General comments

Please leave any general comments about the report here.

12 Responses to “General comments”

  1. Mo says:

    I must confess I’ve only briefly skimmed the content here, though I do intend to look at it properly over the next week or so.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that (admittedly in contrast to many Government reports) it’s painfully specific: the Geospatial Data Reform section, for example, only really covers the Show Us A Better Way competition, without really getting to the meat of the fundamental issue: that of wide availability on RAND terms of OS data. An awful lot of these initiatives seem to forget that *small business* have, moreso in the current climate, especially tight budgets, and if the cost of access to data is measured in thousands (or even the high hundreds) of pounds, it’s simply not going to happen. Yet, the requirements of curious individuals, sole traders, small and medium businesses are all the same as those in large enterprise: straightforward access to wide-ranging data.

    This applies even moreso to the PAF data. Well, part of it. Most consumers of the data don’t care about WalkSort and other ancillary information; all we really want is a per-postcode list of addresses, broken down by field. You know, the data the local councils keep. Except, even if this were to be collected independently (i.e., by asking people to submit their full addresses, and GPS coordinates if they have them, to a website similar to freethepostcode), the legality of publishing and using the resultant database is so unclear that few businesses would want to knowingly take the chance of being sued by the Royal Mail for copyright infringement.

    Indeed, as I work in building e-commerce sites (or rather, I run a hosted e-commerce platform on which many sites are built), I’m painfully aware of the ridiculous licensing terms required to effectively use the subset of PAF data that small businesses and sole traders actually need: so ridiculous, in fact, that we can’t even share installations of the address look-up server software between our clients without purchasing a license costing tens of thousands of pounds a year (the alternative is to run a copy of the server software, along with its own copy of the PAF data, for each client on the same server, or dedicate an entire server to each client; neither is feasible for more than 2-3 clients in real terms on a simple cost/benefit basis, and our clients already pay a fortune for the use of the data in the first place).

    I apologise for this being somewhat ‘rambly’, but while there have been all manner of noises regarding the liberation of information collected on the taxpayer’s dime over the past 3-4 years, the net benefit to me—as a developer employed in a field which makes huge use of this data—has been precisely nil. The only thing which has made life a little bit more pleasant has been the Google Maps web service, which is massively customisable and provides an API call for geocoding an address (and once you have a long/lat of a customer, there are a whole manner of value-add services you can provide to the client who will be shipping goods to them).

  2. This is report will benefit from the fresh air of wider debate in the Acedemic and local and central government world.
    To help do so I have linked it to a blog on the Manchester Business School web site TALK where professionals across this community share ideas and concerns. They may leave comments that will be constructive, they usually are.
    The link is HERE http://www.talknet.eu/confluence/display/~usmansmith/2009/02/03/POWER+OF+INFORMATION

  3. Stuart Ward says:

    How can both this report and the Digital Britain report have been created without mentioning the concepts of Open Source, and Open Standards. These are fundamental to the current development of the internet, and will undoubtedly be the major force in its development.

  4. Readerly texts and writerly texts…

    All in all, this is a splendid and positive step forward, illustrating how a little bit of imagination coupled with a little bit of ingenuity can create new possibilities. But there is always room to be better still, and I have a doubt, a reflection, …

  5. Douglas says:

    Hi there,

    Your site has been added to the WordPress.org Showcase! Congratulations.

    You can view it here:
    http://wordpress.org/showcase/power-of-information-taskforce-report/

  6. Sebastian Crump says:

    I’ve already echoed Mo’s comments about PAF in my comments in the Trading fund section.

    However, there are a couple of other general things that could have a huge impact on the information sharing and any models that come out of this process.

    Firstly, the threat of Software Patents being introduced in the EU. I’m no expert on this by any means, but as I understand it – if these somehow sneak in it could completely undermine the open, sharing vision that this report sets out, as others may patent the ideas of mashing data (either specifically or generally) and then protect those patents and block anyone that tries to do it in an open-source arena. Perhaps this could be examined further and a recommendation for ministers/officials to continue(?) resisting this.

