Government 2.0: the Inglorious (MPs' Expenses) Revolution

The saga of the MPs’ expenses disc is not only a classic tale of information governance, or rather the lack of it, but of  the selective use of information to bring about revolution. We do not yet know what kind of revolution. But, with the largest ever new intake of MPs in prospect, the Revolution of 2010 will be more akin to 1660 or 1688 than 1946, let alone 1979 or 1997. 

Will the new MPs believe that the uniquely centralised and bureaucratised British central government machine, created to respond to the press driven social cruades of the railway age and updated for the wireless age, can again be updated for the Internet Age?

Or will they believe that the time has come to give power back to the people, whether by devolving power to on-line communities (geographic or sectoral) or to the individual (personal choice: real or illusory)?

Some of the candidates standing for election come from within the ICT industry and understand the limitations and fragility of the technologies for which so much is promised (social networking, cloud computing et al) – just as it was for mainframes, timesharing,  transaction processing and hierarchical and integrated networks. 

Others know only the joys and frustrations of the world-wide wait and services that are always on until society really needs them. Then they collapse with overload or because a single point of failure has been taken out by fire. flood, lightning or simple power failure – no need for terrorist attack when digititis or mother nature does it better..

So who will educate them as to what the technology and its ill-trained and worse disciplined pseudo-professional acolytes can reasonably be expected to deliver?

That “education” process will help determine whether they will wish to use the technology in support of reforming and rejuvenating Central Government or to help devolve power to a mix of Local Government, Municipal Enterprise and Local Co-operatives and Partnerships, driven from the bottom up.

Whichever they choose, the reality will, at best, be a change in the balance of power leading to an evolving set of compromises between Townhall and Whitehall. Meanwhile the pressure to remove at least 20% of Government spend, in order to balance the books let alone repay debt, will lead to the removal of the tiers of unelected quangos – as  unpopular and unnecessary overhead

Only three things are certain:

1) Any attempt at comprehensive, centrally directed change will prolong the agony of recession and eventually lead to a reversion to close to the status quo – I graduated in 1968, the year of failed revolutions, having read Crane Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution” , having watched and re-watched the great revolutionary training film, “Battle for Algiers” and having had my certainties taken apart by Maurice Cowling with his “vision” of modern British politics as a series of ritual squabbles between semi-hereditary elites, bashing each other over the head with ism’s and ologies – whether they believed in them or not.  

2) The information used for any attempt at central planning will be as least as partial, distorted and close to worthless, if not positively misleading – as it has been in the past decades of “policy based evidence”. I lost faith in Government statistics in 1970 when a much trumpeted “export turn-around”. was based on the entire overseas sales of STC’s Microwave and Line Division since start-up being put through in a single month: a colleague had just discovered this was part of his job description. No had done it, or even asked for it, before. Nothing was said when the balance of payments crashed back again the following month. 

3) The main battles will be fought on-line. The traditional content controllers (the “dead-tree press”, the BBC and Government and Corporate press agencies) will fight the new content controllers (the ISPs and Search Engine providers) for control of the social media channels. These will then be used pro-actively (as by the machine politicans who bankrolled the initial Obama campaign) to manipulate public opinion and provide the illusion of support for the views they wish promoted. Meanwhile the blogogracy and sousveillance community will wage guerilla warfare and achieve as much, or as little, as the French Resistance.

The EURIM Information Governance Competition exercise covered in my last blog on spyware, “How does the Cookie Crumble” is only one of a series of events for the Class of 2010 being organised with a variety of partners.

This afternoon I will be meeting with some of our partners on the event(s) being planned with the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists: “Look before you leap: the politicians guide to picking winners”. This will put material on successful, as opposed to failed, systems  into political context: cross linking to the best of recent guidance from OCG, BCS, Intellect and others as well as the recent EURIM guide on “Good Practice in Procurement” and “Let the poeple speak“, the report from last year’s exercise on practical experience with Transformational Government  

Last week we had a planning meeting for one of the other exercises: to be built aound the material in the excellent LSE report “The UK’s Digital road to Recovery” .

We have also discussed a possible exercise on “Smarter Britain”: the innovative use of ICT (e.g. satellite and wireless broadband to rural areas) and demand aggregation to help transform the UK’s digital infrastructure at a fraction of the cost/risk envisaged in Lord Carter’s Interim Report. But, more importantly this exercise will put the infrastructure investment into the context of the use of ICT, including space technology, to address our terrestrial problems, from flood prevention to energy conservation, at a fraction of the costs that currently put off serious thought about Green Agendas.     

The intention is that each of the exercises will be organised by consortia of those who wish to improve mutual understanding between the ICT industry (users as well as suppliers) and  those (from whichever traditional or new parties) who are likely to dominate policy formation and implementation after the current dust setttles.

The only requirement of consortium members is that they be willing and able to work together to help organise lively and interesting session which stimulate thought and debate as to what is practical. We do not want the simplistic and patronising messages that are all that most ICT spokesmen can agree on. We don’t want agreement – we want those who will air interesting and informative differences in public, in constructive ways, in words the audience can understand. 

Please let me know if you organisation would be interested in joining this exercise.