Recommended reading… what China will do next, the failure of humanitarian intervention and a vision for online consultation
Here’s what’s been keeping me enthralled on the commute this week…
1. With China projected to overtake the United States in terms of economic output within the next ten years, many commentators are again speaking of a new ‘Asian century’ and the ‘decline of the West’. At Chatham House recently, Niall Ferguson drew on the last 600 years of world history to offer an insight into the changing global balance in terms not only of economics but also of geopolitics and ‘soft power’. Transcripts, video and audio are on http://chathamhouse.org.uk/events/view/-/id/1945/.
2. Adam Curtis consistently causes me think again about what I think I know. His new documentary series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is classic Curtis fare: sinsiter music + archive footage + dogma + elites perpetrating that dogma + scathing critique = licence fee well spent. But I am an even bigger fan of his blog, and this article on the ‘idea of humanitarian intervention‘ I found provocative against the backdrop of Mladic’s arrest, extradition and trial.
3. Consultation is a ‘set piece’ of government. Doing it better online is a coalition commitment. But how? As well as tackling search, usability and agile development on a centralised government website, an Alphagov sub-team also turned their attentions to consultation and policy engagement. What they came up with was a succint and persuasive proposal that deserves attention and further development, particularly what it has to say about ‘layering’. There’s an introduction from Neil Williams and a copy of the deck on the Alphagov project blog- http://blog.alpha.gov.uk/blog/a-vision-for-online-consultation-and-policy-engagement.
‘Our public services face an unprecedented set of challenges… Reform can’t confront these challenges effectively; radical innovation in public services now needs to move from the margins to the mainstream. The question is what analysis and principles should inform this radical innovation.’
The answer, argued in this discussion paper, is co-production. It defines co-production and sets out an emerging sector through case studies in order to build a better understanding and stronger evidence base for a method that asks both those delivering and using services to contribute in equal measure.
‘The quality of Departments’ work depends on their ‘human capital’, built up over a long period through appropriate recruitment, career management and training practices. The Centre has an important input to make in all of these areas.’
The Better Government Initiative aims to canvass the widest possible range of views, and to publish concrete recommendations which will be of practical interest not only to all three major parties, but also to the public more widely. The ‘Report on Departments‘ provides an interesting insight into the balance between the Centre and Departments, and makes a series of cross-cutting recommendations to optimise their relationship.
‘The seventh annual Audit of Political Engagement, is the most important since the series was launched in 2004. It is published after a horrendous year for Parliament and just ahead of a general election.’
The Audit of Political Engagement series is a longitudinal study, providing an annual benchmark to measure political engagement in the UK. Each Audit presents the findings from a public opinion poll survey, providing detailed commentary on a range of indicators that have been chosen as key measures. These indicators enable tracking year on year the direction and magnitude of change since the Audit was first published in 2004.
The UK Government is about to hire a new Director of Digital Engagement. The submission deadline for applicants will pass in a few days time.
Whoever gets it will find the gig well-attended but demanding. They are going to have to play a long and blindingly brilliant set. It’s make or break. Pull it off and digital engagement goes mainstream; fluff it and it’s back to support slots on the campus circuit.
Just four years ago, when I started working with Government on digital engagement projects, you could count the people who were interested on two hands, easy. Today, digital engagement is known to every layer of government, factored into most communications and is building a head of steam in the policy-making process. True it’s still quite innovative and niche, but those in the vanguard are in demand and earn respect.
In some ways we may have come too far. At times I am sceptical of the value in an out-and-out Director of Digital Engagement. I think my preference would be for a Director of Engagement who has no bias toward on- or offline, with perhaps a Head of Digital working for them. A time-limited taskforce working with departments to stimulate practice, build core capacity and promote evaluation would also have worked well.
I’m also apprehensive about parts of the job description, particularly the target of ‘two departments whose use of digital engagement are recognised in the digital community as being world class’. Why only two? Why digital community recognition and not citizen satisfaction? And, in the absence of consensus on ‘best practice’ digital engagement in any sector, how is ‘world class’ defined?
