Category Archives: news

Thoughts on digital democracy and what it means these days

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Leah Lockhart from the Democratic Society in Scotland. Re-posted with kind permission from an original on Medium.

‘I don’t know how to use a computer!’: the stories of our most dangerous public servants

Last month I was invited to Birmingham University to take part in a discussion called ‘✊Democracy #LOL :): digital participation in local governance’ which was hosted by Local Government Studies (INLOGOV). I was invited along to share my stories and experiences of working with local government and community groups in Scotland that are integrating digital engagement into their participatory budgeting (PB) activities.

I shared examples from the past six months of the digital PB project where I have seen very important impact on a public service team or in a community group happen because of their decision to augment their face to face engagement with digital engagement. I also shared examples of things that keep me up at night and send me into a spiral of internal debate.

One of these examples was a story I roll out *all the time* as an illustration of the attitude of public servants to ‘digital’: earlier this year heard a senior civil servant announce in a public forum that she didn’t even know how to take a screenshot so surely ideas about innovative digital solutions for creating better public services would go over her head.

After I went through my slides and stories, we had a group discussion during which I was asked why I seem so frustrated with people in public services who don’t use or want to use digital tools or platforms for engagement. The person asking the question seemed to hear my frustration and my screenshot story as throwing shade at public servants who aren’t willing to jump on a digital engagement bandwagon and burst onto the internet scene to tweet and blog, that I was being a bit cliquey. Fair enough comment, really. I have to hold my hands up and say I don’t always explain things as well as I could, especially if it’s something I’m close to. So here’s a fuller explanation than I managed to spit out on the day…

🙈

When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t even know how to take a screenshot’ I hear, ‘I am a security liability with no interest in knowing about modern ways of working.’ It’s no secret lack of computing skills, including understanding various basic practices around safety and security, are low in public sector workforces. In fact I’d argue public services nurture these low skills and send people down a spiral of de-skilling with their outdated browsers, outdated operating systems and messy IT infrastructures…which may have been procured by the senior person who doesn’t know how to take a screenshot. Snake eating tail. Just recently Martha Lane Fox published a piece about the lack of sophisticated debate about the internet at a UK government level and the inability of policy makers to keep up with the pace of technological change being issues of national security and one of the most pressing issues of our time. Self-effacing comments about not being able to push a couple of buttons somewhere are no joke.

🙉

When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t use social media. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast! *chortle*’ I hear, ‘I don’t have the vaguest interest in understanding how an increasing number of citizens get information or choose to interact.’ The last person you want to let loose on your organisation’s social media is the person who *really* doesn’t want to be using social media. So this isn’t about shading those who choose not to use social media themselves. This is about having an understanding of how social media works, why they are used, what online communities look like and sound like and acknowledging the importance of social media to government for *so* many reasons. Understanding at a higher level means permission for more active or meaningful use of social media over an organisation, including a lift on bans in public services that mean staff sometimes literally can’t see the internet. Because, you know, it’s unsafe (said the public servant who has no real idea what interaction online looks like.) Snake eating tail.

🙊

When someone in public service says, ‘My job is so boring. No one would want to read a blog written by me’ I hear, ‘I am not willing to be open, transparent and accountable.’ Issues around confidence and identity are here alongside lack of skill and institutional cultures and behaviours so this one isn’t straightforward. In my years working with public servants, conversations about working out loud and the honest reflection it requires are some of the most difficult- and emotional. The support our public servants need to change their relationships with the public is heavy and it’s not usually coming from inside- external forces are necessary (that’s you and me!)

The conversations I have with public servants when I’m helping them plan digital engagement always start with purpose, resource and goals and it usually catches them off guard. Planning and reflection? But the internet is magic, right? Asking people to consider the why and the how for digital engagement often surfaces anxieties, barriers and systemic problems that mean *generally* public engagement with a view to involvement are not well thought out or very meaningful. It’s a very exposing process. While there is a lot of discussion and rhetoric flying around the public sector about ‘digital innovation’ and ‘transformation’, these are really high level and don’t ever really address the live issues closer to the front line. The success of the transformation camp is dependent on the success of the confidence and skills camp. How can we bring these conversations closer together?

