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Jonathan Carr-West’s speech news:rewired

May 31, 2011

Below is a copy of the speech Jonathan made at the news:rewired conference on Friday.

Back in 2009 we started looking at how councils can respond to the new web agenda. We wrote a think piece called Local Government 3.0 which looked at the different ways in which councils around the country were using new social media technologies to engage with communities, deliver better services and drive efficiencies.

In that paper we argued that we need to stop thinking of web 2.0 as a set of tools and see it more as a way of thinking and doing that is open, transparent, engaging, collaborative, non-hierarchical and creative.

Two years on and the conversation has gone in very much this direction. It is interesting that people tend to talk less now of social media, or web 2.0 and instead talk about “open”. A point emphasised by Alan Rusbridger’s speech at the BBC’s Social Media summit last Friday.

Open reflects a growing 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.

Events like today show that journalism too has undergone a similar cultural transformation.

This is why I believe the political world can learn a lot from the of journalism – in terms of sourcing and storytelling techniques – and I believe journalism can learn a lot from politics – about engagement and participatory techniques, about managing issues related to privacy and about the ethical frameworks for using online material.

But where journalists and politicians come together most is their connectedness with place – and it’s this connectedness with place that is crucial in open local data.

As we argued on the blog last week, we are currently seeing what we might call a relocalisation of the web.

The localise-able mySociety websites, Chris’s Openly Local, hyperlocal websites like the Philip’s Lichfield Blog – and then global platforms like Facebook Places and Foursquare – all of which are newish developments – are all engaging users with place, often with the place that they’re in at that moment.

And the growth in smartphones, Ipads and the forthcoming 4G spectrum auction all signify place and localisation will matter even more in the years ahead.

Connectedness with place fits comfortably alongside the Government’s Localism agenda – for those not aware, the Localism Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, envisages an exciting new world in which councils and communities work collaboratively and in-co-operation to build better, cheaper, and more personalised services.

This means councils opening up the town hall, opening up the books, and being open to challenge.

So open data is crucial to what is one of the Government’s central policies – and they recognise this.

George Osborne’s Google Zeitgeist speech homed in on the “massive potential” of open data – emphasising the digital by default to public service delivery approach that now exists following Martha Lane Fox’s report. – the new prototype of the a single domain website for government – is a great example of a government embracing risk, welcoming challenges and attempting to work with citizens to build more convinient services.

The instruction to release all council spending over £500 (which has provided ample material for journalist on high-salaries and council incompetence) served as a powerful message that the opaque skin of local government is about to become, obviously not transparent over night, but at least a touch more translucent.

Building on the spending data, the Government told town halls to open their doors to bloggers and allow filming of public meetings. In councils like Kirklees, online viewing figures have already exceeded 14,000 – a significant figure when compared to how many people participate in most formal council activity

To demonstrate the effect open data can have on local policy I want to run through two very visual examples of councillors using online methods to engagement, listen and influence policy decisions.

Case Study James Cousins –

Case Study James Barber –

So although we may still have a long way to go, and still a lot of convincing to do – we’ve are taking small but significant steps forward  – in a relatively short space of time too

But what has been preventing this steps from being greater?

All councils are doing open data differently, This can be down to a range interrelated factors

1. Political attitudes. Does open data have the support of senior staff or is it seen as a burden?  Is this the best use of resource when councils implementing 26% budget cuts?

2. Experience. Some authorities may have been ‘hit’ by particular uses of open data or FOI that shaped perceptions – high profile exposure of salaries or allowances, long running issues (parking, particular development etc).

3. Internal skills – councils like Lichfield, Kirklees, Sutton, Walsall, Coventry, Blackburn with Darwent, Birmingham – these councils have people inside the organisation with the cultural mind-set and technological skills to release data is useful and re-useable ways.

Data and information fuel innovation. Thankfully, central government and increasingly local government, are starting to see data as an investment – Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude believes open government data will create a £6 billion industry.

I therefore think we must expect and prepare for further transformations towards more open government.


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