Better plumbing at No. 10

26072008959The backlash against the new site from the Prime Minister’s Office has begun. Neil McIntosh just popped up in my feed reader tearing it apart for limiting conversation and some poor planning/research around the branding of the video channel. And then Tosh minor chimes in on twitter: “@DowningStreet – turn on your comments”

In my view, what’s happening here is that we’ve got some better plumbing installed, and while that in itself does a little to raise the quality of the drinking water, there’s so much more to be done and part of that is recognising that plumbing isn’t just about delivering water, it’s about providing a circulatory system to support and enhance something that’s going on already.

I’m not certain that just turning the comments on is the way to go, immediately. Of course it would be great to open up the conversation online but I do think the whole thing is still too fragile to withstand the shenanigans of people like this.

The work now should be to build some more solid two-way relationships between No. 10, online journalists and bloggers. My first question would be why press people like Neil haven’t been more intimately involved in the project already. Many people are still impressed when the guys on the @downingstreet twitter feed reply directly to questions and comments. When Obama was here and I was hanging around outside, I had a significantly different experience simply because we had a feed coming from inside and questions were answered in real time. Yes, our government departments are too opaque, but from where I’m sitting, I see much greater will to move towards real transparency than we’ve had in the past. This is a small enabling step towards it – let’s support it rather than knock it down straight away.

Huddle Gov Muddle

Huddle make some great collaboration software. I first met Alastair and Andy at Open Coffee more than a year ago and they’re very nice chaps. I’m also a fan of Mike Butcher. But when I read Mike’s piece on Huddle’s study of opinions of “public sector workers” I hoped that he’d just skimmed the press release badly and regurgitated it without thinking too much – entirely understandable – it’s nearly holiday time.

However the press release is available on the Huddle site too. Though the actual study and important details of methodology are not, we are told that it’s the result of talking to 202 local authority officials a few weeks ago.

My gripes are:

  • The use of “public sector workers” to describe the study sample as in “more than half of public sector workers (52%) are disappointed with lack of innovation in IT services”. No. More than half of the officials asked maybe, but 202 people in local government are not necessarily representative of the public sector as a whole.
  • Government with a capital G usually means central government and the executive in particular “One third (32.5%) believe the Government’s IT problems could be solved by buying from local, UK-based companies” So were these local government people asked about the Government’s IT purchasing policy or their own?
  • The confusion of unwillingness to adopt social software in local government with Central Government IT overspends.
  • No details of what sorts of local government officials these were – either in terms of service area or in terms of seniority or responsibility for decision making.
  • An assumption that IT departments are the problem – is there evidence that those authorities that have banned Facebook have done so entirely on the say so of IT? Surely it’s more complex than that?

I want to make it clear that I’m sure I probably agree with most of the findings of this report and other people would find some clear facts about staff opinions in this area valuable , it’s the sloppy reporting that I find annoying – can someone who actually knows something about the subject give us a decent summary?