Following on from the WMRO event we attended last week, ‘Sharing Information Digitally’, the overarching agreement in the room seemed to leave me with a sense of déjà vous.
Over the past 12 months, I have attended many events that followed a similar theme, where all the (mostly good) speakers gave presentations, cited good positive case studies, pointed out the benefits for adoption of these new principles, and explained how cost savings could be achieved.
Yet here we are, one year on, and the same group of like-minded people seem to be repeating the same message to what looks like the same group of audience members, with a few added exceptions. Heads nod in agreement, pointed, detailed and intelligent questions are raised, yet there does not appear to be any action taken. I am referring to self-conducted, local geographic observations and analysis here – not national.
Let us look back just one week. Using the http://bccdiy.com project as an example, there has been widespread internet coverage with links pointing to and from the project, the mainstream press have given it coverage, and national newspapers and their websites have also run features. Yet, to my knowledge, only one representative from the local council has made any credit, and even that has been hosted by an external organisation (see point 4).
Not one high-ranking official, with the power to make a change has mentioned the project, or made any attempt to form any type of partnership, link, or even take part in a formal discussion about integration or usability. It appears that exactly the opposite has taken place. The door appears to have been firmly slammed shut, and from the outside, it looks as if any form of official involvement, partnership investigation, negotiation, engagement or participation has been absolutely refused.
The open-source data sharing systems are in place, volunteer users are comfortable working with them, and similar models have been proven to work many times over in similar circumstances, so where is the stumbling block? More to the point, who is stopping this from progressing, and perhaps more to the point, why?
Perhaps consideration should be offered to one potential negative side to human nature for a second here.
Lack of understanding, mis-information, ignorance, or simple refusal to accept an alternative practice- these are all factors that could be argued as challenges to be overcome, or at the extreme, fears to be conquered.
The reluctance to change a familiar system, the insecurity that comes when mechanisms for open, inwardly-facing scrutiny are made available, the possible loss of a position of controlling power, the inability to hide honest mistakes or worse, wrongdoing, possible exposure to systematic failures, the evidence that brings questioning and criticism, or suspicion knocking at the door. These must be factors that terrify the local government representatives who are ultimately responsible for any possible repercussions or criticisms that any form of data-sharing could reveal.
But let us perhaps reverse the focus of attention here, for just one alternative consideration.
The sharing of data does not only take place in one direction. Sharing is sharing; the transfer of information, freely, in multiple directions, equally and openly accessible.
Perhaps the possibility of sharing additional data held by individuals should also be considered here. Driving licences, expenses and expenditure, birthdates, marriages, divorces, children born out of wedlock, sexual orientation, medical records, identity cards, bank details, income support claims, educational qualifications, employment history, child benefit payments, criminal records, TV licence payments, council tax declarations, salaries and bonuses- there is a plethora of information that could be argued as data that should be shared.
By making data freely available, this alternative operating procedure and cultural change will have much wider implications into our future. The way government, financial institutions and citizens operate on a daily basis will be radically affected.
With data freely available, targeted marketing messages will become an everyday occurrence. The technology exists for the domestic refrigerator to talk directly to the data collection server at your preferred supermarket, and your delivery driver will bring the items you have consumed direct to your door, without you having to complete a shopping list. There are many more similar examples available.
Perhaps by taking the above into consideration and looking inwardly for a moment, further understanding about the reluctance to share sensitive information can be gained. Combine this with the natural human reluctance to change a familiar practice, add the possible implications that the change process could bring to either the individual in charge or the department involved, and then consider that the representatives in charge are all digital migrants of senior years, then perhaps the human factors to be considered alongside the actual change process become more poignant and significant.
But have we not seen this before? Take for instance the intellectual studies and written works completed between 1964 and 2002 by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, and their considered political radicalism, and perhaps extreme left-wing ideals.
The dynamic shift of capital assets and the distribution of wealth have been threatened by such similar radical ideals historically. It has become known in modern times as ‘Social Democracy’.
It has its roots back in 1848, in a book called The Communist Manifesto. I am sure you know the author.