Good Governance - Effective use of IT

 

Written evidence submitted by The Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester (IT 10)

Authors: Dave Everitt , Andrew Hugill , Sue Thomas

 

Summary

This paper addresses most of the questions in the PDF document ‘Good Governance: the effective use of IT: Issues and Questions Paper’, and can be summarised as follows:

1. Commit to Open Government

2. Connect elements of strategic thinking

3. Build trust

4. Combat ignorance

5. Design better

6. Centralise the 'what' but not the 'how'

7. Combine open source with commercial solutions

8. Save time and money through co-operation

9. Learn from the enthusiastic and the agile

10. Amplify the individual

 

1. Commit to Open Government

 

1.1 Comment

 

Open Government provides a far more cost-effective model for the governance and effective use of IT. By drawing on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and engaging both ordinary citizens and commercial interests in an inclusive way, government can gain much from external sources.

 

1.2 Evidence

 

The principles of Open Government and its effect on technology are set out in the paper published in May 2010 by the Centre for Technology Policy Research (CTPR), with which the Institute Of Creative Technologies (IOCT) at De Montfort University has an affiliation. This envisages a move beyond the "transformational government" programme , which aimed to impose command and control through large centralised databases, towards principles of transparency, openness, and cooperation in which the individual citizen has far more engagement with and control over data and personal information.

 

1.3 Recommendation

 

Open up access to social media and networking tools for civil servants and empower them to engage effectively with citizens through these media.

2. Connect elements of strategic thinking

2.1 Comment

The lack of a complete strategic vision for the creative industries is hampering the UK’s international competitiveness. Their contribution to UK plc is imperfectly understood and not fully recognised . Any vision needs to be completely connected with other strategic elements, and not piecemeal as is often currently the case.

2.2 Evidence

There are many examples. The video games industry, for instance, has recently experienced an intermittent and inconclusive debate about tax breaks. The music industry continues to struggle with difficult questions about piracy. The host of SMEs and micros across the nation involved in creative work lack the collective ‘punch’ to rise above cottage-industry levels, and often fall below tax thresholds.

2.3 Recommendation

Develop a holistic strategy for digital creative industries in the UK.

 

3. Build Trust

3.1. Comment

Resolving security and trust issues are crucial if government is to engage effectively.

3.2 Evidence

A litany of problems and scandals have been generated by the present practice of storing personal information on centralised databases. Another model exists, whereby the citizen owns all their personal information and chooses to whom to make it available and to what extent. Apart from empowering the individual, this would also have the advantage that it would be kept up to date. Certain aspects of disclosure would of course be compulsory by law where required. However, there would also be a substantial commercial opportunity and, crucially, a new sense of trust between government and citizen.

Meanwhile, security mistakes are all too easy to make. One example, from this very exercise: the PDF ‘Good Governance: the effective use of IT Issues and Questions Paper’, when opened in a text editor, reveals both the author’s name and creation software data. In this case it is not a security threat, but plain Word documents (and PDFs generated by Word) can contain extra information authors and their employers might not want to disclose - an issue that has made news in the past.

3.3 Recommendation

Give people ownership and direct control of their own personal data and identity.

 

4. Combat Ignorance

4.1 Comment

Internal ignorance of technologies is a vulnerability which government simply cannot afford.

4.2 Evidence

The reason why "central government is notorious for large IT projects running over time, over budget and ultimately failing" is often that those who make the final decisions may know too little about the technologies they're charged with choosing. This is not necessarily always their fault, as there could be simpler guides to what is available and better training for civil servants. But the consequence is that, unaware of the full map of the territory, decision-makers can be persuaded by commercial pitches or popular ‘locked-in’ choices instead of exploiting (and possibly adapting and contributing to) the range of open source solutions that run many thousands of large-scale projects and high-volume web services.

4.3 Recommendation

Implement a compulsory training programme for all in government and civil service in current technologies, including open source technologies.

5. Design better

5.1 Comment

Public sector websites are, all too often, a model of poor design.

5.2 Evidence

The online tax form has a poor user interface (errors only presented on completion of the page, 'save' button required but not prompted before proceeding to next stage and thus raising a server error, etc.). The initial version even failed in some browsers and platforms. Why did no-one foresee these problems? What user testing was carried out? If decision-makers lacked the necessary knowledge, and contractors promoted their own solution over more standards-compliant cross-platform approaches, bad practice would have slipped through unnoticed.

5.3 Recommendation

As part or training programme in Recommendation 2.3, include information design training.

 

6. Centralise the 'what' but not the 'how'

6.1 Comment

Both centralisation and decentralisation have roles to play.

