Open data good – plus open comms even better

The Data.Gov.UK project to open up government data for re-use to public benefit has produced a flurry of comment ranging from geeky ecstacy to scepticism about how far it can be used in practice for better service development. On Twitter of course. There’s even mainstream suggestions of dis-benefit.  The Telegraph started it’s report:

Communities could find themselves being “ghettoised” by a new Government website which will provides facts and figures about every aspect of life in Britain, its creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has admitted.

Dominic Campbell of the consultancy Futuregov was in the thick of the commenting. In favour of the project, but irritated by the inward-looking way the discussion was going.

He clarified his tweets with a blog post:

Above all alse, my main issues is with communications in the open government and digital engagement space. On the whole it is pretty dire. Until we as the government community learn to more effectively translate our techie enthusiasm into real world meaning, we can never expect to achieve the mainstreaming of Gov 2.0 that we all claim to want.

Sure one of the main audiences is the Geeks. But take this Guardian article for instance, an amazing opportunity to reach a far wider audience. But with phrases like “a platform built quickly using agile project management to provide a core capability”, how can we ever expect the rest of the civil service to engage let alone the wider public. Time to put the geeky evangelism to one side for a minute and get engaging.

Aside from this, I stand by the fact that the people behind this work need to start to walk the walk in terms of the organisational culture they are looking to achieve. Still wedded to behind closed door development, direct messages over Twitter rather than open conversations and exclusive launch events for the in crowd (something which may now be behind me I fear!), until honesty and openness is at the heart of everything the people at this leading edge do nothing will change.

You would need to trawl through the tweets to connect fully with some of the points in Dom’s post, but I think it is highly significant that one of the in-crowd is saying so openly that the nature of digital service development in Government must be understandable by both policy makers and public. Geekery is too important to leave to the geeks.

My take on that would be: If most people can’t understand what you are doing for them, you may be doing it to them. How about doing it with them?

That’s something Lauren Ivory and I are working on with Consumer Focus, in a project to explore how to involve users in the design and delivery of digital public services: more here. Tomorrow I’ll be attending ukgovcamp where some of the geeks, if not the policy makers or public, will no doubt carry on the conversation. I hope they will be as forthright as Dominic and give me a few interviews – or at least off the record insights.

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