Interesting elsewhere – 18 June 2010

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • Pareto Problems for Digital Innovation? : Tim’s Blog Is the promise of more efficient and cheaper digital services simply the result of a slight-of-hand – measuring the costs of a service based on it’s provision in the easy cases and bracketing out the tough cases which would require re-engineering systems and adding significant cost and effort if a digital service were to be a universal service?
  • ntouk – Jerry Fishenden’s new technology observations from a UK perspective The existing UK model seems to provide the worst of both worlds. In theory almost everything is outsourced, but the client is still often making the call on much of the infrastructure and the technology it embeds. Why? The result is both high cost and low impact in terms of improving our public services, whilst all the time risk is retained within the public sector (and ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer).

    From commodity services such as word processing and email to more complex service requirements, such as realtime taxation and welfare, we need to move to a model that defines very precisely the needs of the UK public sector. We also need to update our assumptions around governance, architecture and procurement to enable the public sector to become much more agile, relevant and cost-effective in the acquisition of services and capabilities.

  • The UK’s public data tsunami gathers speed But, as we all know, the usability of the data is just as important as the data itself. To the ordinary citizen, a gargantuan list of numbers means nothing. Data only becomes useful when it is rendered accessible to the citizen: the task traditionally of statisticians and, increasingly, creative web developers who ‘mash’ different data sets, drop them into data crunching tools and turn them into citizen friendly applications. From Tube schedules to postcode databases, information works best when it can be overlaid with other datasets and correlations can be made, as services such as those created by the Government’s new Transparency Advisor, Tom Steinberg.
  • How to run a GovCamp It’s a ten point plan to organising your own GovCamp type event – and it really is quite easy!
  • They’re Just Irrational? « The Baseline Scenario The problem isn’t that people have cognitive biases in assessing unlikely events. When you’re dealing with a big company like Citigroup or BP, you have many people applying lots of clever thinking to these problems. The problem is that there is a systematic bias within these companies against certain assessments and in favor of others. That is, the guy who shouts, “Danger! Danger!” will be ignored (or fired), and the guy who says, “Everything’s fine, the model says disaster can strike only happen once every hundred million years” will get the promotion — because the people in charge make more money listening to the latter guy. This is why banks don’t accidentally hold too much capital. It’s why oil companies don’t accidentally take too many safety precautions. The mistakes only go one way.
  • Survival of those that Fit « Life and Physics I was surprised to hear that the idea that the planets orbit the Sun dates back at least to ancient Greece (Aristarchus). In fact I am now reading Simon Singh’s “ Singh’s “ Big Bang“, which points out that even Copernicus’s work was ignored for many years. Copernicus and Aristarchus would have struggled for tenure and grants based on citation counts during their lifetimes. tenure and grants based on citation counts during their lifetimes. lifetimes.
  • Johnnie Moore’s Weblog: Strategy, schmategy I'm wondering whether much of our efforts to create strategy, rather like cultivating leadership skills, are based on a rather idealistic notion of what really goes on in organisations. And possibly actually conceal rather than acknowledge the very individualistic expectations of the supposed strategists.
  • How IBM does the Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) IBM employees can live where they want and work in virtual teams based on their own schedules. What holds the workforce together is the use of social networking tools and the occasional face-to-face meeting. As Paterson writes, “If IBM can do this with 200,000 people so can you.” [...]

    Another great example from IBM is how well the virtual team works even though employees are in different countries and different time zones. Allowing people to work at their natural productive hours means you will have better work and happier people. An interesting point in the IBM experience is that face-to-face meetings are used to help workers build trust and tend to be about team-building rather than doing work. I wonder how much more effective government workers would be if agencies devoted substantial time to team-building?

  • The customer is a stranger If you simplify things for the customer then they will respond positively. That’s easier said than done because simplifying for the customer requires creating extra complexity for the organization. Nobody likes to have their job made more complex. What is even more problematic is when something you do to make life easier for your customers makes life harder for one of your colleagues. That makes you unpopular within the tribe.
  • Centrelink to open online community forum – Gov 2.0, Department of Human Services, centrelink – Computerworld Centrelink's move to open its own forum will complement its existing practice of participating in online communication through external sites, such as other forums, blogs as well as social networks.

    "Centrelink monitors traffic in relevant online communities, blogs and forums – listening to customer feedback and contributing where appropriate to answer questions or clear up confusion about Centrelink services, for example student forums, parenting forums and seniors forums," the spokesperson said.

  • Good and bad transparency Government is a fascinating study in unintended consequences. Its scale and diversity, and the interplay between ministers and the civil service, the centre and the frontline mean that things often don’t go to plan. Broadly-speaking, government is a risk-averse organisation in many ways, sometimes to the extent that on occasion it has preferred ineffectiveness to perceived impropriety, waste to uncertainty.
    The coming wave of transparency could transform this in a hugely positive way, using open data on costs, opportunities and performance to become a much more creative, cost-effective and agile institution, mindful of the money it spends and the results it achieves, and ensuring individuals are accountable for their work.

    But it might make things worse, frightening senior managers into becoming more guarded, taking fewer ‘risks’ with even small amounts of money, and focusing on the process to the detriment of the outcome.