Thought for the day: Transparency through technology

The Hutton Inquiry website should set a gold standard in openness and transparency for all company websites, says Colin...

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The Hutton Inquiry website should set a gold standard in openness and transparency for all company websites, says Colin Beveridge.


 

 

 

Our judges are not particularly renowned for keeping abreast with new technology, and some positively revel in their reputation for belonging to a bygone age of wigs, gowns, sealing-wax and pink-ribboned briefs. We have all heard stories of otherwise learned judges struggling to come to terms with the basic concepts of the modern cyberworld.


Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to see the Hutton Inquiry website. This site is well structured, easy to navigate, and presents us with a welter of information without any unnecessary frills.

It wins my vote for best website of the year, at least in the category of public information service.

Perhaps the Hutton Inquiry website will set a new "gold standard" for openness and transparency. Perhaps we can look forward to a plethora of similar public interest sites designed to recover the lost ground in the battle for popular trust in authority.

Because the Hutton Inquiry was not just an investigation into the tragic circumstances of Dr Kelly¹s death - notwithstanding the urgency of that cause - I think the substantial reason for the inquiry was to resolve a fundamental question of trust.

The world at large needed to know whether they had been misled in any way by those two great bastions of our civilised society: the UK government and the BBC. For all our sakes we had to know whether our trust in these bodies was well placed.

Lord Hutton set about the task in an exemplary manner and, to his credit, was not fazed by any of the technology involved in the process. This was not the run-of-the-mill, brain-numbingly dry legal inquiry usually confined to the bowels of the broadsheet newspapers.

The Hutton Inquiry brought us the full gamut of the day-to-day business of the politicians and broadcasters. We were all witness to their e-mail banter which, in a bygone age, would not have been available to public scrutiny, as such conversations would have been conducted either by telephone or in off the record meetings.

Such is the permanence of an e-mail archive.

These communications are now preserved for posterity by the Hutton Inquiry website and give us a tremendous insight into the wheels of power turning.

This may not have been the intention of the inquiry, but it is an extremely powerful public service, because it should give a clear, strong warning to all those involved in the exercise of power that their private communications may become public knowledge and subject to public scrutiny ­ almost contemporaneously, rather than at the relatively safe distance of 20 or 30 years after the event.

And maybe there is a much wider lesson for those of us involved in managing businesses and IT departments.

Perhaps we should consider carefully the question of trust within our own organisations and how our positions of trust might be affected, one way or the other, if our management e-mail traffic appeared on our own intranets.

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at colin@colin.beveridge.name

 

This was last published in January 2004

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