Executive Summary (draft)



This report appears for comment, in beta, shortly after Lord Carter’s interim report on Digital Britain.  The Taskforce’s  recommendations affect the things people do with the broadband networks that are the major focus of Digital Britian.  This report is about improving Digital Britons’ online experience by providing expert help from the public sector online, where people seek it, and by freeing up the UK’s public sector information for innovative new services.  This reports seeks to move into the mainstream activities that are currently minority best practice.

Millions of people in Britain regularly seek help online in public about their daily lives.  The help people seek is often about the delivery of public services or on a wide range of issues such as tax, benefits, healthcare, noise pollution, running a business, local democracy or even animal husbandry where the public sector is trying to help.  The public sector can and should help people online in the places they go to seek help.

The public sector can play a valuable role in adding expert advice to support discussions online as long as it respects the context of the discussion.  This is a culture shift for people who work in public services and for civil servants in particular.  The Taskforce makes recommendations to help this culture shift and make more transparent the public sector’s attempts to engage online, which we think public servants should do as a matter of course.

The Taskforce ran a competition for innovative ideas to co-create public services.  ‘Show Us a Better Way’ was a success, receiving praise worldwide, and showed the potential for innovation that engages the general public.  In the extended UK public sector, the BBC has a world leading model for innovation in its ‘backstage’ service which allows people to innovate in remarkable ways with the BBC’s data and services.  The Taskforce recommends that UK central government should create such a capability.  A ‘backstage’ for central government would help to unlock the huge potential of the government’s information.  If such a model were to work closely with experienced organisations like the BBC there is an opportunity to create a world class online virtual innovation centre.

Steinberg and Mayo in the original power of information work referred to the need for a more liberal approach to the re-use of geospatial data in the UK, especially that provided by the Ordnance Survey.  The Show Us a Better Way competition demonstrated the popularity of making sense of complex information by putting it on a map.  The Taskforce makes recommendations for Ordnance Survey to free up their licensing regime in general and make information available for free on simple terms for innovators and the third sector.

Data and information are the lifeblood of the knowledge economy.  Digital Britain would receive an information stimulus if the Taskforce’s recommendations on liberalising non personal government information are followed through.  There is the potential to release huge quantities of information for re-use by innovators in SMEs, the third sector and even big business.  Our recommendations would help government follow through on the Prime Minister’s thoughtful 2007 comment that ‘Public information does not belong to Government, it belongs to the public on whose behalf government is conducted’

Now is the ideal time for the public sector to acquire new skills and practices required to follow through the innovative approaches the Taskforce recommends.  Early signs from the Obama administration in the USA suggest that digital innovators in the Administration are thinking along about re-use of data along the lines above.  When mainstreaming any innovation, systemic culture and behaviour change is required. The Taskforce makes a range of recommendations to enable and embed those changes.

RSS feed of comments 21 Responses to “Summary”

  1. Typo in first paragraph: ‘Britian’ (sorry).

  2. Tony Hirst says:

    I maybe should comment on this section AFTER reading the rest of the report – it is a “Summary” after all – but something I’d hope to see in the report, and then maybe summarised here, would be distinctions between|:
    - making services available to the “general public” end users;
    - making services and information available to intermediaries such as the press and maybe Higher Education (e.g. by encouraging undergraduates to explore and engage with policy consultations in the subject areas they are studying);
    - making services and data available to developers and ‘people who play’ in such a way that they can create intermediary websites aimed at “general public” end-users, or helper services/code aimed at other developers.

  3. Simon Whitehouse says:

    I think you should lose the first instance of “along” in the second sentence of the last paragraph. It doesn’t make sense as it is.

  4. Jeremy Dent says:

    The point about government agencies collecting data, often with the public’s co-operation, and then selling it back to them makes little sense could me made more strongly.

    Freeing up such data would give a huge boost to the knowledge economy at a time when this is vital.

  5. Jeni Tennison says:

    ED: Suggest you change “allows” to “encourages” in the fourth paragraph where it says “…the BBC has a world leading model for innovation in its ‘backstage’ service which allows people to innovate in remarkable ways with the BBC’s data and services.”

  6. Matt Wardman says:

    The full stop at the end is upside down.