Associated reading:
Leah also wrote: Outside in – how the internet is improving public services, and Ben got excited about the Welsh Assembly’s Digital Taskforce report. What do we need to be thinking about to “do” digital effectively in Wales?

Leah Lockhart describes herself as a coordinator, collaborator, guide; exploring social good enabled by digital things; and doing digital engagement work across Scotland with Democratic Society Scotland. LinkedinMedium.


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

Getting your head around open data

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Ben Proctor.

Open data is simply data that anyone can access, use or share. Data, in this context, could be any piece of information. The Open Data Institute has a helpful guide to open data.

Most data is not open. Data might be closed (locked within an organisation or a department), shared (available to people by agreement or because they are in particular roles) or open (where anyone can access it, use it or share it). The Open Data Institute calls this the Data Spectrum.

To be open data has to be published (on a website for example) but publishing it is not enough. To be open it has to have a licence which makes it clear that anyone can use or share it. This means that it isn’t possible to charge people for open data. The format that data is published in also has an impact on how useful it is by different groups of people. There are other factors that can affect how useful open data is. Sir Tim Berners-Lee has described a star-rating system for more and more useful open data

Any organisation that owns data can choose to open it. In the UK, parts of the public sector have opened lots of their data. You can find lots of open data from the UK government on the data.gov.uk portal. In Wales the Welsh Government has published an open data plan and set up a website to make it easier to find geographical data

A key argument for opening data is that it enables people to build services using that data. Because people don’t need to build the infrastructure to collect the data this means services can be delivered much quicker and it enables more innovation. It is not all a one-way street. As people build services on a dataset, they frequently clean and improve the data, spot errors, and mix it with other datasets to generate unique insights. Many public bodies publish open data with the aim of enabling innovative services. Many private companies are also publishing open data for the same reasons. Jeni Tennison (now Chief Executive of the Open Data Institute) wrote about open data business models a few years ago

Some examples of services built, at least in part, on open data include:

  • City Mapper which gets people around London using a combination of open data from Transport for London, its own data and algorithms
  • Mastodon C which has published insights into antibiotic prescribing based on open data 

There is a thriving community working with open data across the UK. Regular Open Data Camps are held, the most recent taking place in Cardiff in February 2017.  At that camp there was a workshop on Open Data for beginners which is written up here

What are your thoughts on Open Data, and how it could help government and public services in Wales?

Ben is the Technical Director of ODI-Cardiff. ODI Cardiff is the Open Data Institute node in Wales and is working to enable innovation with data across Wales and beyond. He is also a director of The Satori Lab. Linkedin. Medium.


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

Media Release – Anti-bureaucratic, pro-citizen: Is GovCamp Cymru the new face of government in Wales?

Tuesday 23rd September 2014

On Saturday, over 100 people from all over the UK will come together in Cardiff to discuss the future of public services and society in Wales.

This govcamp is an event, also known as an unconference, that has attendees leading the programme – there’s no agenda until the start of the day when people make suggestions for what they’d like to talk about. It’s free to attend.

Esko Reinikainen, co founder of Cardiff based Satori Lab, is one of the organisers:

“It’s open to anyone: public, private, whatever sector, whether this stuff is your work, or you’re just passionate about it.

“The event is about how we mobilise a network of changemakers to get to work on those issues that are affecting services and fundamentally changing society right now.

“This is not a conference, there’s no entrance fee and people are attending in their own time because they’re passionate about what they want for Wales.

“We have citizens, CEOs, public servants, tech companies and others coming together. But status and job titles don’t come into it, we’re linking up people to share ideas and start making things happen on the day.”

There are a few last minute tickets available, for more information and to book go to govcampcymru.org.

ENDS

Issued by Helen Reynolds (@HelReynolds) on behalf of the Satori Lab
helen@socialforthepeople.com

Read more about how it works on our GovCamp Cymru explained http://govcampcymru.org/?page_id=15

For more information on the event or to arrange to send a reporter/photographer contact The Satori Lab Ltd. They are:

Esko Reinikainen
07801 933068 | esko @satorilab .org | @reinikainen

Jo Carter
07454 984585 | jo @satorilab .org | @Jo_Carter64

Danielle Beck
07453 279000 | dan @satorilab .org | @dan_beckster