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Sunday 25 March 2007

Why I 'called' Mattthew Taylor's ignorance

A mate responded privately to my post Matthew Taylor is an ignoramus.

In that I took exception to various statements on Taylor's Blog, especially the one:
Why is it that the web which has been so transformative in so many parts of our lives has done so little to strengthen democracy and civic society?
My major exception being that "civic society" has been "strengthening democracy" through the web for over a decade! I know this from my own experience: Taylor (amongst others it seems) just hasn't noticed.

My mate pointed out that for Taylor and others they, representing the government, primarily think of technology as a means of control and hence has no interest in actually engaging with the web (except in ways it can control)

He also thought that people like Taylor shouldn't be criticised as at least they're 'onside', in particular that they're encouraging new forms of engagement.

But this is the point, they're not. Everything is about constructing spaces within a walled garden and conducting the dialogue within there. It's not about truly freeing up government and the dialogue with the citizen through actual participation in the dialogue as it already is.

I can hear from Taylor's overall argument, as well at that of others, that people like him are only just waking up to the scale and pace of change.
  • I heard a story at a recent conference from a delegate about one council which had been forced to revamp it's website because a local ran a consistent and focussed campaign against them about that website.
  • My local paper has a story virtually every week about a new addition to YouTube, highlighting one local problem or another.
  • As I blogged earlier, many sites already exist that make a profit of one sort or another from being 'intermediaries' to government services.
  • One look at the relation between government - down to the local level - and the blogosphere in the United States shows you the future of pressure group politics here - down to the local level.

The point is that they - the commentariat + politicians - need to focus on the practical barriers which feed all the way down the pipe, which block government engagement with the web. That's what they need to be doing and they're not.

Instead they wander round in academic waffle which doesn't engage and produces endless 'new' 'innovative!' 'engagement' projects / 'products' which replicate the web in a lot of cases.

The thing is that web 2.0 — alongside mass availability of internet access and broadband — does offer opportunities to reach larger audiences in new or more effective ways. (Note: even this is not new, there has always been a presence by some councillors and MPs in places like, and as 'old' as, UseNet).

There are a whole host of things which could be done - why not have a MySpace/BeBo etc. presence and encourage that for one - very obvious - idea? Or, here's something truly radical, a 'comment' field on every government website. But the best example is simply ALLOWING government people to answer the web back.

Think of poor staff trying to manage complex situations in Parking, say, or Social Care. The web not only allows them to better and more quickly explain actions - and hence help with practical things like complaint rates - it also allows them to source and deal with their online reputation when people run campaigns online.

What stops them is the leadership. Who is telling them this is a good idea?

So, how about a statement from a politician that blogging by Parking Authorities is to be encouraged? For example?

In terms of being gentler and washing whiter when reading mistaken statements by prominent people. Apart from the mistakes/misunderstandings being part of the agenda setting (a small matter), the problem is the consistent level of basic mistakes across seemingly all those leading eGov.

I refer to my previous post about the 'disconnect'.

And, as I told my friend 'I don't know everything and I like to be challenged - what's wrong with thinking like that?'

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