'Wiki' style government policymaking means everyone is a lobbyist


Robert Halfon MP is a member of the  UK Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) in the Guardian: “We need to end phoney consultation in policymaking – and stop trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to implementation… Another week, another lobbying scandal. But what if the government found a way to really listen to all its citizens, to genuinely involve the public in policy making? So that it would no longer be an issue of who has the government’s ear – because everyone would?
A report published by the Public Administration Select Committee, which I sit on, calls on government to adopt an open, “wiki” style approach to policy making, where public opinion, ideas and contributions are sought and welcome at any and all stages of the policy cycle. This kind of genuine public engagement would contrast sharply with the status quo: tokenistic exercises in phoney consultation about issues that have already been decided.
We all welcome the government’s moves towards more digital engagement, but what our committee really wants to see is more direct, real public involvement in policy making, whether that is via the internet or other means. The most important point is that government treats public engagement as a serious part of policy-making. That will mean communicating and engaging in ways that are tailored to every audience, in new and more traditional ways. This is not just a time or cost-saving exercise, although using existing and new technology and media well should bring those benefits. This is about making better policy. To those who say it can’t be done, our report contains examples from New Zealand, the US and even as far afield as Redbridge councilshowing that if there is real will, crowd sourcing of policy and real public engagement can be possible…
We have moved from being subjects to citizens to active open-source citizens – and yet our policy making does not recognise this. The public no longer want to be handed out policy like tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. In fact they want to go up the mountain with Moses. However, they have to be able to believe that their input can make a real difference. Genuine engagement means ensuring that a good proportion of the public actually participate in open policy-making. Although this will be a challenge for government to achieve, without it there’s little point.”
 

UK: Public engagement in policy-making


House of Commons, Public Administration Committee Report: ” In its plan for Civil Service reform, published in June 2012, the Government introduced “open policy-making”. This means engaging the public and experts from beyond the “Westminster village” in debates about policy and in the policy-making process itself, and establishing a new relationship with the citizen who becomes a valued partner to identify problems, discover new thinking and to propose solutions. It is a departure from more traditional approaches to public engagement, which have usually only occurred after the Government has already determined a course of action.
To govern is to choose. Open policy-making should take debate outside Whitehall and into the community as a whole, but ultimate responsibility and accountability for leadership must remain with Ministers and senior civil servants. Once again, we emphasise the importance of leadership in Government; of effective strategic thinking, which involves choosing between different arguments, reconciling conflicting opinions and arbitrating between different groups and interests; and of effective governance of departments and their agencies. A process of engagement, which can reach beyond the “Westminster village” and the “usual suspects”, will itself be an act of leadership, but there can be no abdication of that leadership.
There is great potential for open and contested policy-making to deliver genuine public engagement. There is also a risk of disappointment and scepticism amongst the public about the impact of their participation, and that Government listens only to the media, lobbying and “the usual suspects”. Ministers must commit sufficient time for public engagement to reach beyond Westminster. Digital technology and new media have a huge role to play. In time, the Government should be able to demonstrate that the citizen is able to contribute opinion, ideas and suggestions on an ongoing basis, if it is to be seen as moving away from old processes and embracing a new relationship with the citizen.”

OGP Report: "Opening Government"


Open Gov Blog: “In 2011, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/AI) published “Opening Government” – a guide for civil society organisations, and governments, to support them to develop and update ambitious and targeted action plans for the Open Government Partnership.
This year, T/AI is working with a number of expert organisations and participants in the Open Government Partnership to update and expand the guide into a richer online resource, which will include new topic areas and more lessons and updates from ongoing experience….
Below you’ll find an early draft of the section in GoogleDocs, where we invite you to edit and comment on it and help to develop it further. In particular, we’d value your thoughts on the following:

  • Are the headline illustrative commitments realistic and stretching at each of the levels? If not, please suggest how they should be changed.

  • Are there any significant gaps in the illustrative commitments? Please suggest any additional commitments you feel should be included – and better yet, write it!

  • Are the recommendations clear and useful? Please suggest any alterations you feel should be made.

  • Are there particular country experiences that should be expanded on? Please suggest any good examples you are aware of (preferably linking to a write-up of the project).

  • Are there any particularly useful resources missing? If so, please point us towards them.

This draft – which is very much a work in progress – is open for comments and edits, so please contribute as you wish. You can also send any thoughts to me via: tim@involve.org.uk”

Health Datapalooza just wrapped


I’ve just finished two packed days at the Health Datapalooza, put on by the Health Data Consortium with the Department of Health and Human Services. As I’ve just heard someone say, many of the 2000 people here are a bit “Palooza”d out.” But this fourth annual event shows the growing power of open government data on health and health care services. The two-day event covered both the knowledge and applications that can come from the release of data like that on Medicare claims, and the ways in which the Affordable Care Act is driving the use of data for better delivery of high-quality care. The participation of leaders from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service added an international perspective as well.
There’s too much to summarize in a single blog post, but you can follow these links to read about the Health Data Consortium and its new CEO’s goals; the DataPalooza’s opening plenary session, with luminaries from government, business, and the New Yorker; and today’s keynote by Todd Park, with reflections on some of new companies that open government data is supporting.
– Joel Gurin, GovLab network member and Founder and Editor, OpenDataNow.com

Is Crowdsourcing the Future for Crime Investigation?


