Posts Tagged ‘Gov 2.0’

Bringing Government as Platform to Life –Introducing Travel Advisor

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

One of the concepts we’ve been talking about for a long time now is “Government as Platform”, the concept of breaking government services up into a number of digital building blocks that can be assembled in different combinations to provide compelling new services to citizens.

Government as Platform has many advantages, done correctly, it is not just a cost effective way of delivering relevant and rich services to citizens, but more importantly it changes the overall dynamic of how citizens gain access to crucial government information and services, ensuring that government services are federated out to the places where citizens live, work and play (rather than forcing citizens to have to come to government every time they want access to the service).

AdvisorToday, I’m really pleased to be able to announce the availability of Travel Advisor – a new example of this approach, taking a core government service – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Advisory service, federating it out through an open data api and blending that data with a great social networking platform for gap year travellers – the brilliant (Not to mention bringing with it core functionality from the internet like Bing’s currency exchange, weather and translation) All of this comes together to provide a beautiful, well informed, socially connected travel companion for gap year travellers.

Although a great application in its own right, it is also an excellent demonstration of what can be done to deliver beautiful, relevant services to citizens, by blending the diverse sources with relatively little effort and investment. Let me tell you a bit more about how it works.

The FCO is a switched on, digitally focused organisation, thanks in part to the wit and wisdom of their Head of Digital Engagement – Jimmy Leach. They already publish an RSS feed of the Travel Advisory service – a data stream of important content on all of the locations that the UK government has presence, with data ranging from what to do if your passport is lost/stolen through to up to date advice for travellers based on local conditions (extreme weather, civil unrest, significant local events etc). We contacted one of our partners – AWS, to help take that data and publish it in the cloud as an open data api that enables any developer on any platform to consume and make use of it. AWS then worked with to deliver a beautiful mobile application that would combine their socially connected services, with this authoritative information from the FCO to deliver a location aware, traveller’s resource.

The cost of developing the api and the app was actually pretty small, but the net benefit and overall experience for the citizen is immense, plus by taking this two phase approach – phase one = publish an open data api, phase two = do something beautiful with it, you create a solution that actually exponentially increases the potential value for both citizens and developers as you effectively create the opportunity for further innovation by developers to create new and interesting applications.

The Travel Advisor application is now available as a free download in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Modernising (Government) IT

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

If you’ve been anywhere near the Public Sector in the UK (or anywhere else in the world I bet) I suspect you’ve been hearing lots of talk about saving money, lots of talk about cost reduction, lots of talk about re-use of assets and overall, doing more with less.

It’s not a bad place to start but while we’re on that journey, we really need to make sure we’ve got a holistic approach to this whole efficiency thing.

Before we start hacking services and cutting back, how about looking at the other side of these cost savings, and looking to make existing systems more effective and efficient?  Recent reports show that HMRC (the UK’s Inland Revenue) will struggle to collect almost a third of the tax owed to the state because of deficiencies in the IT systems that support tax collection – these are big numbers (£11.2bn out of a total £27.7bn) and you can’t help but think that if you were looking for the big impact, quick wins – this should be at the top.

Modernising (Government) IT is a key strategy which often feels a lot less interesting than citizen/customer engagement and improving collaborative capabilities of employees and on the surface it probably won’t bring you much love from the voters/shareholders – get it right however and you can take a sizeable chunk out of the savings you need to make which is good news for everybody.

Open Government = Hacking?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Another day, another great news article on the growing rise of the “Democratisation of Data”.  One theme that seems to be emerging however, is that the opening up of this data is more about snooping and prying and highlighting problems/discrepancies rather than improving citizen engagement and services.

goodbadAlthough the overall sentiment in this article is positive, I am bemused by the use of the term “hacker”.  It’s perhaps just too broad a term – one one hand it means simply “an enthusiastic computer hobbyist“, on the other, “a person who breaks into computers“.  I actually have a problem with both of these definitions in this context.

