Gov 2.0: Truly Transformative Government

I attended the “Gov 2.0, or Truly Transformative Government” seminar held at Portcullis House yesterday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and in partnership with the Oxford Internet Institute. The purpose was to look at how Government can exploit the success of the contemporary Internet.

The event preamble stated:
“Usage of government websites is on the rise but has yet to take off like Facebook, iTunes and many other spectacular examples. In this seminar we look at whether government and public services could engage the public in the way music, shopping contemporary Internet for the design of public services and public engagement? Attendees will have the chance to listen and question leading figures in the area from Government, academia and industry.”

I only attended session 2 (by choice – this seemed the more interesting session to me since it was more ‘end-user’ focused):

  • Reinventing Government for the Intranet age – Jerry Fishenden, Microsoft
  • Citizen redesign of user-centric government – William Heath, Ideal Government
  • Small is beautiful: Re-engineering government from the bottom-up – Tom Steinberg, mySociety.
  • There was a panel Q&A chaired by the Earl of Errol.

Jerry Fishenden

  • Government systems set up as individual silos to meet needs of the individual departments and not citizen-centric.
  • Example of young offender, who may be in and out of education several times, known to social services, then police and ultimately judiciary.
  • Data on the individual held in multiple places and limited sharing of data/information.

William Heath

  • Web 2.0 is anti-hierarchical. Potential loss of control
  • Culture of assertive non-listening and spin in government
  • The challenge for CIO’s is to manage up, not down
  • IT suppliers are contracted to conform to stated requirements, not solve social problems.
  • Lack of a clear customer voice
  • Citizen’s have difficulty getting information from government that will help them with manage the complexities of living in today’s society
  • Problems for the citizen – the Computer says ‘No!”

Tom Steinberg
Demonstration of FixMyStreet.

  • Shows how existing datasets can be simply re-purposed.
  • “World exclusive” demo of mashup enabling users to enter house price and travel time to place of work parameters to identify areas on map that match parameters. Many uses – e.g. those seeking affordable housing within required travel time.
  • Don’t try and do culture change. Implement what the user needs – culture change will follow.
  • Keep things (projects) small
  • Heavyweight project management (e.g. Prince 2) can be the enemy. Need agile project management and agile development.
  • Stop wasting money on training; if tools are worth using then training is unnecessary.
  • Don’t spend 80% of budget on culture change – double your investment in the technology instead.

Quote of the day (non-attributed)
“There is a stench of failure in traditional project management in government – and quite rightly deserved!”

Q&A (abstract)
Q: Government systems and technology designed to manage highly complex processes – e.g. tax, with incremental change in response to changes in law. Need for

A: Yes, but why can’t HMRC have simple “submit tax form” button on their website?
A:  Government already have most of the personal tax details from previous returns – why can’t they issue tax returns largely completed – citizen then note any changes, sign and return.

Some good presentations, and good insights into what is wrong with Government’s use (or misuse) of technology. Nothing really new – the Government can’t do agile project management, is crippled by over-large and over-complex projects and only listens to itself! Systems and datasets are designed and developed for one specific use and can’t be (easily) re-purposed. The user (citizen) remains a distant – and often annoying – dependency who generally can’t be trusted to manage any aspect of his/her life.  Government knows best and will continue to think for us.  In the mean-time, those who live and work in the real world and understand the frustrations of dealing with government departments will continue to strive to be heard and must rely on the handful of innovators and entrepreneurs in the private sector to make small and incremental improvements to their lives.      


  1. Thanks for the notes, Steve. Wish I’d known about the event before it happened; I was just round the corner, and would have loved to pop in.

    I appreciate your sentiments re government’s inability to get this; but I hope there are enough of us wellwishers around, steadily building credibility, proving what can be done when/if we’re left alone to get on with it.

    At Saturday’s Barcamp I’ll be unveiling a website I’ve just built for a Cabinet-level ministry, using WordPress. Built from scratch in a few weeks, for a relative pittance, and it’ll still have much better functionality than most others round the Cabinet table. Any reason why the same couldn’t be done up and down Whitehall? Not in my book.

    January 23, 2008
  2. Steve Dale said:


    look forward to seeing the new website – sounds interesting. I hope you’re right about gov learning from what can be done. However, they’ll first have to change their ‘one-size-fits-all’ heavyweight and over-bureaucratic project management processes which act as a huge barrier (and disincentive) for smaller agile projects, and realise that they have to take on some risk in order to get things done!

    January 23, 2008

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