Joe Harris in IFSEC Global: “Following April’s Boston Marathon bombings, many people around the world wanted to help in any way they could. Previously, there would have been little but financial assistance that they could have offered.
However, with the advent of high-quality cameras on smartphone devices, and services such as YouTube and Flickr, it was not long before the well-known online collectives such as Reddit and 4chan mobilized members of the public to ask them to review hundreds of thousands of photos and videos taken on the day to try and identify potential suspects….Here in the UK, we recently had the successful launch of Facewatch, and we have seen other regional attempts — such as Greater Manchester Police’s services and appeals app — to use the goodwill of members of the public to help trace, identify, or report suspected criminals and the crimes that they commit.
Does this herald a new era in transparency? Are we seeing the first steps towards a more transparent future where rapid information flow means that there really is nowhere to hide? Or are we instead falling into some Orwellian society construct where people are scared to speak out or think for themselves?”

Public Service Online – Digital by Default or by Detour?


Assessing User Centric eGovernment performance in Europe: Among the key findings:

  1. The most popular services were declaring income taxes (73% of users declare taxes online), moving or changing address (57%) and enrolling in higher education and/or applying for student grant (56%).
  2. While 54% of those surveyed still prefer face-to face contact or other traditional channels, at least 30% of them indicated they could also be regular eGovernment users if more relevant services were provided.
  3. 47% of eGovernment users got all they wanted from online services, 46% only partially received what they were looking for.

The report also signals that improvements are needed to online services for important life events like losing or finding a job, setting up a company and registering for studying.

  1. For people living in their own country, on average more than half of the administrative steps related to these key life events can be carried out online. Websites give information about the remaining steps. However, more transparency and interaction with users is needed to better empower citizens.
  2. The picture is less bright for the almost 2 million people who move or commute between EU Member States. While the majority of Member States provide some information about studying or starting a company from abroad, online registration is less common. Only 9 countries allow citizens from another EU Member State to register to study online, and only 17 countries allow them to take some steps to start a company in this way.”

The Internet as Politicizing Instrument


New Issue of Transformations (Editorial): “This issue of Transformations presents essays responding to Marcus Breen’s recent book Uprising: The Internet’s Unintended Consequences. Breen asks whether the Internet can become a politicising instrument for the new online proletariat – the individualised users isolated by the monitor screen. He asks “if the proletariat can use the Internet, is it freed from the moral and social constraints of the past that were imposed by conventional media and its regulation of the public space?” (32) This question raises further issues. Does this freedom translate into an emancipatory politics where the proletariat is able to pursue its own ends, or does it simply reproduce the power relation between the user-subject and the Internet and those who control and manage it. The articles in this issue respond in various ways to these questions.
Marcus Breen’s own article “The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space” makes a case for privatism – the restriction of subjective life to isolated or privatised experience, especially in relation to the computer monitor – as the new modality of meaning making in the Internet era. Using approaches associated with cultural and media studies, the paper traces the way the Internet has influenced the shift in the culture towards values associated with the confluence of ideas around the private, best described by privatism.
Fidele Vlavo’s article investigates the central discourses that have constructed the internet as a democratic and public environment removed from state and corporate control. The aim is to call attention to the issues that have limited the development of the internet as a tool for socio-political empowerment. The paper first retraces the early discursive constructions that insist on representing the internet as a decentralised and open structure. It also questions the role played by the digerati (or cyber elite) in the formulation of contradictory demands for public interests, self-governance, and entrepreneurial rights. Finally, it examines the emergence of two early virtual communities and their attempts to facilitate free speech and self-regulation. In the context of activists advocating freedom of expression and government institutions re-organizing legislation to control the Internet, the examination of these discourses provides a useful starting point for the (re)assessment of the potential of direct online mobilization.
Emit Snake-Being’s article examines the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument by showing how Internet users are subject to the controls of the search engine algorithm, managed by elite groups whose purpose is to reproduce themselves in terms of neo-liberal capitalism. Invoking recent political events in the Middle East and in London in which a wired proletariat sought to resist and overturn political authorities through Internet communication, Snake-Beings argues that such events are compromised by the fact that they owe their possibility to Internet providers and their commercial imperatives. Snake-Being’s article, as well as most of the other articles in this issue, offers a timely reminder not only of the possibilities, but of the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument for progressive, emancipatory politics.
Frances Shaw’s paper concerns the way in which the logic of surveillance operates in contested sites in cities where live coverage of demonstrations against capitalism leads to confrontation between demonstrators and police. Through a detailed account of the “Occupy Sydney” demonstration in 2011, Shaw shows how both demonstrators and police engaged in tactics of surveillance and resistance to counter each other’s power and authority. In an age of instant communication and global surveillance, freedom of movement and freedom from surveillance in public spaces is drawn into the logics of power mediated by mobile ‘phones and computer based communication technology.
Karyl Ketchum’s paper offers detailed analysis of two Internet sites to show how the proletarianisation of the Internet is gendered in terms of male interests. Picking up on Breen’s argument that Internet proletarianisation leads to an open system that “supports both anything and anyone,” she argues that, in the domain of online pornography, this new-found freedom turns out to be “the power of computer analytics to harness and hone the shifting meanings of white Western Enlightenment masculinities in new globalising postcolonial contexts, economies and geopolitical struggles.” Furthermore, Ketchum shows how this default to male interests was also at work in American reporting of the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. The YouTube video posted by a young Egyptian woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, which sparked the revolution in Egypt that eventually overthrew the Mubarak government, was not given due coverage by the Western media, so that “women like Mahfouz all but disappear from Western accounts of the Arab Spring.”
Liden and Giritli Nygren’s paper addresses the challenges to the theories of the political sphere posed by a digital society. It is suggested that this is most evident at the intersection between understandings of technology, performativities, and politics that combines empirical closeness with abstract understandings of socio-political and cultural contexts. The paper exemplifies this by reporting on a study of online citizen dialogue in the making, in this case concerning school planning in a Swedish municipality. Applying these theoretical perspectives to this case provides some key findings. The technological design is regarded as restricting the potential dialogue, as is outlined in different themes where the participants enact varying positions—taxpayers, citizen consumers, or local residents. The political analysis stresses a dialogue that lacks both polemic and public perspectives, and rather is characterized by the expression of different special interests. Together, these perspectives can provide the foundation for the development of applying theories in a digital society.
The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space (Marcus Breen)
The Digital Hysterias of Decentralisation, Entrepreneurship and Open Community (Fidele Vlavo)
From Ideology to Algorithm: the Opaque Politics of the Internet (Emit Snake-Beings)
“Walls of Seeing”: Protest Surveillance, Embodied Boundaries, and Counter-Surveillance at Occupy Sydney (Frances Shaw)
Gendered Uprisings: Desire, Revolution, and the Internet’s “Unintended Consequences”(Karyl E. Ketchum)
Analysing the Intersections between Technology, Performativity, and Politics: the Case of Local Citizen Dialogue (Gustav Lidén and Katarina Giritli Nygren)”

