Necessity, that is. It’s Budget Day and the cuts are in the post. My incredible predictive powers tell me that government spending may be under a bit of pressure shortly.
If you’re not a regular over at William Heath’s Ideal Government blog, this post is a good introduction to his general themes. In his overview of his preoccupations, this one stands out:
- We haven’t yet seriously started on co-creation or participative public services where the systems delivered are formally designed successfully to meet a real need, and created, measured and improved with active input from those it’s intended to help
The possibilities (and often, the idealism) of open-source advocacy couched in these terms may offer us a clue to where the value of participation may really be acknowledged in the short term. At any point in the day, the most enraged person in the UK is probably the
one who has had to deal with the sublime idiocy of HMG IT procurement most recently.
As a microcosm of what’s wrong with our democracy, there can be few better examples. It’s substantially driven by insidious pressure groups (suppliers) who have captured departements and are capable of cranking up demand for what they are selling. As my friend Dominic Campbell put it recently, it’s time people start getting fired for buying IBM.
Politicians are particularly exposed here. The level of responsibility that they bear for expensive IT failures or the purchase of White Elephants is roughly at an inverse proportion to their ability to make those decisions. IT procurement is a complex and (deliberately?) mystifying process. Civil servants can often get away with huge mistakes and acts of carelessness that would be difficult to imagine in the Ministry of Defence the NHS.
And while some of us have huge reservations about the potential of citizens to get involved directly shaping schools or local authorities, IT procurment – with the existance of a large, well-networked open-source community (and a bunch of clever FOI-savvy geeks who really hate IT procurement) – may well provide the textbook example of how participative design can result in much better outcomes, better strategy, more bureaucratic accountability and tons of cost-savings.
We’ll see. (Have a look at this Government IT spend infographic that William points to by the way if you want to see how much cash is at stake here).