Open… Open data, Open source, open practice

There is much talk about what openness means to government and as we become a networked society that conversation is only going to become louder and more significant.

Open data will be a fundamental building block for any government that wants to stay relevant and in touch with its citizens. Yes, the next few years will be dogged by stories about crazy purchasing decisions and a round of housekeeping, but the outcome should be a more transparent state and the increased levels of trust that it should bring.

This will need serious leadership at many levels to get started. It looks like the Coalition government is serious about open data – and though it may be an odd sensation to agree with a politician I have to say that I feel a mix of delight and relief. I think the only real question is whether they really understand the true implications of openness on a grand scale – but as I doubt anyone does then that’s OK.

Of course, that’s not the real prize – the real prize is the opportunity to get a wider range of developers and innovators to interact and use that data, rather than it just sitting around waiting to get looked at.

Open – small word – lots of uses
Open data is not the only way in which we are demanding openness from government, though. The layering of your personal content and contributions on the social web mean that it’s very very difficult to lie – to behave against your track record, to be inconsistent or inauthentic. The social web, and the behaviour of people within it, is open and this also demands change from government and in particular from politicians. We have lots to learn about what it means to be able to audit your representatives’ opinions over time, rather than just the output of their decisions.

Open practice
But if we are challenging government to stay relevant then we need to accept this challenge ourselves – and this is especially true I think for a business that, like Public-i, work entirely with the public sector. We just can’t meet the requirement for authenticity that our environment demands if we don’t do this.

It’s hardly a chore – working more openly, more collaboratively and more transparently reflects our values and is a lot more efficient as well. However, in common with our market we have worked in a different way for a number of years and this is a process of change for us as well.

This post is a starting point for a conversation that we will be having both internally and externally about how we adapt and help our market adapt to a new and open world. You may see us disagree here, and you may disagree with us – but we believe that by having these debates in public then we are better placed to make the right decisions and to better serve our community – the bottom line is that we don’t feel right about asking councils to work transparently and to deal with difficult debates in public if we don’t at least try to do the same thing. The pressures are different, but in many ways the problems are the same. This open dialogue is what we are calling ‘open practice’.

So – to get us started here are a few of the things that we plan to do:

  • We are going to start open data pilots for each of our products – starting with Connect – with the aim of providing each client with an easy way of opening up their democratic data in a way that is useful to the open data community
  • We are going to start blogging our technology strategy in public and the first debate will be how we open up the API of Citizenscape in order to make this something that other people can use more easily
  • We are going to open up our roadmap process so that we can get better external feedback on new features – we have always done this with our user group but we want to start doing this more openly now
  • We are going to start to discuss what open source software means for us as a company that is built on an entirely different model at the moment – starting with sharing our experience of our Open Source ePetitions product

We have loads of other plans, but our experience is it’s better to get started and achieve stuff rather than talk about it a whole load. If you have ideas and comments then we’d love to hear them – otherwise just keep an eye on us and see what happens. We hope that you hold us to a high standard – we certainly want to achieve it.

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