    Back later with more comments.

  7. I’m putting these here because they’re general comments:

    - a bit of supplementary informmation would be useful (eg links to such things as Ordnance Survey, or to explanation of them);

    - please expand acronyms at least the first time the’re used (eg ‘Small and medium enterprises (SMEs)’).

  8. John Darlington says:

    There appear to be two topics here: one public engagement on-line and the other utilisation of public data. The transition from one to the other looks burred. The para starting “The Taskforce ran..” doesn’t feel a clear separation. The sentence “Data and information are the lifeblood of the knowledge economy” makes a clear separation if moved up the order.

    Hope this helps…

  9. John Darlington says:

    I would also swap the order in the last para to give a crisp ‘call to action’ as the final statement.

    “Now is the ideal time for the public sector to acquire new skills and practices required to follow through the innovative approaches the Taskforce recommends. “

  10. Unless I’m missing it, this exec summary lacks any kind of nod towards Recommendation 7 – about enabling people to comment on the formulation of new government policy. In fact, while citizen and business benefits are name checked here, there’s nothing about potential for people representing partner/stakeholder orgs to gain from the power of information.

  11. I agree with John D that there seem to be two topics here – engaging with citizens online and utilisation of public data. They seem quite different (although linked by the idea of Web 2.0). I think it would be worth either saying near the top – we focused on two key issues.. or making clear the link between the two issues.

  12. Noel says:

    We need more “backstaging” where staff and citizens come together to co-create and prototype services, rather than a “big bang, big bucks” approach

  13. I came back to this executive summary having read the whole report and I wonder whether the summary does full justice to the power of the report. It reads a bit like another introduction. I think it would be good to inject a bit more passion and to highlight some of the key recommendations a bit more clearly. If someone new to this debate just read the executive summary, would he/she know what we are all getting excited about?

  14. I agree with Paul Johnson’s remark above.

    In addition, the subject matter is enormously diverse and no treatment can cover all aspects. The report should perhaps acknowledge this. For example there may be instances where the release of PSI may be potentially damaging. This might include data on coal mine workings or flood plains where the data might be misinterpreted (eg by insuurance companies) if not used by experts; a minor but not inconsequential conundrum.

  15. Des McConaghy says:

    The trouble about Tom’s initiative is that nobody relates it to the central policy issues. Time we did!!

    The Cabinet Office Power of Information Taskforce is great stuff – especially when targeting the “Trading Fund Model” – an inhouse term which means Sweet Fanny Adams to the mass of people. So is it not time for a much more central policy attack on the persistent barriers to actual progress? Because that would demonstrate the way our so-called “public service” profit maximizing regimes – with their corresponding reckless Casino minded approach to macro-economic policy – also dictate how all levels of public sector managers followed this pattern; consistently outsourcing increasingly fragmented services and programmes and selling them off the many bits to plausible bidders; and indeed where possible also selling off public service HR management itself – and all with a totally disastrous disregard for the actual regional and local constituency impacts, let alone useful feedback.

    And show, show, please show how in doing all this we gave up any coherent ideas for maintaining or renewing the economic base of this country in a way that could lead to the improvement of real incomes – just as we have sacrificed our national strategic interests in everything from manufacturing to agriculture. Yes even “food security” has been sacrificed. Thus our top officials set the tone by ensuring that the purchase of all central and local government services from the private sector was placed at the very centre of this country’s so called “economic policy” – and they then took their pensions and went to the boards of major banks. And the irony of all this inevitable and mindless fragmentation has been its complete and horrendous failure as a market strategy. It ignored the fact that modern markets need a truly accountable – and very visible – public sector framework to succeed

    That is now a widely acknowledged defect in the Prime Minister’s keynote “Market Failure” speech to the Social Market Foundation in 2003. He ignored – inter alia – how markets succeed! But as a modern miscalculation it nevertheless found fertile ground in Britain where great efforts have always been made to limit any coherent or systematic relationships between macro and local constituency management. As the US academic Douglas Ashford wrote, “No other government has been so successful in keeping functional and territorial choices distinct, which may be the major weakness of center-local policymaking in Britain” (Policy and Politics in Britain, Basil Blackwell, 1981).

