Public Policy Engagement with Commentariat

One of the weak resolutions that I made to myself at the start of the year was that I would try to take a little bit more interest in UK national policy development decisions that: a) affect all of us; and b) that I might be “qualified” in some sense to comment on.

So it’s quite handy that UK gov appears to be exploring ways of engaging with online communities.

Last year, I commented on the debate on the future of higher education, which used a public blog as one of the avenues for engagement…

…and a couple of days ago, Twittering MP @tom_watson announced the Power of Information Task Force report. Beta

The what???

A “commentariat” enhanced WordPress version of the Power of Information Task Force report report that uses a version of the Commentpress extension to allow readers to comment on the report at the level of “meaningful chunks’ (that is chunks that are larger than paragraphs and small than whole posts).

We are publishing this report in beta before we hand it in formally to the Government. We wanted to give the the community that has contributed to the Taskforce’s work the chance to make suggestions while the report is in draft. The report will be here for comment for two weeks. We shall make small improvements as we go along. Then we shall consider the views raised, adapt the report if we think it helps makes the case to the Government and hand it in to the Cabinet Office. So please go ahead and comment.

You can read more about Commentariat theme (which has been released as an open theme by it’s DIUS developers :-) on @lesteph‘s blog: Introducing Commentariat & the POI Taskforce Report.

One thing I’d quite like to see is a daily/serialised feed for the report so that I could read it over several days in a series of manageable chunks. After all, us natives of the blogosphere all have acquired attention deficit disorder, don’t we, and can’t cope with reading more than 500 words on any topic all in one go…;-) (Seriously, though, drip feeding the report gets a different dynamic going with the reader that might be worth exploring?)

NB Even with these DIUS Interactive initiatives, it seems that MPs don’t think that the DIUS folks are fully entering into the spirit of online engagement as much as they might (“DIUS ‘has not yet found its feet’“):

[T]he MPs, in their review of the department’s annual report, said that “we had high hopes of DIUS demonstrating innovatory methods of operation”.
“We were disappointed in the examples of innovation in its own operations DIUS cited: use of new social media, ‘hot-desking’ and remote working, which for many are far from new,” they said.

And the recent Ofcom review and the Carter “Digital Britain” interim report are fine examples of the “use of new social media”?! Did you see the number of mentions each one gave to those media my colleague John Naughton would call “pull media” compared to the traditional “push media” model of traditional broadcast? (Martin Belam provides the summary stats in Digital Britain Interim report – first impressions if you didn’t…)

(Just by the by, the DIUS geeks had already run a Commentpress-powered consultation (now closed) with the Innovation Nation: Interactive report. They also have a DIUS Netvibes dashboard running, and a Google CSE running over the DIUS empire… Uploads to the DIUS Youtube channel appear to have stalled recently, though… These attempts at engagement stand in stark contrast to the way the Lords Communications Committee has encouraged the community to comment on its recent report on Government Communications?! or maybe the HMGov doesn’t see value in soliciting discussion and commentary around reports? FFS, Be less boring.)

So where do we come in (we being you, and me, and any other readers of blogs like this…)? Well it’s down to us to start engaging back, isn’t it… After all, it takes two (or more) to have a conversation… As the DIUS folks explore ways of engaging with the feeds’n’comments world we live in, at least at a technology level (using feeds and blog machinery), we have to work with them to bring them into the conversations we are having and engage with them as they are trying to engage with us. There’s bound to bit a bit of fumbling at first, but, we know we’re just making it up all the time anyway, right?!;-)

PS it seems like the DIUS folks are also trying to open things up at the document level? ConsultationXML: getting reusable data out of horrid PDFs. But I’m too tired to chase this through just now to find out exactly what they’re up to… G’night, all…

PPS how could I forget this? Directgov innovate:

Directgov have created the developer network to inform the greater developer community about available resources, to provide a platform to connect with one another, and to showcase new ideas with the aim of supporting and encouraging innovation.

Over time we will provide content feeds and API’s allowing people to develop new and interesting ideas and applications for use by the greater community.

Until it gets up to speed, one of the best places to find government APIs is probably still the Show Us A Better Way site…

PPPS See also: New Opportunities: Resources for media and bloggers – a good attempt at making blog friendly resources available for the New Opportunities White Paper.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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