Digigov Draft Guidance on Commentable Documents

So it seems that the COI are taking comments on some draft guidance for commentable documents: TG134 Commentable documents – [draft guidance] (via Steph Gray/@lesteph, who first brought the idea of commentable consultation documents to my attention through his work at DIUS).

Getting on for 18 months or so ago, Joss Winn and I set up WriteToReply as a platform for experimenting with ideas around the republication of public documents in a commentable form on WordPress using the CommentPress theme. As you will know if you have visited WriteToReply, these theme atomises documents so that each paragraph has a separate URL, and each paragraph can be independently commented on. Since then, we have helped support the development of the WordPress theme, now versioned as digress.it and as maintained by Eddie Tejeda, and introduced the idea to JISC via the JISCPress Rapid Innovation project. Digress.it is also being used at De Montfort University to help amplify the outcomes of workshops and meetings as part of an internal project development process (Meeting/Workshop Amplification at DMU).

Although independently maintained (we set up Public Platforms Ltd, a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee, to manage its interests), several government departments (DCMS, Cabinet Office) have approached us with requests to republish consultation documents or guidance for them, which we have been happy to do. We have also hosted essays and reports from a range of other organisations (for example, Cornerhouse, and UKOLN) and seen a range of JISC funded reports starting to appear on JISCPress.org. As a platform, WriteToReply has also been able to host republications of public documents on behalf of individuals who have felt that particular documents needed to be made available in form where they could be easily discussed online. We have also taken it onto ourselves to republish documents that we felt should be made available in a commentable form, or that we believed would provide a good case study for how commentable documents in general, and the atomisable, commentable documents that we can republish using digress.it in particular, might be used to widen a discussion around a particular topic; (so for example, we have explored publishing committee related papers from the Public Sector Transparency Board).

Through republishing these documents, we have started to get a feel for some of the things that make a commentable document easier to publish and navigate.

With the COI looking to produce guidance on commentable documents as a way of “giv[ing] people the opportunity to comment publicly online about ideas, proposals and plans”, I’d like to think we’ve played a contributory role, through WriteToReply, in developing ideas around how commentable documents can play a a role in document based public consultation and policy development and will be able to continue to contribute to this approach.

As for my thoughts on the draft guidance, which covers engendering trust, managing commentable documents and technical considerations? I’ll probably be posting those on the TG134 Commentable documents – [draft guidance] website directly ;-)

PS see also another draft guidance note – TG135 Underlying data publication [draft guidance] on the publication of data by government departments and agencies.