Removing the obstacles – getting government involved in the conversation

Here’s another idea for the PICamp event that we’re organising at Queens University on the 26th May. Slugger’s mission – if it has one – is to promote a more conversational politics. A few years ago I wrote about why I thought the directive from the head of human resources was wrong headed in their decision to ban staff from using interactive technologies…Now, via the Local Democracy Blog, Tim Davies, an Oxford based participation specialist has taken this all a step further. He has looked at the dozens of little reasons that public bodies – local authorities, government departments and NGOs – aren’t interacting effectively with you and me. He started with a post on his blog, and the comments were so prolific, he has spun them out into a Wiki called overcoming the hurdles.

Tim’s list is fairly comprehensive and recognisable to anyone who works in a large organisation. At the top, there may be a general acceptance that interaction, consultation and inclusion are all Very Good Things, but as to move down the managerial ladder, you hit lots of veto groups: The most basic ones are that the desktop PCs only have Microsoft IE6 on them and users can’t install their own browsers – thereby ensuring that a lot of Web 2.0 applications don’t work.

Elsewhere, the compliance people may take the view that – as something could go wrong, nothing can be allowed to be done – Tim outlines ways of getting around this with the drafting of suitable guidelines and training for staff. Other issues include the technical (and social!) abilities of staff, the attitude of different layers of management, and the concerns that a promotion of social networking will lead to time-wasting and troublesome inappropriate communications. Tim has listed 50 small obstacles – and you can go in there and suggest changes if you like – they’re not set in concrete.

I’d be interested in convening a session at PICamp that is intended to look at how political innovators can make the case and provide a framework that will make government in Northern Ireland more interactive. And – perish the thought – if such a move were to meet resistance from bureaucrats anywhere – I’d like us to thing about how the various veto groups can be …. er…. encouraged to start making their organisation go out and talk to the people that they are supposed to be serving.

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