 2200 and high tide next at 0416, but don't tell anyone I said so.
They've had the appalling 'Ask Frank' site up for ages. A relic from the days of trying to attract the Yoof it just went (and still does) "Drugs are bad, m'kay" without much advice on the stuff you can buy legally other than that they can be bad for you. Plenty of stuff about drugs dealers but nothing about revenue from cigs and booze.
Anyway I thought Web 2.0 was a bit turn of the century stuff, we're almost in 2010. By the time they got anything sorted they wouldn't be able to use it as the kit wouldn't be energy efficient.
Think I'll stick to reading Private Eye and such other mighty organs as the Reg for what's going on with HM Gov(inc.)
Strong hint of Nathan Barley there!
The sad thing isn't that he believes all this crap, or that he can spout endless reams of it, or that he somehow manages to make a living off this, but that judging from the comments on his blog there seem to be plenty more out there just like him.
It would be tempting to organise some sort of Web 2.0 event just to gather these people into one place where they could be dealt with appropriately. A thorough education with the clue stick would be a good start, but I suspect more drastic actions would be required.
An interim measure of some sort of stitch-up might be an option, after all if they believe this bollocks they'll believe anything!
In the meantime I'm off to try and purge my brain of the crap that leaked in when I looked at Tom Watson's blog.