Power to the people (2)

By Nick Holmes on June 29, 2007
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Filed under Government, Public Sector Information, Web 2.0

The Cabinet Office has responded positively to the independent report it commissioned on the future of government services – The Power of Information (see previous post) – saying that the Government will engage in partnership with user-led online communities, not attempt to replicate them:

The Government should work in partnership with the best of citizens’ efforts, not replicate them. If we really want to deliver better public services, the best way to do that is bottom up. Change is driven by better feedback, open information and more ways in which citizens can make their voices heard about what matters to them. The challenge is for all public bodies to think about how they can respond to the challenges described here.

Citizens themselves are already helping each other in online communities. If 30,000 parents were meeting in a park or football stadium to share information and tips about parenting, government would take notice. That they are doing it online simply means we have to find different ways to take their efforts just as seriously.

The DTI has also finally responded to the OFT Market Study on Commercial Use of Public Information. While welcoming the recommendations and “able to accept the majority at this point”, the DTI feels that “there are some that require further work”. In particular, it is wary of tampering with the trading fund model, under which – according to the OFT – the government bodies compete unfairly with the private sector through monopolistic supply of “refined” products which are expected to provide a return to the Treasury.

According to a Guardian Technology article:

It brusquely dismisses the OFT’s proposal for a new terminology to distinguish between “unrefined” data, generally held by a government body, and “refined” products derived from it.

Although it seems an obscure technical point, the definition is central to the OFT’s case that while unrefined data may be a natural monopoly, the government should encourage competition in refined products by allowing access to the unrefined form. ‘The situation is already complex and introducing new terms may not be helpful as existing definitions cannot be replaced or removed,’ says the DTI, which is especially nervous about data being redefined if doing so could hit the income of a trading fund.