Scepticism aside, the appointment will be an exciting moment. I count the creation of this post as one of the rays of recognition dawning across our democracy about the importance of digital media to good governance. It feels good to bask in that light. It’s an amazing job – high profile, focussed and hugely significant. I, for one, can’t wait for them to get started.
On that note, here is a suggestion to the new Director of Digital Engagement for six quick-wins:
- Don’t emulate, define… no government can claim it is ‘world class’ at digital engagement – no, not even the Obama Administration. The opportunity to lead is right there for the taking (and sharing). That’s the winning state-of-mind.
- Plug in to analogue… good engagement is balanced engagement. It may not be as high-profile, but ‘offline’ engagement is brimming with innovations; so seek out your peers from other disciplines and integrate your efforts.
- Go walk about… before going out to the market, tour around the government departments and agencies and you will be encouraged by all the great digital work that is going on already. You’ll meet people deserving of credit, people who want to help you deliver on those lofty targets.
- Codify it… develop a charter that sets out the responsibilities of citizen- and government-users of digital engagement. In particular, reassure the public about the sanctity of their data, so that they are more wiling to share the good stuff that makes for more informed and efficient policies and services.
- Prioritise delivery… the communications and policy communities are pretty well-versed on digital engagement, ‘frontline’ delivery staff not so much. Their competency is absolutely key to winning over the public.
- Take regular readings… pre, interim and post-activity evaluation is going to be all important for determining and justifying what has been achieved. But remember, give departments time to pull the figures together and not all big numbers are good numbers.
For some further reflection and good advice, have a look at http://digitalengagement.uservoice.com.
And, if any of the interview panel read this: don’t be tempted by bullying ‘wonks’. Know-it-all, pseudo-counter-culturals are ten-a-penny in this field; let’s have someone who is dynamic, objective and positive to be around.
Was part of a good discussion today about 1) highs-and-lows of the digital year [almost] gone and 2) hopes and fears for the year to come.
Barack Obama’s use of digital media featured highly in both. We spoke about our shared admiration for the election campaign, and our shared aspirations for what might happen after January 20th 2009.
What excites someone in my sort of role about what the new US Administration might do with digital, is how it might excite other leaders around the world and encourage them to keep pace.
Only time will tell if the adventurous, inclusive and integrated approach to digital we witnessed during the presidential campaign will translate to an average day in the White House. But I think the portents are positive.
I was looking forward to attending both, but I’m going make neither. Illness in the family.
I want to apologise to Alex Stobart in particular for dropping out because I was due to be leading one of the sessions.
At both events I wanted to make some time for discussing the issue of political will for engagement, and more specifically online engagement.
Is there the will amongst our politicians to involve the people of Scotland in the democracy of the nation, I believe there is. But it’s a will that is blocked, by what I’m not sure – it could be party politics, it could be resources, it could be a cultural thing. And if we figure out what the block is – well, what do we do about it? What is the vision of the e-enabled Scottish polity, what is the role of the elected representative and how can we as citizens, activists, practitioners and critics support them and hold them to account?
This issue is key. I’ll be interested in what the speakers and the delegates at both events have to say on the matter.
Last Thursday I gave a presentation on eDemocracy in Scotland for Urban Learning Space in Glasgow’s Lighthouse. This is the first opportunity that I’ve had since then to post about it – things have been pretty busy (that’ll be obvious from the irregularity of the posts on this blog).
It was first public-speaking gig since November last year. I had quite enjoyed the lay-off (for a while there it felt like I was doing one every week) but I really enjoyed getting back into it – although there was definitely a bit of rust. What felt particularly good was the chance to speak about Scotland, its experience of eDemocracy and what might happen in years to come. It’s a subject that is never far from my mind but I’ve had few opportunities to present on before this.