Who is accountable? Giving power away in a centralised political culture

We are all localists now.

So starts a new research report by IPPR exploring the political consensus around decentralisation and the barriers to achieving it in practice – Who’s accountable? The challenge of giving power away in a centralised political culture.

The researchers asked a representative sample who they regarded as accountable for the performance of public services. Across a range of services – health and policing, for example – no matter who is charge, the public placed responsibility firmly at the feet of government. However, in other cases – such as education and transport – accountability is more diffuse. Why?

The report considers a number of factors, but of particular importance seems to be good communication. When power is devolved, the lines of accountability must be made clear. The examples of devolution in Scotland and public transport make for interesting case studies in this respect.

However, in the report the authors write:

… ministers may be more inclined to give up powers where lines of accountability are clear and when they can be reassured that once they’ve let go, the public, the media and the oppoistion will accedpt that responsibility rests at the local level.

I do think the authors should have spent longer considering the important influence of party politics and media representation, alongside that of public attitudes and perceptions, in order to get the full picture.

Otherwise, it is an interesting and well set out piece of original research.

Perspectives on POI

Got round to adding suggestions, comments and queries to the Power of Information Taskforce Report.

The report is really very good. The recommendations it makes have ambition but are also achievable. It goes to show what can be done by taskforces made up of government insiders and outsiders given a clear remit, enough time and sufficient gravitas.

But it could be sharper and stronger.

I’ve added specifics to the commentable version.

What I want to raise here – for lack of a better place – are three more general concerns.

1. More good news... I expected far more of reporting on what has been achieved by government since the original review. Partly because it encourages those who have done good work to keep going, and partly because it encourages the uninitiated or blockers to get involved. Think this would be quite easy for the Taskforce to include because they all know what’s been going on and who’s been behind it.

2. Focus on freeing up information… When the Taskforce talks geo-spatial data, right of re-use, IT access and the like, it makes a great appraisal of what’s wrong and a fantastic case for how it could be done better (roughly, Recommendations 9 – 22). When it drifts off into the policy dialogues, forums and guidance, it all gets woollier and less convincing. These recommendations seem less well-researched and bit too narrow, like an after-thought. By all means reference how the likes of online policy dialogues could be improved by civil servant participation and better access to raw data, but keep it as a prospective benefit to be explored rather than recommending particular courses of action.

3. Make the case… A 10 million pound government innovation budget would be so exciting! But make the case. Is that a lot or a little compared to what? Where should efforts be directed – sites, mash-ups, skills? And what would the prospective results?

Spending less, yet spending more

Ofcom has released its 2008 Communications Market Review.

Haven’t had the chance to plough through it yet, but the main headline seems to be that Brits are spending more time communicating, yet spending less money to do so.

These reports are fantastic data sources, so it’s worth spending some time and bandwidth downloading it.

Interestingly Ofcom are running a trial of an ‘experimental, interactive version’ of the report’s key points. In essence, it’s a ‘social text’ allowing users to place comments against each point in the document (like the one that DIUS are running).

I think it’s a good idea but they seem a little too cautious about the whole thing.

Have a look at comment.ofcom.org.uk/cmr08.

Parliaments and ICT – going on from here

I’ve had an opportunity to – properly – go through the World e-Parliament Report, produced by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

As I knew it would be, it is an excellent piece of work. I think that the particular value lies in the fact that it looks at a range of possible applications of ICT and covers as many Parliaments as possible.

For me, the recommendations were also an important inclusion. Everyone knows the state of play and where the problems lie, but very few know how to make decisive steps toward addressing these challenges. The Report’s recommendations are clear and achievable and it will be interesting to watch Parliaments try to enact them.

And this tracking, I think, is crucial. Which Parliaments take up the challenge? Which make the best efforts with the limited resources at their disposal? Which are innovative? Which are conservative and static? Which are lazy and isolationist? I think it would be worth taking this tracking on another level and actually setting up some awards to be given out at the Centre’s annual Conference.

I would also like to suggest:
Continue reading “Parliaments and ICT – going on from here”

World e-Parliament Report 2008 Published

They say:

“The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Inter-Parliamentary Union launched today the World e-Parliament Report 2008. The Report was prepared as part of the work of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

The  World e-Parliament Report 2008 represents the first effort to establish a baseline of how parliaments are using, or planning to use ICT to help them carry out their representative, lawmaking and oversight responsibilities and to connect to their constituencies. It is also intended to advance a shared knowledge base among the parliaments of the world and to promote international debate on these matters.

The Report is based on the responses and comments provided by 105 assemblies from around the world to a survey on the use of ICT in parliament conducted between July and November 2007. It also draws on experiences exchanged during the World e-Parliament Conference 2007 and relevant publicly available information”.

I say:

“An excellent and very important piece of research. Significant, because it covers all conceivable applications of ICT by parliaments across the world. Well done to Gherardo, Jeffrey and Jane for putting it together”.

The Report is available at www.ictparliament.org.