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21 November 2018

How could it be otherwise? Talking with Matthew from Wittin

I was talking the other day with Matthew Davis from Wittin, a Dundee-based start-up. He's doing some work with a council, and we were talking about government processes -- how government works, and doesn't always work, and often government isn't really sure itself how it works. By government here I mean the range of public sector institutions that make up the modern UK state. It starts with Westminster and its departments, but includes the regional parliaments of Holyrood / Cardiff / London, the councils, the big public sector services like the NHS, and the many smaller organisations who together carry out the sprawling complex business of running a modern country.

Whilst the modern UK government (in the broad sense described above; I don't mean the Prime Minister) sincerely wants to be open -- Matt made a good point that it is, and always has been, the preserve of a very select group of people. To take the case of a council he's working with, the council has been in existence in its current form for over 200 years, and during that time the people who ran the council -- sitting in it's chambers as elected officials, or in its offices as civil servants -- have been largely from a limited demographic. If we look at the people who have been making policy, and extend this to include the newspaper journalists and others who get involved in policy making -- Even extending to this wider group, it's still quite a narrow set of people. Let's characterise that as educated middle-class busy-bodies (amongst which I proudly count myself). Even amongst this group, the vast majority are not involved in making policy or carrying out policy. Running the country is left to the few who are willing to do it. How could it be otherwise?

How could it be otherwise? A small change in emphasis, but a big change in direction.

The answer that Matt is exploring is around transparency, and using software to make policy more accessible to the many. Ideally it should be easy for people to contribute, and in a way that those contributions are genuinely useful to policy makers.

It's a big challenge, Matt has two prongs to his approach. One is around more open data, and this is something that the British government is overall very good at. The public sector has been implementing more open data for some years. It's not easy, because government IT is not easy, and there are also privacy issues that limit how data can be opened up. Year by year, progress is being made.

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