The opening up of government data should be about empowering normal citizens to make informed choices about the services they need, use and more importantly about the role they can play in their local/national community.  Why then, do we feel the need to paint this excercise as something only the cyber elite can particpate in ?

It worries me deeply as I think it scares people off from engaging, preventing them from thinking about what could be achieved and simply re-inforces the “technology is bad/complicated” message we see all too often in the media.

We need to turn this around, just for a change, why don’t we lead with the quote Chris Taggart from Openly Local ends the article with – “It’s about engaging the community“.

Differential Privacy

Friday, October 9th, 2009

PrivacyEarlier this week I blogged about the growing evidence of governments opening up their public data at both a national and local level. While this in itself represents a great leap forward it brings with it a new set of challenges the we will need to address. One in particular stands out and it is around the evolution of some of the very real challenges we’re going to face around Privacy in a Web/Gov 2.0 world.

Earlier this month I was chatting to Stuart Aston (one of our security advisors – you know the type, smarter than your average bear and very switched on to the evolution of the security principles we will face in an increasingly connected world) and he introduced me to the concept of “Differential Privacy“. He left me with a few white papers and a smile and a few hours later, with my head pounding and eyes bleeding (trust me you want to try and read this stuff) I finally got my head around the concept and what it’s going to mean to us as citizens.

Differential privacy is essentially, the ability to make very specific conclusions (with incredible accuracy) about the identity of an individual when provided with two disparate sets of anonymised data on a similar topic.

The example given uses NetFlix’s recent competition to improve their recommendation system as the backdrop…


NetFlix published an anonymised data set of around 500,000 records in order to help developers come up with a solution to improve their recommendation system. Some bright sparks took this data and a similar export from the IMDB and by applying some fairly hairy maths, they were able to identify specific individuals with a shocking 96% accuracy rate.

This is mind blowing, not just because of the maths involved, but because of what it means in a world of growing public data, the old bastions of Privacy that we have relied upon thus far may no longer be enough.

Governments and organisations are going to need to take this seriously as it will present some difficult challenges about liability and the duty of care to keep their citizens/customers identity and data private.

In particular, think about the duty of care element. As an organisation, you have a legal requirement to look after the privacy of the data you hold on an individual or organisation – with differential privacy, how far does this duty of care extend? If you keep your data anonymised but others can compromise that privacy (albeit with hairy maths and more public data) who is actually liable or legally responsible for the breach?

There are some tough answers to be found here and undoubtedly some more legislation will be required – in the meantime though, it’s a concept we need to understand more so we can build appropriate responses that don’t restrict the overall movement towards making public data more readily accessible . We cannot afford to let this (and other similar issues) stop the democratisation of data, but we do need to go into this with our eyes open.

The Democratisation of Data

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

dataOK, so this isn’t exactly new news, but a couple of things happened to me this week, that put me back onto the groundswell of activity and evidence around the whole Open Government Data initiative.

In particular two things happened this week:

  1.  The UK Conservative Party, announced it was hiring Tom Steinberg (founder of mySociety) to help them make Government open and more efficient.
  2. I finally fixed my bike intercom and started to catch up on all the podcasts I’ve missed for the past 3 months, I put the thing on shuffle and what should turn up as the first track but this CBC Spark interview with Councillor Andrea Reimer from Vancouver talking about their experiences in launching their own “Open City” initiative and how they went about it.

Neither of these are significant on their own, but it’s great evidence of the importance of the role of open government data in a modern society.

It’s great to hear this stuff in the headlines, but a commitment of 20 data sets within 12 months?  Seriously?  The US have 592 posted on their Data.Gov site and it’s only been on-line since May.  I wonder if the reason behind such a low target is the nervousness of the cultural change (inside and outside of government) that this will require.

Anyhow, the trawl through all of this lead me to this great quote from David Eaves on the Three Laws of Open Government Data:

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

This is great advice for all of us and it’s something we should all have at the back of our minds as we wrestle with making Open Government happen.