11 June 2015

Why they're both right.... And why they're both wrong... Maybe.

Confused of Yorkshire writes...

I'm not really sure this adds very much. I guess I'm just thinking out loud.

A wee debate has broken out between (and I choose that word very carefully) some people I know, about Open Data and how incomprehensible OD practitioners can be. 

Over in the 'Comms corner' is @DanSlee, who says Open Data people are naughty for (although I'm not entirely clear) what seems to be not making easier to understand their technical expertise in his post here: 

By way of a response @blangry (less angry than his Twitter name makes him look) makes the equally compelling case that we've all had long enough in and around local and national government to have ruddy well learned it by now, in his post here: 

And while I share Alex's caveat (in that I'm not entirely sure I agree with my own post, and want to try to add to the debate because it is worth having), reading both made me think about something irrepressibly clever (although it turns out it wasn't) I'd read about Open Data and the practitioners and the inaccessibility of it all some time ago. 

Then I remembered. It was me. My post after UKGovCamp in 2012:

Unusually, I'm not entirely sure Dan is right. I've sat through those conversations and they can be almost wilfully exclusive. I have asked team members to support Open Data, partnering clever, charismatic, genuine people, and they have come back simply not able to 'get it'. But... The language of our clients is one of the reasons we comms people exist. We translate the complex, the technical, the statutory, the governmental and we get it to the right audience through the right channel in the right (comprehensible) way at the right time. We should and DO have a responsibility to learn to speak at least a little geek. In the same way we learned to speak a little lawyer, or planner or child protection officer or - dare I say it - Chief Executive or politician. 

We all know those people who speak fluent Chief Executive. And how well they get on. 

So I think maybe Alex is right - it is available to us all to batter our way through the walls of techno-babble that surrounds OD. It is. But Alex doesn't quite convince me either, because I stand by what I said in the 2012 post. Open Data cannot be an end in itself. It needs to introduce somebody much more important to the debate than the geeks or the commsies. And at the minute it feels like a debate only between geeks and commsies; glaring at each other down the pub like they really fancy each other but aren't sure they're all that compatible. 

I wrote then, and stand by it, that, "We perhaps need to think that we could have been asking for/seeking/aiming for the same behaviours a hundred years ago. Greater access to information; openness about our decision-making and performance; reuse of information; better inclusion of communities in democracy; more responsive services; better relationships with customers;  creating opportunities for growth for individuals and communities; working in partnership, and adding value are not really about 'e-anything'. They'd be as valid a set of concerns if we were still using scrolls... As @curiousc says, it's about social change."

And I think I'd argue three years on, that in terms of integrity, I'm not all that sure that it is all that convincing to bang on about 'Open' in a way that is knowingly Closed. 

It has to be about the customer. For both Dan and Alex; Comms and geeks. But at the minute it looks like an internal debate. I think (and I think Alex and I both agree with Dan here) that we need to be able to see what we want Open Data FOR; what difference it will make. We need avoid buiilding systems that suit *us* instead of the customer. I don't need to know how to build a telly to know what it is for and to want one, or to be able to explain it to others and have them want one. I would not expect the telly builders to insist I knew how to build a receivery tube thing before I could tell people how great it is to be able to watch the Coronation in the front room. 

So maybe a bit of both. But I am reminded of what Esko Reinikainen said at the GovCamp three years ago, "User focus is paramount. User focus is paramount. User focus is paramount. User focus is paramount."

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