CrowdingIn


CrowdingINA crowdfunding directory by UK’s Nesta…: “Crowdfunding, the method of sourcing funds from large numbers of people, has been growing quickly worldwide in recent years and has the potential to revolutionise the world of finance, creating new opportunities to fund everything from new products and businesses to community projects. As the market grows, so too does the number of sites (or ‘platforms’) that facilitate the exchange between the crowd of funders and those seeking finance. To help you find the platform most suited to your financing needs, this directory lists information on those platforms currently open to fundraising from individuals and businesses in the UK.”

Putin Puts OGP Entry on Hold


Moscow Times: ” President Vladimir Putin has postponed Russia’s entry into the Open Government Partnership planned for the second half of this year, a news report said Monday.
“We are not talking about winding up plans to join, but corrections in timing and the scale of participation are possible,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Kommersant.
OGP is an international partnership with over 50 member states aimed at promoting human rights, budget transparency and fighting corruption.
In December, Medvedev had confirmed plans to join the partnership in Sept. 2013 noting that Russia needs membership for its own benefit, and not for the sake of becoming “part of a global shindig”.
Open Government Minister Mikhail Abyzov said Russia will join the organization if the latter implements the newcomer’s recommendations, namely, linking transparency assessments provided by the OGP to investment ratings, Kommersant said.
Furthermore, Russia proposes expanding the OGP’s format, increasing the number of member and observer states, as well as changing the principles of financing the organization.”

Crowdfunding gives rise to projects truly in public domain


USA Today: “Crowdfunding, the cyberpractice of pooling individuals’ money for a cause, so far has centered on private enterprise. It’s now spreading to public spaces and other community projects that are typically the domain of municipalities.

The global reach and speed of the Internet are raising not just money but awareness and galvanizing communities.

SmartPlanet.com recently reported that crowdfunding capital projects is gaining momentum, giving communities part ownership of everything from a 66-story downtown skyscraper in Bogota to a bridge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several websites such as neighborland.com and neighbor.ly are platforms to raise money for projects ranging from planting fruit trees in San Francisco to building a playground that accommodates disabled children in Parsippany, N.J.

“Community groups are increasingly ready to challenge cities’ plans,” says Bryan Boyer, an independent consultant and adviser to The Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA, a think tank. “We’re all learning to live in the context of a networked society.”

Crowdfund
Crowdfunder, which connects entrepreneurs and investors globally, just launched a local version — CROWDFUNDx.”