When IT Meets Politics

Dec 16 2007   10:36AM GMT

Will sousveillance transform Government?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

Tags:
information society

I got the name wrong. It is sousveillance not su-veillance, but we have now seen the concept at work over the past couple of weeks, as e-mails leak and the omni-incompetance of our over-centralised bureaucracies is exposed.


In my blog entry on December 7th I referred to the ways in which citizens and consumers are beginning to use the new technologies to hold over-wheening suppliers, including government departments and agencies, to account.

The press notes and minutes of the Third EURIM Transformational Government Dialogue, on Democratising Delivery, are now available. They reveal the full potential for using social networking techniques to change the balance of power between government and the citizen.

But will that potential be realised?

And will the results be as the enthusiasts wish?

At this point we should remember the structures and values that once upon a time made our Civil Service the envy of the world. As the Earl of Erroll, (an information security professional as well as hereditary High Constable of Scotland), said at Cybersecurity Knowledge Transfer Network lunch two weeks ago: “we have had a perfect wake-up call – a catastrophe in which no-one was actually killed”.

The technology is not a panacea, even though it can be used to dramatically reduce the cost of giving all voters, residents, patients or taxpayers a voice.

Using it to enhance genuine customer service and democratic accountability entails ensuring inclusive, balanced, constructive and representative debate – and neither on-line cacophony nor digital censorship and dictatorship.

If we are to ensure that such debate does indeed represent the views of the electorate (and not lead to clashes between interest groups and elected representatives) we also need a long overdue cleansing of the electoral registers. The registers are said to now exclude the majority of local residents while including many who no longer live in the area, if they ever did.

Debate also needs to be organised by impartial moderators, who share the values of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms which created the pre-Armstrong civil service – when Sir Humphrey sought to hold the Minister’s enthusiasms in check, pending full debate, rather than pandering to his enthusiam of the day.

The parliamentarians on the panel for the EURIM Transformational Government Dialogues include current members of the Public Accounts Committee, the Treasury Select Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee and a former DWP Select Committee Chairman.

They were looking forward to this session and the can of worms they expected to open.

They were not disappointed.

They also got some very good answers to some very searching questions.

On January 22nd the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the Oxford Internet Institute plan an event in the House Of Commons on Government 2.0.

By then we should have the EURIM report in draft and some “interesting” questions to put to the speakers before going firm on the conclusions and recommendations, hopefully in time for the Transformational Government conference due at the end of January,

We can then expect some very interesting enquiries as the Select Committees of the House begin to look at what Transformational Government looks like for the departments and agencies they cover.

Some of the most interesting questions also apply to those in the private sector who are looking to use of social networking technologies to improve customer contact and understanding.

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