Governing? There's an app for that!
Government is steadily becoming more digital: we've had services.gov.uk, data.gov.uk, and legislation.gov.uk providing online access to a wide range of data. This year has seen something of a drive for getting the politician into the digital age.
Slightly over a year ago, data.gov.uk released a major layout update, with some emphasis on making the site more usable on net-books (and, one would hope, tablets got a boost in the process)1.Shortly afterward, the regulations on electronic devices in the chamber, and also in select committees, were relaxed to permit the use of twitter and those devices
provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum2Laptops are still excluded from the commons3. The key change, in my opinion, was permitting the use of electronic devices a memory aids in speeches. The ability to look-up figures and information on the fly — and thus not have to print off every possible fact for the session — gives greater flexibility.
Less inspired moves include the drive to move the proposed universal credit online4, and pretty much every large computing project in a major public institution over the last two decades (NHS, Identity cards, etc): issues relating often to the scalability of the concept, and the stability of such a large paradigm shift backed only by a government5.
However, Government is beginning to take its cues from business again — and, this time, is starting smaller. Plans to for iPads to be claimable on MP's expenses6 show a drive to keep people in the loop, along with the recent announcement that the Downing Street team are piloting their own iOS app.
The work is begin led by the members of the (somewhat unwieldy named) Civil Service Technology in Business Fast Stream78. The application doesn't do anything particularly special: quick access to statistics and views about the country, seemingly bread and butter stuff in the age of statistics and big data. Access in real-time to an app may seem like more of a challenge, but it really isn't - the aggregation is best done on a server rather than on the phone. None of this is meant to belittle the work that the team has put into the project — gathering and integrating the data feeds is still a monumental, if boring, task10.
Another project that the Civil Service is working on is the “G-Cloud”11. Today a FOI request showed that both Amazon (as AWS) and Google has applications to host the cloud architecture rejected12, which now has it's very cloud resources store, with items such as the
Bespoke Agile Training PackageIf I'm honest, I'm not sure where they're going with all of this.
Some of the other digitalisations being explored haven't be so well received. As with anything involving money and parliament, plans to pay for iPads have met with some press opposition13. However, the 'first native digital generation' in the Civil Service don't seem to be getting too much wrong...yet.
- 1 ↑ http://data.gov.uk/blog/datagovuk-site-redesign
- 2 ↑ Section 21 onwards http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmproc/889/88904.htm
- 3 ↑ Given the amount of room they have when the chamber gets full, this makes sense
"The new universal credit system risks causing difficulties to the 8.5 million people who have never used the internet and a further 14.5 million who have virtually no ICT skills," says Citizens Advice.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19534570
- 5 ↑ British governments can be difficult things to steer in anything like a direct course
- 6 ↑ In addition to three desktops and two laptops — Throughout their entire staff, one would presume. That's more computers than I own
- 7 ↑ http://faststream.civilservice.gov.uk/The-Fast-Streams/TIB-Fast-Stream/
- 8 ↑ The Civil Service fast streams are basically accelerated, targeted graduate opportunities, it appears9
- 9 ↑ http://faststream.civilservice.gov.uk/What-is-the-Fast-Stream/
- 10 ↑ I might even know something about such things...
- 11 ↑ http://gcloud.civilservice.gov.uk/
- 12 ↑ http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/amazon-google-g-cloud-security-government-100303
- 13 ↑ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9239438/MPs-to-get-free-iPads-at-taxpayers-expense.html