In the old days of IT, applications were laboriously specified and then launched into a world which had already moved on and where user needs had changed. Now open source applications are beta tested by users in the real world and the community shapes the (never) final delivery. The same now is true of intellectual property and even policy making - welcome to the world of the Wiki !
Government used to precede policy with research and consultation, and regulatory impact assessments carefully tested the ground before policies were actually implemented. Even if Green and White Papers are much more rare, and Royal Committees an echo of Victorianism, there used still to be some attempt at pre policy foreplay.
The Public Data Corporation was launched to fanfare in January with a bareto define its role, and it has mystified all stakeholders in the public sector information debate for several weeks.
It is in fact Government by Wiki - a lexicon entrypoint within which to define the arguments between two conflicting tendencies within Government itself:
The Free Data movement - which has been fed on a high protein diet of encouragement by successive Ministers (Francis Maude the latest) – and which has consistently failed to answer the question of whether the taxpayer or the commercial user should pay for Government’s more refined, updated and quality assured datasets.
The hard headed Revanchists, now back in command behind Whitehall’s beleaguered ramparts, who are determined to extract maximal “value” from Government assets. As one senior mandarin was heard to say last week: “We are determined not to enrich Google shareholders with our assets” (the italics are ours).
Well forget the fact that nobody really knows how the Public Data Corporation will work or what in fact it is – that is the point. The policy will evolve by our participation (so the theory goes).
Invitations have gone out in the past few days to a whole series of Trade Association bodies and individuals to participate in a debate about the Public Data Corporation over the next few weeks.
Let’s engage in the exercises and evolve this painful tension in our public sector information space into an appropriate reconciliation of economic realities and public sector competition law compliance.
To be fair, if we look at our legacy of confused statute book and morass of badly drafted regulations, Government by Wiki may very well be just as effective as what we have had in the recent past! We shall see.