6.2 Evidence

There are two apparently contrasting initiatives: to " centralise IT procurement", and the " decentralisation of public service provision". However, these can support each other. For instance, local IT providers can offer competitive rates and knowledgeable localised support that has an advantage over larger, centrally-chosen providers. Centralisation works best to disseminate strategic aims , but can become ineffective at a local level - in other words, the best policy might be to centralise the 'what' (overall aims and overarching strategy) but not the 'how' (method of delivery and choice of tools/solutions). Further, good practice (say a local government successfully gathering community feedback using inexpensive or free social software and/or open source technologies) could be promoted and distributed by a centralised strategic body as formal policy guidance.

6.3 Recommendation

Centralise strategy and policy, but decentralise methods of implementation.

 

7. Combine open source with commercial solutions

7.1 Comment

In 2009 both UK and US governments declared an intent to look into open source solutions:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7910110.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7841486.stm

7.2 Evidence

There has already been a lack of implementation of these policies. Should the good work of Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt in this area be taken up, it will be important to monitor how commercial interests respond to this move, considering the - potentially unquestioning - trust governments have for large enterprises that mirror their own internal structures. The optimal solution would reflect the typical professional IT practitioners' scenario i.e. open source initiatives working with sympathetic commercial interests to their mutual benefit, rather than in opposition - O'Reilly is the exemplar here. Although not always necessarily free, the cost benefits of open source do not need to be explained. Neither is there concern for security or stability, as large organisations already utilise the powerful solutions provided by the open source community (e.g. Co-op/Smile online banking utilises Java and Apache Struts running with IBM’s Websphere ).

http://csis.org/publication/government-open-source-policies

http://opensource.com/government

http://httpd.apache.org/docs/trunk/misc/security_tips.html

7.3 Recommendation

Build on the work undertaken by Berners-Lee and others to ensure that open source solutions are properly explored alongside commercial versions.

 

8. Save time and money through cooperation

8.1 Comment

Require co-operation between IT and infrastructure providers.

8.2 Evidence

Government needs to enforce co-operation rather than reinforce competition between (e.g.) cable and broadband providers, and even legislate for it. Again, a coherent overview could weld the varying providers into a consortium operating under a single remit. Such issues are a good case for policy centralisation . The successful European initiative for a universal phone charger is a pioneering example.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/technology/newsid_8124000/8124293.stm

8.3 Recommendation

Require current and future providers to exchange strategy and plans, and to communicate.

 

9. Learn from the enthusiastic and the agile

9.1 Comment

Learn from the ‘agile’ methods of the newer IT companies and initiatives.

9.2 Evidence

Government bodies would also be well-advised to examine the 'lightweight' but effective and highly portable practices of the newer web companies such as 37 Signals, O'Reilly, the Agile Software movement etc., which have all been instrumental in driving the recent social software web revolution; similar alliances are likely to drive the implementation of the rapidly-developing semantic web initiatives, together with major input from academic research institutes. However, experience gained while advising Arts Council England on web and IT strategy demonstrates that, although mindsets can be changed, it takes enthusiastic insiders to make changes stick. A highly productive and rewarding approach is to assemble and work with an advisory body of knowledgeable individuals, especially those who have emerged as exemplars from their own good practice - NOT (say) through cherry-picking expensive consultants from large companies.

9.3 Recommendation

Examine modern thinking on agile software development, and consider how it may be applied.

10. Develop ‘amplified’ individuals and communities

10.1 Comment

Encourage and involve people in developing vision and the skills to realise vision.

10.2 Evidence

This is a reference to a recently completed NESTA-funded project run by the IOCT in Leicester. See http :// amplifiedcity . typepad . com / leicester / and the NESTA report Amplified Leicester: Impact on Social Capital and Cohesion http :// bit . ly / fsjxpg Amplified Leicester was a city-wide experiment designed to grow the innovation capacity of Leicester by networking key connectors across the city's disparate and diverse communities in an incentivised participatory project enabled by social media. The resulting two-stage model recommended first a 'cocoon' where individual skills are developed, followed by 'emergence' involving dissemination and broader collaboration. The emergence phase has so far generated a 'Vision2020' conference inviting citizens to imagine the city ten years hence, a series of public talks, and most recently the Joseph Rowntree funded Amplified Resilient Community, connecting two very different areas of Leicester in an amplified collaboration. If this model could be applied at the governmental and national level, then genuinely open government could become a reality.

Further, government might consider becoming more ‘transliterate’ by developing and promoting broader skills that move beyond print to encompass the many literacies of new media communications. Ofcom would be the obvious conduit for this.

See http :// www . transliteracy . com

10.3 Recommendation

Examine the initiatives instigated at Amplified Leicester and the Vision2020 conference with a view to rolling this out nationally.

January 2011