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

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

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”

Where there’s a will…

Tonight is the Hansard Society’s eDemocracy event in the Scottish Parliament, and on Friday its the Scot Web 2 Conference at Edinburgh University.

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.

Getting Together with Transport for London

I quite like Transport for London’s ‘Together for London‘ network site.

The idea instinctively appeals to me. I used to live in London and, when I moved there, I was surprised by the lack the manners on public transport and the reticence of passengers and staff to intervene. Now, I’m moving there again and I’m not looking forward to the commuting; any campaign to improve the experience of using London’s transport system would be warmly welcomed.

First off it’s a OK looking site, with a decent, if conventional architecture. There are some general styling/display issues that will get sorted in time, no doubt. I’ve got a bigger problem with the avatars. I wonder if people aren’t just a bit tired of creating avatars. I can see what they are trying to do, and I like the idea of the avatars and campaigns being brought out of the site and on to the bus, train or bike lane, but the quality is too low and I don’t think there will be many people rushing out to wear their avatar t-shirt. ‘Naf’ is the word that comes to mind when I see the avatars and the design concept – looks a bit like kids were forced to design the site for a school competition.

I think I will use this site. I intend to follow an contribute to some discussions and campaigns, I may even start my own. But I will be on the watch for this descending into an all-out grieving-post. Two things will stop that happening, responsibility for both falls to TfL.
Continue reading “Getting Together with Transport for London”

Democracy 2.0 – Event Presentation Slides

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.
Continue reading “Democracy 2.0 – Event Presentation Slides”

eDemocracy Scotland: Creating a national conversation?

The Scottish Parliament is often lauded as being a crucible of innovation around parliamentary procedures and public engagement methods. In terms of eDemocracy, the Parliament’s ePetition’s service is by far one of the most prominent in the world. But an ePetitions service does not an eDemocracy make.

It would be fair to say that beyond Parliament’s online petitions, Scottish-based eDemocracy has been a slow-riser. But rising it is. On February 1st 2008, Holyrood Conferences is holding Scotland’s first dedicated eDemocracy conference to discuss progress to date, how Scottish eDemocracy fits into the wider polity and, of course, where to next.

I will be delivering the Conference’s presentation on the technological infrastructure underpinning Scottish eDemocracy. A refreshing change to the vision-thing presentations I am used to delivering.

As well as looking at the issues through a parliamentary lens, other sessions will look at the Scottish Government and the civil society in Scotland.

For more information, visit

Hope to see you there!

UK Government & Social Media… Ones to Watch

I was lucky enough to start work with the UK Government just as it began to take an interest in what we are now/currently calling social media. That was 2005 and there was hardly anything happening. Today, it’s a different story.

With a host of initiatives on the go, I thought I’d pick out 10 that I think are particularly interesting:

  1. Ministry of JusticeBarCampUKGovweb was an idea floating about waiting to happen, and Jeremy Gould got it off the ground. It’s the first event of its kind for the UK government.
  2. National Health Service – The Our NHS, Our Future activity is putting a lot of weight on its online engagement components. The issue is meaty and its an intriguing opportunity for NHS stakeholders to direct its development. But will the people come? And how will the government tie up their online with the offline activity?
  3. Foreign and Commonwealth Office – when David Miliband arrived, engagement shot up the agenda, particularly online. Not content with just the Secretary of State blogging, staff from across the FCO were invited to get in on the action and duly did.
  4. Government Communications Network – the Social Media Review and associated activities, being led out of the GCN, is taking on the challenge of helping an area of government so used to controlling the message to adapt to a new communications environment.
  5. Downing Street – it’s use of ePetitions was the biggest UK eDemocracy story yet. But will it see out the winter? Well, yes, but with parliament planning its own online petitions system, will time be called on the government’s biggest and most infamous social media experiment yet?
  6. Communities and Local Government – the CLG rebuilt its corporate website using community software. The CLG was one of the first departments to make a conscious effort to utilise social media. The use of deliberative forums by a range of policy teams is worth watching alone, then you factor in the blogs and wikis and you start to realise the importance of this department’s activity.
  7. Defra – the software that runs the CO2 calculator, complete with the government data, has been made freely available under general public licence. Google has used it in its carbon footprint widget.
  8. DirectGov – according to the ONS, 6 in 10 of the UK’s web users have accessed government services via DirectGov. So, where to now? Is there room for a social media angle in the next phase of development?
  9. Ministry of Justice – OK, I’m a bit bias but Digital Dialogues, which is in its final phase, has been putting data about government blogs, forums, webchats etc in the public domain since all this social media interest kicked off.
  10. SS/SIS – a bit of a flippant inclusion. I’ve no idea what they’re doing with social media but whatever it is, it’s bound to be worth keeping an eye on.

Please flag up any others you know about. Maybe there’s some similar stuff going on elsewhere in this big globe of ours.