Zach Beauvais

Britain 2.5

by | Jun 17, 2009 | From Nodblog

Originally appeared on Nodalities Blog:

It’s hardly new for this blog or our community to cover issues of open access and making information useful for users. But, what if we were to begin speaking in terms  such as: “A call for transparency,” or subtly replace user with citizen?  With little substantive shift of core meaning, the whole message becomes one of rights, responsibilities, and public duty.

I’ve been watching this week as the ember at the heart of this dialogue has been fanned with air-time on mainstream media, and is about to receive its fuel. First, UK Prime Minister Gorden Brown asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee  “to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data in the web over the coming months” appointing him to a special role advising Parliament. In an interview with BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Sir Tim discussed his position; explaining that he’s pushing for transparency: “This is our data. This is our taxpayers’ money which has created this data, so I would like to be able to see it, please.”

Sir Tim had the audience at the tech-friendly TED conference chanting “Raw Data Now” back in February, and he’s now been invited by a sitting government leader to make this happen.

This week also saw the publication of the Digital Britain report, outlining Parliament’s plans for a more connected future. I must admit, for the record, that I haven’t read all 239 pages of the report (made available via, rather, I’ve skimmed it and read several overviews. The gist seems to be that the UK plans to invest in the future of its citizens’ internet connectivity, upgrading existing infrastructure and providing access where there currently isn’t. This investment will cover both wired broadband provision (with a stated aim of 2MBps minimum for every household) and wireless, encouraging investment in 3g provision by allowing mobile companies to have their network licenses more permanently.  It recommends subsidising development wherever the market can’t provide; seemingly equating net access with public utilities (The PM further clarified his thoughts by saying the Internet is as vital as water or gas). More information on this report can be found on the summary page at the Guardian, on twitter: hashtag #digitalbritain, and Bill Thompson’s tech-centric overview.

All this week needs is a major announcement of something moving entirely to cloud-computing to look a bit like the convergence I blogged about a few days ago ;).

So, what has this incredible week brought us? It’s a governmental lead on opening up access to data. Their appointment of TBL makes me think that it’s likely we’ll see more and more linked-data projects coming from the public sector (not just access to, but usable, linked data). Over the next few years, the UK plans to improve its infrastructure and incentivize development on communications networks, and they’ve begun to use language suggesting that being part of the network and access to Public data are rights issues.

Sir Tim spoke, in the interview, about beginning with low-hanging fruit: pilot schemes which open up data and watch what happens.

What are you building?

Image: “Sparks”, by Steven Wong via flickr; Creative Commons By, Share Alike License

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1 Comment

  1. tmurphy

    Digital Report page 213 item 33 “The establishment of a G-Cloud will however require investment in
    technical development and physical facilities, and the CIO Council and the
    Intellect Public Sector Council are now developing the strategic business
    case to justify funding the G-Cloud. Provided that this business case can be
    properly developed, the adoption of the G-Cloud will be a priority for
    Government investment to secure efficiencies, even within the very
    constrained framework for public expenditure, over the next 3 years.

    In the meantime, all those Government bodies likely to procure ICT services
    should look to do so on a scaleable, cloud basis such that other public
    bodies can benefit from the new capability. ”

    It is clear that progress for the short to medium term is going to be ad hoc in nature. Earlier on page 24 in item 78 “the “G-Cloud”, has come an important step closer with the publication of the Government’s CIO Council/ Intellect strategy, augmenting the current development of the business case for investment in technical development and physical facilities. These major developments require a single-minded focus to oversee Whitehall-wide standards and systems. ”

    In English this means “we haven’t worked out what g-cloud is for yet but it sounds nice and once we have done that we have to still got to make the rules for its introduction.

    It is easy to be cynical but it the quotes from the Digital Report hardly inspire confidence that there will be rapid progress. I have picked out the cloud extracts because the technology promises the best return on money as a means of handling data.

    In a sense, it doesn’t matter that much as the pace of change in technology is so rapid that it is impossible for any government to legislate or plan to any great depth for what is coming down the road. The authors statements, despite a tendency to hyperbole (politicians, remember) have been wisely cautious in that respect.

    Sir Tim Berners-Lee was offered the post a little less than two weeks ago and there is still no way of knowing how many Civil Servants (and to what grade) have been assigned to him. But I sincerely hope he has not caught up in the gesture politics of a dying government.

    The key is in how much power or influence he will have. I suggest to be patient and keep all eyes on his office. See if the lights are on late at night and so on.


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