Open opportunties, open threats? – Postscript

by Derek Morrison, originally posted 1 May 2009, updated 5 October 2009

N.B. The following posting represents the personal views of the author and should not be construed as necessarily representative of any other individual or organisation.

One of the “messages” in my earlier Open opportunties, open threats? posting (Auricle, 30 April 2009) was that users always have the option of voting with their mouse when “official” provision proves to be inadequate, doesn’t inspire confidence, or even becomes an actual barrier to the achievement of their objectives. We should note that there is a similar strand of thinking becoming focused on the nature of e-government and other public ‘e’ services and whether the vast global investments are actually being realised in better user-oriented artefacts and services. One argument is that it would be better for government to focus on making their data accessible for a multiplicity of others to use and present. For example, Princeton’s David G Robinson et al highlight in their paper Government Data and the Invisible Hand (Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 11, p. 160, 2009) that currently:

“… government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use.”

They then go on to suggest that:

“Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.”

Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio has been promoting a somewhat similar line since last year under the banner The Future of Government Is No Government. He suggests that:

“… by 2013, more than 70% of citizen-centric (or e-government or transformational) government strategies will fail.”

These failures will be contributed to by the continued growth of alternatives:

“… the role of social networks in replacing government online channels as well as influencing policy-making processes, the emergence of shared IT services to replace individual agency IT services, the role of external data stores for citizen information (such as Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault), the emergence of cloud-based services (such as storage and e-mail), which compete with agency-owned or government-wide shared services.”

I am, however, a little concerned about the role Di Maio sees for banks as trusted holders of data … but we have to remember when he wrote this :)

I am more comfortable with his assertion there will be:

“… a need the need to interoperate with a diverse set of intermediaries and service providers in the not-so-distant future”

What should be an interesting an interesting reflection point for all of us in the above is that it could be construed as one manifestation of the mythical “bolt of lightning” I opened my Open opportunities, open threats? essay with. Applied institutionally one extreme scenario would be for HEIs to focus only on providing a high quality, high usability physical network and connectivity environment, e.g. no banks of desktop computers, no central email service, no VLE! The various communities, discipline and – or – social networks that are a university would then use whatever internal or external services they desired to share and communicate. Opportunity or threat? Hmmm …

P.Sssss to the Postscript
I’ve got a lot of time for the writings of Michael Cross who, as well as being a journalist specialising in public policy (particularly where it concerns technology, healthcare and the law), is a guest lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. His piece Is it really a good time to be asking for more IT money? (Guardian, 30 April 2009) hit the nail on the head. He challenges that seductive concept of just “one last heave” that lies in the wordsmith’s kitbag of those with a mega IT vision to sell. The potential sellers in this case are both the IT vendors looking to sustain the bottom line in difficult times and those politicians/technocrats who believe large scale centralised technological initiatives are solutions and not problems. “One last heave” is like “jam tomorrow”. Where’s my copy of Groundhog day, again?

See also Victor Keegan’s article UK needs to be more open to open source (Guardian, 1 October 2009)

Following the orginal publication of Open opportunities, open threats I was invited to submit an abridged version for the July 2009 edition of ALT-N.

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