    Secondly, mentions of Data Protection seems oddly missing. The DPA struggles to answer some issues around website engagement data and hosting. For example, depending on interpretations as to whether name/email/IP address and someone’s comment (assuming not obviously personal) count as personal data must dictate whether hosting in US is allowed or not. If WordPress.com is not in a data safe harbour in the US, then any govt dept may be breaching the DPA by using it and allowing comments from UK citizens (if the above is personal data). Similarly if Google Maps are used in a potentially sensitive mash-up (e.g. benefits/shelters/etc.) are there potential unwitting privacy issues with Google’s T&Cs if a user is signed into Google and use it. These are just a couple of concerns I have heard around government for which no unequivocal answer seems to be available. Does the ICO need to be more engaged in this area and provide guidance on social media and its use within government?

    Anyway, I probably haven’t expressed myself very well or given particularly good examples, but I feel that it would be helpful for the report to reflect these sort of things even if only tangentially and recommend that more attention needs to be devoted to exploring them – what mechanism if the task force is dissolving?

  7. Hugh Barnard says:

    Here’s an in-beta (sorry, more sarcasm) commentary on this report at the URL above. I’m sorry about the sarcasm, I’d like to think that there’s some good faith in there.

    However actions are louder than words, we’ll see whether the PAF and bits of Ordnance survey are freed (as leading indicators) or whether there are more ‘reports’ (the usual UK way).

    Meanwhile, more happily, we’ll get on with our own (ill-formed and and naive, of course) without the ‘help’ of NGOs and the civil service.

  8. Ed Parsons says:

    I would just like to compliment the POI Task-force for taking this approach in opening up this document for our comments before submission to the minister.

    The contrast with other strategic reports written over the past few years, behind closed doors over extended periods of time is clear.

    I am thinking in particular of the UK location strategy which was developed in almost secrecy over a number of years without full representation from all stake holders.

    I strongly believe this report and its recommendations carries more weight because of this open and transparent approach.

  9. I read the draft of the Power of Information Review Task Force Report with interest.

    My comment is a general one, although it picks up on a theme discussed in the “Innovate and co-create with citizens online” section. While there is much discussion around improving the public experience of government websites there is no explicit reference to the idea of ‘Web Continuity’.

    If government does not pay attention to the issue of links persistence, then the value of innovation is potentially undermined.

    There is a real need to improve delivery of existing web services as well as, of course, thinking how government can better engage with the citizen through non-government forums, collaborative spaces and by harnessing the power of the Web.

  10. Richard Quarrell says:

    Unlocking the data and sharing of PSI:

    Once you’ve got legislation to say: “it should be done” which we have – the next practical consideration is: “can it be done?”
    • The technology currently available shows that it can be done, and we know how to do it.
    • For many of those holding the data there are emotional and status-quo issues that are currently a problem but these could be overcome easily if government were to engender a “willingness to comply” culture. However those same data holders do have a fundamental problem, and it is this: they “do not know what they have” and where it is – it’s as simple as that. Most public bodies do not have a complete asset list and are willing to admit this.
    • PSIKEY knows how to help them build such a list automatically and inexpensively – and this solution can be applied across the country.
    • Potential re-users are frustrated – you cannot ask for something if you not know exists. A metadata index will enable them to find what they’re looking for.
    • Description and discovery (of data) are the key drivers for significant access to and sharing of data. Whether or not a particular file can be reused at all, and the conditions that apply to those that can be reused, is categorically a secondary issue, and that answer has more to do with the particular file, the nature of its content and any copyright terms associated with it.
    • PSIKEY offers a solution to much of this debate – she is after all “the key to PSI”.

  11. RS says:

    Overall an excellent report that drives us in the right direction in a number of strands.

    The report should also include the need to capture and maintain an adequate corporate record of government debate and discussion in the social media space.

    I would also hope that some activity would be applied to encourage wide participation (addressing concerns, fears or other barriers that some citizens or civil servants might have that would dissuade them from participation). Otherwise the engagement could become restricted to a “power user” clique.

  12. Andy Mabbett says:

    This site is an exemplar of how public bodies should consult with the public (leastways, the net-savvy public). All congratulations to you for that. And thank you.

    Can we expect this model to be used for other consultations, on non-IT issues?