Innovation. Influence. Information.

Open

“The world of information – how it’s created, who creates it, how it’s shared and distributed – is changing immensely fast,”‘ writes Alan Rusbridger oin last Thursday’s Guardian to promote the newspaper’s “open” approach to journalism

Being “open”, Rusbridger believes, “leads to better journalism, more diversity and a much bigger audience”

What’s true in the world of journalism can be the same in government. LGiU has long believed in openness. In 2009, we called on government (pdf) to:

• free people to innovate;

• try everything;

• be open about what you’re doing;

• allow good ideas to emerge.

Four rather simple-sounding activities, but activities that are culturally difficult for many organisations – especially government – to embrace fully and with pace. 

Until now that is?

It might just be that the staid, impersonal and confusing-to-outsiders world of Whitehall and the Town Hall is soon going to be easier to navigate and find the information you want from a newspaper such as The Guardian.

The gov.uk project (now being led by former Guardian employee Mike Bracken) is all about helping more of us understand government, and helping government communicate better to us – and saving a lot of money too. 

In particular, the Inside Government element of the project is about “the inner workings of government”. Here is what I think is the one of the more important bits of their mission.

We’ve also adopted a consistent and (we hope) relatively clear way to describe government policy. We think of it as ‘encylopedia-style’ and hope it will make policy more accessible for those who aren’t immersed in the intricacies of how government works. We’ve talked about the difficulties of doing this before.

For example, here’s how higher education policy is currently published on the BIS website.

 

And here is how it looks on GOV.UK.  We hope you’ll agree it’s clearer and more accessible. It will also be kept more reliably up to date: links to all the news, speeches and publications that relate to each policy appear on the page automatically as they are added to the system.

Over time, we hope to make these policy definitions even clearer. Having a live website to point at will make it easier for us to develop this together with subject matter experts in departments.

Sarah Lay has a good blog looking at the local government aspects of this project.

The gov.uk project fulfils those four calls LGiU made in 2009.

• Free people to innovate – the government has recruited people from outside the Westminster village to lead this project. The office is full of Mac books and Brompton Bikes.

• Try everything – by starting with the culture of a grassroots project, the team is learning as it is going.

• Be open about what you’re doing – the text copied above is from a blog they regularly update to share what they are doing, why they are doing it and how they are doing it.

• Allow good ideas to emerge – this means that rather than just delivering a project, they are giving interested people multiple opportunities to get on board with the project on their own terms. This opens the door to consistent and convenient feedback, ‘networked’ ideas and public participation.

This openness then reflects a growing, and now almost mainstream, recognition that what matters is not the technology or the tools but the uses you put them to: the forms of engaging, doing and being that they enable and the way they increase and improve democratic participation for a growing number of people. This is occurring in both online and offline worlds.

Next month for example, the United Kingdom’s first Open-data Cities Conference will be held in Brighton and Hove. Inspired by developments in cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, the conference seeks to attract decision-makers from the UK’s biggest cities. 

The high-profile conference – at which LGiU director of policy Jonathan Carr-West will be speaking – will focus on how publicly-funded organisations can engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities.

It will be attended by more than 200 people who believe the value of public data is greatest when it is freely and openly shared. They will be leaders not only from local government, but also from arts and cultural organisations, as well as the creative and digital industries.

Greg Hadfield, a former Fleet Street journalist and internet entrepreneur, said: “Data is the lifeblood of an emerging network of ‘networked’ cities. It is the raw material that will fuel the applications and services, created by new technologies, to meet the needs of citizens in the 21st century.

“To rise to the challenge, all organisations – including those in the public sector – must undergo a radical transformation, to be more open, more engaging, more accountable, and more efficient.” 

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