Democratic Accountability: Look at Lobbying

Filed under: Governance,Politics — lenand @ 12:08 pm
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Thanks to the Great Emancipator we have seen a US view of “Government-wide Information Sharing for Democratic Accountability“.  The author, J.H. Snider, is suggesting using semantic web technology to monitor the connections between powerful politicians, public officials and lobbyists.  He points out that these techniques are used on the weaker members of society, but the powerful will cite privacy and cost for not applying the same methods on their activities. He recommends that the President’s transactions are monitored in detail as a showcase for monitoring Congress and executive relationships.  What are the chances of linking up data of the Prime Minister, Ministers, senior civil servants, leaders of councils and their suppliers of hospitality?

Well, there is the work going on in the Cabinet Office led cross-government information architecture.  They are attempting to use standards to provide interoperability between different departments and agencies.   Amongst these are the building of an “Upper Ontology for Operational Service Delivery” – perhaps this has the same intention as Snider’s “Who-What-When-Where ontology”.  The USA has a more accessible name for what may be the same thing.

It will take a long time, if ever, to develop a lobbying information system. Even though some MPs are calling for the establishment of a register it would eventually have to be linked to lots more sources of reliable data.

Where Quarkside differs from Snider is in the use of Global Unique Idenifiers (GUIDs).  They may think they have them in the USA, but it is not credible or politically acceptable in the UK. Reflecting back on a post from last year,

  • A person does not need a Unique Identifier (UID).
  • The Law does not demand a UID.
  • Use just sufficient data to identify a person.

Openness in personal relationships can only built from an understanding of federated identity, multiple identities, not by demanding a UID.  The likes of Experian can do it – so could UK plc. Maybe Liam Maxwell could assist here. Maybe we could also publish information about political lobbying that would improve democratic accountability.


Why is there no British “Google”?

Filed under: Innovation,Policy — lenand @ 10:13 am
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James Clark, an MBA from the Cass Business school, reported his research to the Conservative Technology Forum earlier this week. It was well researched, producing evidence, not just anecdote. First of all he smoked out two red herrings

  1.  British culture is unsuited to entrepreneurs.
  2.  Shortage of money for start-ups.

By looking at a the historical background of start-ups in the USA the was able to identify four drivers that we don’t get right in the UK. Not only that, he gave some recommendations for policy consideration.

  1. Culture:  Some aspects of our culture can act as “inhibitors”.  Policy should focus on enhancing cultural “activators”
  2.  Knowledge and Experience: Not enough of the “right” kind of knowledge.  Policy should utilise local resources (people and industrial) whilst reducing barriers to importing talent
  3. Finance: Financing gaps at crucial growth stages. Policy should target funding gaps and incentivise investment, but not crowd out private activity
  4. Networks: Networks are stratified and information is poorly distributed Policy should target basic levels of information sharing and create “shared spaces” for start-ups.

The probing questions after the presentation were answered with great authority. Quarkside raised the issue of the difficulties of innovative SMEs  getting close to any procurement action in central government. The culture is wrong. But a noble Lord promised to take up the issue at ministerial levels. Let’s see how it progresses.  Maybe Liam Maxwell, supremo for ICT Innovation in the Cabinet Office, can make a difference.


Liam Maxwell: One year later

It is more than a year since Liam Maxwell’s  “Better for Less” was published.  What has been achieved from the 69 pages of ideas? It obviously made the right impression because he is now working in the Cabinet Office in a one year appointment from September 2011


Our goal should be to deliver to the online population frontline public services with minimal, possibly zero, administrative cost, freeing up cash for more effective, intermediary-based, service delivery for those not online, and also as savings. This is already happening in some areas of local government and driving taxes down. It is happening in other countries, making service delivery better. It is time the biggest component of the British economy, its bloated state, started to learn these lessons.

How does it work? 5 principles underlining all IT in government We base our approach on a small number of core principles

1) Openness

a. Open Data – government data must be transparent
b. Open Source works – its concepts should be applied to processes as much as to IT
c. Open Standards will drive interoperability, save money and prevent vendor lock-in
d. Open Markets – competition creates efficient market-based solutions.

2) Localism – the centre may set the standards, but local deployment is best.

3) Ownership and Privacy

a. It’s our data, government can have access but not control over personal data.
b. Government should be accountable for data protection and proper use.

4) Outcomes matter more than targets.

5) Government must be in control of its programmes, not led by them.”

Let’s look to see how successfully the principles have been incorporated into the Government ICT Strategy.

1. Open data, open standards and open source are clearly stated objectives. And open markets are part of the procurement objective.

2. Localism does not get a mention, according to word search. This is a gaping hole, but perhaps Liam will explain this when he speaks at the SOCITM conference in November.

3. Alarmingly, neither privacy nor data protection are words within the strategy.  The objective for “Risk Management Regime” has implied elements for both, but the metrics concentrate system security – not anything based on citizen data protection.

4. Outcomes are potentially the most important gap in the strategy. There’s too much concentration on internal, central government processes. The four objectives for using ICT to enable and deliver changeare not really focussed on citizen outcomes.

5. Governance of programmes is an implicit role for the “Public Expenditure (Efficiency and Reform) Cabinet sub-committee (PEX(ER))“. There are twelve senior people named, with representatives from MOD, MOJ, HMRC, HO, DoH, DWP and Cabinet Office.   That  should be enough people. However, Quarkside thinks that UK plc should also have representation from departments with responsibility for improving the ICT skill base of the country. Shouldn’t DfE and BIS have something useful to contribute? And if localism is really important, why doesn’t DCLG have a place on the high table?

