Mid-course breather, not mid-life crisis

Tough Guy Assualt Course (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Tough Guy Assualt Course (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Interesting analysis of the Obama-Biden Administration’s problems in using the web in way they had envisaged now that they are in government, that picks up on an earlier article in the Washington Post.

Familiar problems for us in the UK, I’m sure you’ll agree (not the ‘uncharted territory’ Macon Phillips laments).

The more and more of these articles I read, the more it convinces me that the UK government is as far into this as our trans-Atlantic colleagues (from some vantages we are further ahead).

Truth is, this is just the middle of the course and we have probably been taking a breather to build up the energy before tackling some of the bigger obstacles toward the finish-line.

To Macon Philips and team, I say ‘welcome, let’s confer and see if we can team up’.

Stuff what I has been reading… 23/02 – 01/03

Second Life is a feudal society

James Grimmelmann produces a very well-worked analysis of the law and feudal dimensions of Second Life. ‘Virtual worlds built purely for play and where the stakes are not too large should remain mostly untouched by the offline legal system’, he writes, but are we not always hearing how Second Life is a real market?

Can Social Networking Technology Undo Old Political Networks?

No, says Silvio Waisbord, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. And, quite frankly, he’s tired of hearing the suggestion that it might. Quite a loosely-argued piece, but I pick it up because hidden somewhere in there is a fantastic research opportunity to analyse what happens to a polity when the discourse is split across conventional and innovative media.

MPs talk but don’t listen online

… so reports the Hansard Society in its recent snapshot of the ways in which parliamentarians are – or are not – making use of digital media. Disappointing that the pace of change has been so slow. It would be great if the next report went local to find out what constituents think.

Ministers are pretty chatty on average

Visualisation of ministerial webchat replies
Visualisation of ministerial webchat replies

I’ve managed and evaluated a few ministerial webchats in my time, and I’m expecting to run a few more.

When organising a webchat two questions always pop up.

One, how many questions will be received? The answer has to be: how long is a piece of string, or more accurately, how interesting is a piece of string. Sometimes you get 50, sometimes 5000.

Two, how many questions can the Minister expect to answer in the time (usually 60 minutes)? That’s an easier question to answer with an inclination, but recently I’ve been wanting to give a more precise answer. So, I thought I’d try to get one.

The aim was to get an average number, not produce a league table. A league table is pointless because each webchat attracts different questions requiring different answers that take different lengths of time to satisfy.

I restricted myself to ministerial webchats (no senior civil servants) and those run on departmental websites or channels. All webchats were text-based (practically all are) and run after 2005. Some ministers appear more than once, because they’ve done more than one webchat (dates available if you want). All the webchats had to be public-facing to count.

I found the transcripts through site archives and allowed myself to search back as far as three pages into a Google search. I think it was a pretty exhaustive search, but please let me know if I’ve missed any. I then counted the ‘replies’, which in webchat parlance count as answers. I did the count manually but thoroughly, though I accept there may be a reply missed or added here and there.

The answer: on average a minister manages to answer 21 questions in a webchat.

Continue reading “Ministers are pretty chatty on average”

Commons in Cyberspace – coming to pass?

Back in 2006 (when we were still going about in horse-drawn carts and every man wore a hat)  I wrote a think-piece (as we called them) about ‘Commons in Cyberspace‘, building on some academic work written by Jay Blumler and Stephen Coleman in 2001 (probably in a cave over a dinner of mammoth and sabre-tooth cat).

We called it ‘edemocracy’ back then. Oh, how they laughed.

:)

‘Digital Democracy’ Predictions for 2009

I’m into my second year of blogging, and this year is almost done. So I thought I’d celebrate and sign off for 2008 with a few ‘digital democracy’ predictions for 2009.

I can’t emphasise enough that none of these predictions are based on inside knowledge of existing plans. I just thought it would be fun to reflect and have a go at judging the way the digital wind is blowing into the year to come.

Here goes…

  1. A ‘household name’ government department will launch a large-scale crowd-sourcing site for the purposes of problem-solving. Not a one-off PR exercise; it’ll be something more like what we are used to from the likes of Dell and InnoCentive but it will have to be even more efficient and incisive. It will go through a bunch of phases before the department gets it right.
  2. Two states will be at loggerheads over the way one of them has been using the web to engage the citizens of the other. It won’t be cyber-warfare, more a gentlemanly disagreement, but it will spark a debate that’s been long overdue.
  3. A local government will fall head-over-heels in love with the promise of eDemocracy and launch into an ambitious project to put digital front-and-centre of its democratic processes and service provision. It will be facilitated with next-generation municipal ICT and it will capture our imaginations but it will come at a price.
  4. We’ll all be fascinated with what Obama does in office, but he’s going to have to work hard to live up to the standards we became accustomed to over the course of the presidential campaign. I reckon he will pull it off.
  5. The UK Parliament will launch a virtual-version of Westminster Hall debates. The MPs will love it, the officials will be tearing their hair out.
  6. The ‘digerati’ will freak at all this good stuff coming out of political institutions because it takes away the founding basis of their books, lectures, sites and films – that institutions and elected representatives don’t get people and they sure as hell don’t get digital. It will take them a while to get their heads round it, there will be a lot of foot-stamping and door-slamming, but then there will always be consultancies.
  7. A government department will move away from a standard homepage to a drag-and-drop dashboard model. Others will quickly follow.
  8. Sadly there will be a disaster somewhere in the developed world but digital communications infrastructure will be sufficiently intact to play a pivotal role in dealing with the emergency and speeding up the rescue and rebuilding effort. The integrity and quality of digital infrastructure will race up the political agenda overnight.
  9. As more and more citizens come online to access services and hold their representatives to account, efforts to to promote political literacy will have to be redoubled and the volume will have to be turned up on the participative opportunities inherent in representative democracy.
  10. I will blog a lot less about digital democracy and turn to some of the other things in life that interest me.

I reckon these are all good bets – bar number 10.

What do you think?

You gave us your money, now give us your feedback

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.

Continue reading “You gave us your money, now give us your feedback”