Gov 2.0: an afternoon at Westminster

Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) co-hosted an event at Westminster last week: Gov 2.0, or Truly Transformative Government. It was an interesting afternoon offering some insights into thinking by both government and IT sector about how to develop the delivery of services in the age of social computing. Though I was left wondering whether what I’d attended was a technology or policy briefing, a think tank, or just a talk session …

I’ve been waiting for the presentation material to appear on the OII website, but it’s not there yet. However, David Evans of the British Computer Society, who I met there, has created a write-up on the BCS Unqualified Remarks blog with useful links. I’m not going to double up on his write-up, but just add my take-aways.

There was stuff about why public service projects fail. The additional dimension in the political sphere is that ministers’ primary task is to get re-elected and this both shortens their time horizon and reduces their willingness to commit; but to achieve that aim, the table is cluttered with eye catching but unrealistic promises – ID cards, anyone? William Heath of Kable referrred to “assertive non-listening and spin”. In the Q&A I quoted Richard Feynman’s aphorism from his report on the Challenger spacecraft disaster:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over political necessity: for nature cannot be fooled.

Evolutionary small changes work well; the Land Registry achieved significant success without any political involvement whatsoever, by staying under the radar.

Jerry Fishenden of Microsoft spoke of the need to shift to person-centric not provider-centric services. I remember that when I triggered SmithKline Beecham to go on the web in the mid 1990s we correctly decided to structure the website around what people might want to use it for, not around the structure of the company – not a universal perspective in those days, but any management structure shifts and changes anyway. But there’s a new aspect: Jerry pointed out that social tagging, and exposed APIs for mashups, can facilitate this user-centric structure without much need for detailed analysis or design by providers. Users will just do it. But the underlying structures must be right. Again, there’s a parallel. The long-established Relational Third Normal Form, if strictly adopted, means that a database can be easily adopted for a purpose different to the one it was designed for. Get the design right, and new uses are easy.

And Martyn Thomas, who knows a thing or two in this area since he ran Praxis for many years, emphasised the role of the systems architect “starting with validation of the business requirements”. Compare Jeanne Ross of MIT with her thesis that architecture is business strategy.

So there was some interesting stuff. But I wasn’t convinced that it would have, or was designed to have, any measurable impact.

Links and references:

Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 2.0 BCS Unqualified Remarks 22 Jan 2008

Gov 2.0, or Truly Transformative Government event details for Tues 22nd Jan; hopefully the presentation materials will show up here!

Oxford Internet Institute

Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST)

Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill & David Robertson, MIT Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Links are provided in good faith, but InformationSpan does not accept responsibility for the content of any linked third party site

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