Quarkside gives “Better for Less” 40 marks out of a possible 100 for influencing the agenda. In the old days, this was a ‘Pass’ at A level. So not too bad. However, it would not have secured you a place in one of the top universities.


Low Confidence in Government ICT Strategy

We should be pleased that Government has published “Government ICT Strategy – Strategic Implementation Plan”.  It is evidence of a controllable top-down approach and provides an easily digestible 77 pages of prose that should give us all confidence that the full programme will be delivered.  There are 19 Objectives and 19 Programme Key Milestones in the document.  Looking deeper, each of the objectives has a project team and its own set of Key Milestones.  Hence there is   a total of about 60 Key Milestones. So, bottom-up, people are working diligently.  However, there is a risk that they may be too constrained to look at the overall programme.  By observation, it’s the people at the bottom who know what is really going on – but they are rarely asked their opinion.  Quarkside recommends that a cross-section of staff are interviewed on their level of confidencethat the overall programme objectives will  be met.  The initial impression is that there are too many objectives  with  low confidence of success.


This is the list of Objectives from the table of contents.

Objective 1: Reducing Waste and Project Failure, and Stimulating Economic Growth

  1. Asset and services knowledgebase
  2. Open source
  3. Procurement
  4. Agile
  5. Capability
  6. Open standards for data
  7. Reference architecture
  8. Open technical standards
  9. Cloud computing and applications store

Objective 2: Creating a common ICT infrastructure

10. Public services network (PSN)

11. Data centre consolidation

12. End user device strategy

13. Green ICT

14. Information strategy

15. Risk management regime

Objective 3: Using ICT to enable and deliver change

16. Channel shift

17. Application Programme Interfaces (APIs)

18. Online government consultation

19. Social media


Quarkside has mapped the Key Milestones (M) with the Objectives (O)



Key Milestone Date


100% of central departments have access to the ICT Asset and Services Knowledgebase and can input, discover and output data

September 2011



Cloud Computing Strategy published

October 2011



End User Device Strategy published and delivery programme commenced

October 2011



Green ICT Strategy published

October 2011



ICT Capability Strategy published

October 2011


2, 6, 8

First release of a draft suite of mandatory Open Technical Standards published December 2011


First draft of reference architecture published

December 2011



Publication of cross-government information strategy principles

December 2011



High level information risk management governance process designed agreed

December 2011



Roll-out of ‘lean’ sourcing process

January 2012



Data Centre standards published

February 2012



Core PSN capabilities delivered and services available to allow sharing of information between customers regardless of whether they are on the new PSN or legacy environments

March 2012



A set of open standards for data adoption established and progressed by government departments, driven by the Open Standards Board

June 2012



50 accredited products on the Government Application Store

December 2012



Full implementation of End User Device Strategy commences

January 2013



Agile techniques used in 50% of major ICT-enabled programmes

April 2013


9, 10

80%, by contract value, of government telecommunications will be PSN compliant

March 2014



50% of central government departments’ new ICT spending will be transitioned to public cloud computing services

December 2015



Cost of data centres reduced by 35% from 2011 baseline

October 2016

It is pure co-incidence that there are 19 items in the Objectives list and 19 Key Milestones.  That some Milestones support several objectives is fine, and not an issue.  However, none of the four Objectives for “Using ICT to enable and deliver change” seem to get a mention, namely:

16. Channel shift

17. Application Programme Interfaces (APIs)

18. Online government consultation

19. Social media

This is not mischievous arm-chair auditing.  It demonstrates one of the duties of a risk manager to check that ALL objectives are visibly targeted in projects. The Programme should either drop the objectives under change control, or revise the implementation plan.  The latter is obviously preferable, because they are the only ones that have impact on citizen services.  The first 15 objectives are largely internal and focus on efficiency, not effective service delivery.

Confidence in Outcomes

Confidence in ICT Strategy Implementation

Quarkside has used the Confidence Management method to review the Milestone Plan.  The Confidence Chart dramatically shows the impact of omitting four of the Strategy objectives. How is it possible to give any level of confidence that they will be achieved when they are not related to any Milestones? Admittedly, the results were obtained from a sample of one person; just think how more useful this would be if more people were sampled at each level in the programme teams.  There will be some interesting results that would make immediate sense to Ministers – who are reliably expected to look at only one sheet of paper.  The average  level of confidence in the overall programme is just 50%.  Surely this  would be important to Ministers if it was a true reflection   of what the Civil Servants think is likely to happen in the future. It is just like a doctor sticking a thermometer in a patient’s mouth – not a diagnosis.

The Governance structure includes a Director of ICT Futures, Liam Maxwell.  He has been appointed and has begun work to horizon scan and improve capability to identify risks and exploit new technologies (Action 28).  Liam Maxwell should be made aware of this innovative method devised by an SME.  Any objective with less than 50% confidence should surely have a prominent place on the risk log.  It is far more effective to sort out any issues at this early stage than wait until it is too late to correct them.  The end results of all large programmes can be predicted during the first 30% of their planned time period. Liam Maxwell should try and ensure that each of the project implementation teams own risk logs can be compared objectively.  The current sets of top three risks in each sub-delivery area are purely qualitative. They cannot be compared to identify which are truly the biggest programme risks.  Educating project teams to use the Crilog Risk Index is one possible way of ranking every risk in the Programme.

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