Eating the Elephant

An Elephant yesterday. Best eaten a bit at a time. (Image: Wikimedia Commons - click for credit)

An Elephant yesterday. Best eaten a bit at a time. (Image: Wikimedia Commons - click for credit)

Shorter version: Often, the minor technical obstacles mask a wider small-p political obstructionism to the promotion of a more interactive form of government.

Having written this post about the small obstacles to open e-gov a few weeks ago, Tim Davies got such a comprehensive response in his comments thread that he’s rolled them out into a wiki.

The idea that there are ’50 small hurdles’ is a very powerful one – it enables those who want to move small mountains to understand that it can be done in the same way that an Elephant can be eaten: A bit at a time.

I think that Tim has missed an important one out, but I’m reluctant to break the symmetry and tidiness of the ’50’ number. It’s an important one though, and probably a bit less straightforward than the obstacles that Tim has identified, so the omission is understandable:

Promoting interactivity between local government and citizens is a thorny one. It presents a huge amount of potential for disruption. Nominally, under our political settlement, elected councillors are the ones that formally do policy. Continue reading


Director of Digital Engagement

Well, the Power of Information Taskforce appears to have reached it’s conclusions. The job has been advertised. Dominic Campbell has a few very perceptive bits of advice for whoever the successful candidate may be.

This phrase leaps out of the job ad:

” …the job requires someone who would be acknowledged by their peer group to be a leader in this field. The successful candidate will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall.”

Does this suggest to you that they already know who they want to get this job? 😉

I share a good deal of Dominic’s scepticism about the prospects for success here. I don’t get the impression that there is a working consensus of what ‘digital engagement’ should really mean.

There appears to be very little examination of why our political and constitutional settlement is the (slightly unsatisfactory) shape that it is. It certainly is reflected in the e-activism landscape, but I’m not convinced that e-democracy has caught up either.

As far as I can see, the insertion of the word ‘digital’ into the phrase ‘inclusive policy making’ neutralises the whole sentence. As Anthony said in a post here earlier today…

“Cohesive communities … need offline interaction. That can be supported by online tools, but they should not be an aim in themselves.”

But, more to the point, there’s the question of the voice of officialdom. The very term digital engagement sounds like a bureaucratic attempt to step into a space it doesn’t understand, and do it in a regulated way. You can almost picture the namebadge.


Anyone who has seen the film Good Morning Vietnam will recall that the slightly edgy DJ played by Robin Williams starts to do and say things that officialdom isn’t happy with. It is what passed for engagement in 1960s Vietnam, I guess.

Lt Hauk steps in.  The results can be heard here (mp3).

Universal Service Obligations

This is an important policy issue that I think we often forget when discussing how people can be engaged online in helping to form policy.

More on this in the not-too-distant I hope, but I’d be really interested to see how this plays out in the Digital Britain discussions.