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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Leadership in egov: what's missing?

Compared to what we're used to, egov Minister Tom Watson is a breath of fresh air.

A number of people have examined today's speech by him and interim report on last year's landmark The Power of Information report.

Simon Dickson is struck by Tom's call for:
more use of techniques commonplace now in the wider world, internal blogs, wikis, discussion forums, shared workspaces, all still quite rare within the machine.
And in the report it's amusing claim that
The government supported a Barcamp initiated by the Ministry of Justice.
Well at least they didn't claim 'initiated' ...

Simon Wheatley:
It’s very heartening stuff and Tom hits many buzzwords, let’s hope he has the power and gets the support to deliver on some of these ideas.
The problem is they are playing catchup, which is a long way away from the innovation that they need to be showing. But it's all good - really good.
Dave Briggs also notes Tom's promotion of blogging by civil servants and picks up on Tom's analogy about:
the relationship between online collaborative communities and the co-operative movement. The point is that while the tools are new, the relationships aren’t, and people have been working together to tackle problems since the year dot. What the tools do is make the process easier and more transparent and because they also make it easier to do without forming institutions or organisations, they also remove some of the political undercurrents too. More needs to be written on this, I think.
I smiled at Tom's memory of using an old 'manual duplication machine' (a Roneo). Ink stains ain't missed. I groaned at reading about Netmums yet again. I was pleased to see talk of 'search insight' but disturbed that this appeared new and came from a chance encounter with a DirectGov employee.

There is the use of the word 'radical' in Tom's speech - which we know from Yes Minister as code for 'doomed'. But Tom is the first egov Minister who has got a clue, so he's the best hope thus far.

Can't see any of this translating easily to local government because lgov and whitehall are different beasts. Be interesting to see if lgov Minister Hazel Blears in her briefly mentioned (dismissively?) due follow-up exactly echoes Tom and offers leadership or loses some stuff along the way - and in the translation. Her bog-standard, out-of-the-box Labour website certainly doesn't bode well, neither does her record thus far.

Echoing SimonR, my sole problem with The Power of Information is: is that it? Is this the only landmark eGov report we're going to see? I can think of several areas besides the specific ones in that report which could equally 'shake things up'. MySociety is part of a particular area within egov: it ain't everything. And we do tend to accept crumbs of movement rather than say 'where's the cake?'

As I have said before, the Tom's in power should invite Jakob Nielsen (or Don Norman) around for tea. It's that sort of commercial experience which - excepting pilgrimages to the Googleplex for a photo-op - isn't being heard and encouraging those connections within egov to help break down the walled garden would truly end the circularity of public servants talking to other public servants (or their contractors).


  1. In fairness to Tom, I think he did have Clay Shirky round for tea the other week.

    To be honest, I'm not sure we need another report. In fact, it's probably the last thing we need. Reports beget reviews, which beget further reports, and so on - as yesterday's interim report proved. 'Power' asked the exactly right questions in a few areas, and has done enough to start shaking things up generally.

    I'd much rather people took the remit given to them by 'Power' and by Tom Watson's recent comments - and just went off and did something. Whatever you think about Twitter, No10's experimentation over the last week has done more than any report could have.

  2. Ok, no more reports. I take your point about 'just get on with it' but that's exactly why I have suggested before that someone like Nielsen needs to be given a major speech slot (after a tea invitation). This happened very early on in Australia and it worked.

    But the fact is Simon that there are dangers in who gets heard, what the big issues are and - my big thing - a whole lot of issues which don't get heard just because there's so few of us raising them and no opportunity for others to make them.

    None of the sorts of issues people like Nielsen would raise are getting any airing. Look at where we are with marketing. Or search. or usability. these aren't minor concerns which will 'sort themselves out' because there's no route at the moment for that. 'Power' isn't about that.

    Most of the talkers within egov actually have a particular set of interests - what interests them as well as the other meaning. This isn't a bad thing, just limiting.

    re: twitter - it's proved itself over and over (Bhutto's death was the crunch point I read). Plus I notice that Tom sees it as a huge boon for Ministers. Just not for me :]

  3. Tell me a bit more then Paul. What should we be doing that we're not?

  4. will do. I'll dig through past posts for 'ten ideas' or some such - bit caught up with one of your colleagues atm though :{ (hint, initials J.S.)