Innovate and co-create with citizens online

 

A ‘backstage’ model for government

The Taskforce endorses the sentiment of this passage from the DIUS White Paper on Innovation:

‘Innovation in public services will be essential to the UK’s ability to meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century….The Government is uniquely placed to drive innovation in public services, through allocating resources and structuring incentives. Major forces such as attitudes to risk, budgeting, audit, performance measurement and recruitment must be aligned to support innovation. Together, and with effective leadership, these will progressively overcome existing cultural and incentive barriers. Those responsible for public service delivery must also learn the lessons of open innovation and adopt innovative solutions from the private and third sectors.’

Quoted from DIUS Innovation Nation section 44.

The web enables and indeed is enabled by open innovation on a large scale.  There is an opportunity for the public sector to work with the web community to drive  innovation in public information and web services.  The Show Us A Better Way competition, a simple online call for ideas on reuse of public data attracted 500 entries. One of the UK’s and arguably the world’s leading examples of information-based open innovation is the BBC service known as ‘backstage.bbc.co.uk‘.  In its FAQ, the BBC explains its backstage model thus:

Who is backstage.bbc.co.uk for?

backstage.bbc.co.uk is for individual developers and designers to build things using BBC content and anyone who has an idea for how to use BBC content in new ways. It is not for big corporates to play around with. backstage.bbc.co.uk is for non-commercial use by the little people.

backstage.bbc.co.uk is part of the BBC’s wider remit to “build public value” by sharing our content for others to use creatively. How do you “build public value”? One of the ways is through supporting innovation as the BBC Governors response to the Graf report of BBC online makes clear:

“The BBC will support social innovation by encouraging users’ efforts to build sites and projects that meet their needs and those of their communities … The BBC will also be committed to using open standards that will enable users to find and repurpose BBC content in more flexible ways.”

backstage.bbc.co.uk aims to promote innovation amongst the design and developer community: if people are able to do interesting, productive things with the content then we’d like to support them. Finally and as a useful by-product of the above, backstage.bbc.co.uk is an opportunity to identify talent in the online community.”

The Taskforce sees a number of advantages for the public services in adopting this model.

  • It would create an ongoing source of innovative ideas for the use of government data, some of which may be rolled back into the principal websites whilst others remain free-standing.

  • It has the potential to build stronger working relationships between developers inside and outside government strengthening the capabilities of both parties.

  • And it would provide a useful channel for resolving some of the technical issues around access to government data that is made available under the Public Sector Information reuse regime.

The Taskforce has discussed at some length with the government website Directgov the potential for innovation along the lines of backstage.bbc.co.uk  We understand that Directgov welcomes this initiative, and were pleased to see the recent launch of their first innovation platform – innovate.direct.gov.uk.

The Taskforce judges that leading public sector sites should create a Government Backstage capability as a joint effort.  This will concentrate developer talent and public interest in one place and create a virtual centre of excellence in public sector data mashing. If Government Backstage were to work closely with BBC Backstage there is the potential to create a world class innovation and R&D resource.

Recommendation 3

Unlock innovation in leading public sector sites using a ‘backstage model‘, a standing open online innovation space allowing the general public and staff to co-create information-based public services.  This capability should be a standard element of public information service design. The government should build on the new backstage service for Directgov.