Stockholm: Participant led design

William Heath was a last minute addition to the Stockholm programme, giving a rumbustious presentation based on some of the themes of Ideal Government, and a variant of a session he led at the e-government ministerial conference last month.

His main themes were participation and trust – which he sees as inextricably linked.

Trust is not the same as control and is inherently mutual:

if you approach your citizens as if they were criminals, don’t expect their trust

if you distrust people, don’t expect their trust

His most challenging line, though, was ‘users innovate better than producers’.  While we congratulate ourselves for having got as far as ‘Let’s design public services for users’, we should instead be moving on to ‘Let’s get users to help design’.  The basis for this is that in other areas of design, there is evidence that user involvement leads to better results.  William referred to a Design Council study (which I think must have been this one).

He also talked about the competition run recently by Ideal Government for using public sector data and mapping tools to create new information services – the assessment of the entries is here.  The point William was making was expressed very clearly by Stefan Magdalinski (who, for the avoidance of doubt is the Stefan referred to in that assessment):

I feel strongly about this. OS charges developers £500 even to have a play with any of the data…then you have to share your business idea with them. This policy fails to create any decent sites or apis or interfaces. It’s generally monopolistic and has effectively destroyed a vast amount of value for the nation.

Britain was absolutely the world leader in cartography 10 years ago.

In 5 years, we’ll be nowhere, and I think it’s OS’ fault for trying to extract monopoly rents out of taxpayers’ data. This chokes innovation until the eyes pop out of its head. It’s as bad as GCHQ sitting on public-key cryptography, letting Whit Diffie get all the credit, and losing Britain the opportunity to lead in what became a mult-billion dollar industry.

Both were phenomenally bad economic decisions.

The public sector sites the OS might point to are disappointing. Now they could be improved overnight and save a bob or 100 just by re-implementing with Google maps. Oh the irony.

There’s been more innovation using Google maps in the last *week* than OS has ‘driven’ since 1994. I have to say that it’s not for lack of quite a few of us trying.

Talking to William after his session, we got to the interesting question of whether it was better for public bodies which weren’t doing user-centred design (a) to start designing for users, then to move on to designing with users, or (b) to leap straight to designing with users.  I was arguing for (a), but I am not sure I was right.  Views?