    So this is the damning scenario that has consistently frustrated the reform of
    geospatial data systems in Britain – and unless we recognize the connection now it will simply go on doing so. We have never elevated the debate to these central policy directing levels; we have never related the debate to the dubious and often now discredited macro policies of ministers and mandarins alike. Well over two decades ago some of us had little trouble breaking down large sections of national programmes and making them available online in a way that crossed all bureaucratic boundaries. That was then – before officials were enjoined to seek the maximum financial return for all tradeable official data. The rot then set in – plus the emasculation of public audit and the reluctance to extend audit into the growing areas of “commercial confidentiality” and services – as then “shared services” became more fragmented, outsourced and even offshored. And so we now advance concepts such as the “Power of Information Taskforce” while still resisting a corresponding straightforward approach in the rest of public service; a straightforward approach to making the geopolitical outputs of public policy more explicit. Thus too the rest of public service still stifles any systematic sectoral or constituency feedback, revealing finally a governmental system that just doesn’t work; one that has exhausted its remedies.

    Tom Watson, Tom Steinberg et al – tell it how it is!

  16. [...] generated over 100 comments on different sections of the report. Thse comments have ranged from grammatical mistakes/typos to more detailed policy discussions.  The ease at which content in the report can be annotated, [...]

  17. Richard Quarrell says:

    “Data and information are the lifeblood of the knowledge economy”… this is certainly true, but it’s essential to know what you’ve got…

    The task of describing information assets is of paramount importance; the creation of IARs is key. Our product can help create an accurate and comprehensive list of information assets automatically. This gives the data holder immediate benefits:
    (1) Suddenly they know what they have and where it is; and they know what they don’t have.
    (2) They know that what they have is in the right place regarding internal access (i.e. should all those files in that “shared folder” properly be there?)
    (3) They will have confidence in the provenance and assurance of the data they hold; this will help manage risk (including data loss).
    (4) This process might reveal duplicate files, or files that should have been deleted long ago; this process will give them the opportunity for a thorough audit and house cleaning – they will be happy!
    IARs, identification of information assets, confirming who the data owners are, consistency of approach and standards for recording, compliance and audit arrangements for better management of data handling – all these issues are in the sights of the Hannigan Report launched last November – so they are important and they impact on this POI review equally.

  18. POIT Moderator says:

    Thanks for the comments so far on this section. It does seem clear that it is a candidate for an extensive rewrite when we produce the final report next week. One question we are asking is whether we need an Exec Summary at all or should just put the short versions of the recommendations upfront.

    Richard Allan, Taskforce Chair.

  19. Neil Jenkins says:

    The Government spends a small fortune on its websites and they’re mostly rubbish since this spend is spread thinly and Governments are never any good at making decent media.

    Government should not make websites. It doesn’t make TV programmes, it gets the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to do it for them and they do it much better.

    The same logic applies to government websites which are trying to educate & inform. Get an organisation other than the Government to do them for it, so the sites can Inform Educate & Entertain, so they’ve a chance of reaching the people who will need them most.

    NHS site is OK, but *SO* dull. Direct .Gov is a shambles.

  20. APPSI welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation report. Our response reflects a majority view (but is not unanimous).

    APPSI commends the valuable contribution that the draft Power of Information report makes towards advancing the re-use of public sector information in order to improve public services and stimulate innovation, and in broad terms endorses its recommendations.

    The report recognises that ‘data and information are the lifeblood of the knowledge economy’. APPSI welcomes the Task Force’s recommendations to develop the knowledge economy through a more simplified licensing regime to enable greater re-use of information by innovators, commercial organisations and government.

  21. Iain Henderson says:

    This has been a great exercise but I think we now need to push on to do a similar one on the much trickier exercise of free-ing up personal information held by government.

    Simplistically for example, if UK.gov is gathering all my travel information – why don’t you update my Dopplr profile for me at the same time. I’m only half-kidding on that, but there are many more less sensitive opportunities that could be explored.

    Perhaps a different approach to the project might be required – but not doing it would miss out on a huge chunk of upside for both individuals and the organisations involved – Project VRM can help articulate those upsides.