Category: Uncategorized

Open Data For Transparency – Contract Compliance?

Doing a tab sweep just now, I came across a post describing a Policy note issued on contracts and compliance with transparency principles by the Crown Commercial Service [Procurement Policy Note – Increasing the Transparency of Contract Information to the Public – Action Note 13/15 31 July 2015 ] that requires “all central government departments including their Executive Agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs)” (and recommends that other public bodies follow suit) to publish a “procurement policy note” (PPN) “in advance of a contract award, [describing] the types of information to be disclosed to the public, and then to publish that information in an accessible form” for contracts advertised after September 1st, 2015.

The publishers should “explore [make available, and update as required] a range of types of information for disclosure which might typically include:-

i. contract price and any incentivisation mechanisms
ii. performance metrics and management of them
iii. plans for management of underperformance and its financial impact
iv. governance arrangements including through supply chains where significant contract value rests with subcontractors
v. resource plans
vi. service improvement plans”

The information so released may perhaps provide a hook around which public spending (transparency) data could be used to cross-check contract delivery. For example, “[w]here financial incentives are being used to drive performance delivery, these may also be disclosed and published once milestones are reached to trigger payments. Therefore, the principles are designed to enable the public to see a current picture of contractual performance and delivery that reflects a recent point in the contract’s life.” Spotting particular payments in transparency spending data as milestone payments could perhaps be used to cross-check back that those milestones were met in an appropriate fashion. Or where dates are associated in a contract with particular payments, this could be used to flag-up when payments might be due to appear in spending data releases, and raise a red flag if they are not?

Finally, the note further describes how:

[i]n-scope organisations should also ensure that the data published is in line with Open Data Principles. This means ensuring the data is accessible (ideally via the internet) at no more than the cost of reproduction, without limitations based on user identity or intent, in a digital, machine-readable format for interoperation with other data and free of restriction on use or redistribution in its licensing conditions

In practical terms, of course, how useful (if at all) any of this might be will in part determined by exactly what information is released, how, and in what form.

It also strikes me that flagging up what is required of a contract when it goes out to tender may still differ from what the final contract actually states (and how is that information made public?) And when contracts are awarded, where’s the data (as data) that clearly states who it was awarded to, in a trackable form, etc etc. (Using company numbers in contract award statements, as well as spending data, and providing contract numbers in spending data, would both help to make that sort of public tracking easier…)

DRIP… Letter to My MP

Dear Andrew Turner,

I am writing to you today to express concern about the way in which the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill [1] is being rushed through Parliament without appropriate time allowed for scrutiny of the Bill or members to elicit expert and informed opinion about what the consequences of the Bill might be.

I do not know if you have read the Bill [1], the supporting documentation (explanatory notes and impact assessment) [2], or the ECJ ruling [3] that prompted the emergency legislation, or how you intend to vote in the matter of the Bill. If you have not read the supporting documents, but you do intend to vote in support of the Bill, I would like to ask by what rationale you came to that decision? Because it would not be in my name as a constituent and you would not have my support in the matter.

If you do not have time to read through the official documents, may I ask what other sources of information you turned to in forming your opinion. For your information, [4] considers some of the issues raised in the impact assessment document.

Informed opinion appears to differ in several important respects in the extent to which it believes the Bill may introduce new or extended powers or extend the scope of regulation, rather than just securing previous legislation, from the public statement that introduced the bill, and the Home Secretary’s comments in the HoC Home Affairs Committee today. This suggests that more time for considering this Bill is required – if the House is not clear about what the legislation says, it should not pass it. If it is clear, how does it counter the claims raised by the informed dissenters?

As I have written to you previously, I would also like to express concern once again about the cavalier and ill-informed way in which the Government introduce and attempt to pass legislation particularly in respect of “digital” matters.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Hirst

[4] – Replacing the master (dot com) of Previous Government Departmental Web Domains?

By the by, I ran a search on the deprecated website earlier today (Google took me there originally, I think, rather than to the new site reached via

search on

and ended up on a search results page with the URL

dwp search

(The results appear to be broken – on the first link at least, the redirect from the results page goes to a largely irrelevant link on the new site.)

Hmm…, homepage

Ooh – slick… ‘ere, gov, wanna buy a new motorwebservice?

BBC Click Radio Recording As-Live at the OU

In case you’re around the OU campus in Milton Keynes on Monday 18th July, we’re recording the final episode in our season of special episodes on openness with Gareth Mitchell and the BBC Click Radio team.

If you’d like to attend, the recording will take place in the Berrill Lecture Theatre from 1pm to 1.30. Please be seated by 12.45 for the sound check;-)

Who Can See Whose Conversations In-stream on Twitter?

A week or so ago, I posted a quick hack using the Google Social graph API showing how to generate a list Common Friends or Followers on Twitter, so that you could look up which folk would see, in their Twitter timeline, a conversation between two other people on Twitter. (A hosted version of the service is now available here.)

At the time I also generalised the code so that you could look up the extent to which any party could see the conversations between two other parties on twitter, in stream. This is another single page web app and it can be found hre: Twitter in-stream eavesdrop.

It looks like this:

Very simple, very quick… there is nothing more to it than what you find if you View Source… (In fact, there’s more than you need if you View Source – there is also a Google Analytics tracking code in there…)

Virtual Revolution: Google Economics

Th third episode of the OU/BBC co-produced Virtual Revolution (which may well be available on iPlayer from time to time) has just aired, and included a quick overview of how Google works – from finding relevant search results, to pricing the adverts that make Google its money.

So here’s a quick recap, and a little more detail…

Firstly, the famous PageRank mechanism that drives Google’s search results ranking. Here’s how Terry Winograd, one of the interviewees on the Virtual Revolution programme, describes it:

(Michael Nielsen has written an even more comprehensive tutorial on how this works at Lectures on the Google Technology Stack 1: Introduction to PageRank. If you want to read the original PageRank paper, you can find it here: The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.)

Next up, Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, explains how the advert auction that powers Google’s AdSense service works:

(If you buy Google AdSense adverts, you might also be interested in how to price your bids effectively…)

For a full length lecture by Hal Varian on “The Economics of Internet Search”, check out the following hour long video:

[To learn more about effective searching on the web, see the OU course Beyond Google: working with information online, or check out this free tutorial from the Open University Library: Safari: Skills in Accessing, Finding and Reviewing Information.]