A few weeks before it launched, Tom Loosemore kindly invited me over for a preview of the Alphagov prototype. I was given a whirlwind tour of their agile process and some of the thinking behind their work. Not to mention a very dark – and thick – cup of coffee. Hey, I’m not complaining. I like it that way. I met a few of the team (some of whom I already knew), and watched as a group of Government Communication types were taken through the same whirlwind tour – a mix of curious and skeptical faces making up the lot. On the whole, it was a pleasant visit.
Several times recently I’ve heard the word ‘skunkworks‘ mentioned. Most recently it was in a Guardian interview with Mark O’neill, the ‘leader of the government’s IT ‘skunkworks’ team – as well as CIO of two prominent UK Government departments. I have to admit to being fascinated by the idea of a skunkworks capability in Government. Ideally, a skunkworks team is untethered from organisational rules and structures, and allowed the freedom and flexibility to focus on solving problems and pursuing real innovation – which often means failing a good number of times before (potentially) achieving a measure of success.
I find myself thinking about Government’s desire to reduce costs by ‘going digital.’ It’s as though the very notion of something being online instantly results in reduced effort and cost and provides a useful and usable service to Citizens. In recent years, Government has seen digital as a means of reducing ‘avoidable contact’ – that type of contact that Government might not have to have with its Citizens face-to-face or on the telephone if it could service them digitally. It could rationalise this by saying that digital was a progressive means of servicing a society of such diversity, breadth and distance that face-to-face was no longer an appropriate medium to provide services. Of course this begs the issue of the ten million or so UK residents who do not have access to or use of the Internet.
Today I attended the FutureGov meets Measurement Camp session held at Edelman in Victoria. It was a mix of some of the usual (and always pleasant to see) faces and a lot of faces I didn’t recognise – always a bonus! And Edelman provided a pleasant space and plenty of tea and coffee to keep us going. The first 2/3 of the afternoon was a mix of talks given by Dominic Campbell of FutureGov, Will McInnis of Nixon McInnes, Steph Gray of BIS and Ingrid Koelher of IDeA. There were also the obligatory sponsorship presentations by Lithium showing off their Social CRM suite and Brandwatch who gave an interesting intro to their Council Monitor beta. Certainly I could see the nodding heads of interest from several Local Authorities who were present.
I’ve obviously waited a couple of weeks to write this. I suppose I didn’t want it to feel like a recap of the event by writing it within a day or so, or something that followed on the heels of a torrent of blog posts over the following week – some of which I’ve read, and some I haven’t. I enjoy going to the Government barcamps. They give me a chance to see friends I worked with in Government, put a face – and voice – to twitter folks I follow and have the odd disagreement over blog posts we’ve all written. As I wandered around attending sessions and talking to people – and before the day had even ended – I found myself wondering the same thing I did at last years Unconference (and the many other Government unconferences and events I’ve attended since) – what happens next?
Today the UK Government officially launches its effort to open up UK data. This is a project that I am proud to have even a small part in developing. In certain circles there is a real fervour around the release of data, this being the essential ingredient missing to give citizens the power to manage their own destiny. Wait. If what I’ve been hearing is right, it sometimes seems there is a real belief that Citizens – not Government – will be developing ‘Services’ based on the data that is released. Who are these Citizens? For years I have made the argument for the guy on the street. Let’s call him (as I so often do) Joe Bloggs. He works hard, spends time with his family and mates. In fact he represents a significantly large portion of the population. Is the supposition that he is going to suddenly take an interest in the release of Government data, teach himself how to code and do SPARQL queries, and develop his own ‘Services’?
On Thursday, 7 January we experienced a bit of both. Ostensibly, most of us in London turned up for the official launch of the latest in Open Government efforts, the launch of the Greater London Authority Data Store – an effort not unlike DataSF, the Guardian Open Tech Platform or the UK Government Open Data initiative. The event, CES Government 2010 (#cesgov10 for those on twitter), was styled around a Skype-provided video link-up with Las Vegas, which reminded me of why businesses still avoid extensive use of videoconferencing. The link was unreliable, and had to be re-established so many times that momentum of the event was difficult to maintain.
Q: How long should it take to develop a new digital product? A: As long as it takes to get it right – within the limits of time, scope and budget (oh, and don’t forget the needs of the user… and the organisation) I am a long-time believer in the User-Centred Design process. For me (and to most people in the business) this means (to a greater or lessor degree):