10 March 2009

Labour's Open Hypocrisy

The "O" word has been much on the lips of the UK government recently, what with all the nice things it's been saying about open source, and now this:

The independent Power of Information Task Force published its report on 2 March. The report contained 25 challenging recommendations to government aimed at improving the use of information in this new world. The Task Force's work has been recognised internationally as providing a cutting-edge vision, with examples of what modern public service delivery might be.

The Government welcomes the task force’s vision, accepts its overall messages and will be responding on the detailed recommendations shortly. We are already taking steps to implement this vision and in 2009 we will seek to deliver the following:

Open information. To have an effective voice, people need to be able to understand what is going on in their public services. Government will publish information about public services in ways that are easy to find,easy to use, and easy to re-use, and will unlock data, where appropriate, through the work of the Office of Public Sector Information.

Open innovation. We will promote innovation in online public services to respond to changing expectations. The Government will seek to build on the early success of innovate.direct.gov.uk by building such innovation into the culture of public services and public sector websites.

Open discussion. We will promote greater engagement with the public through more interactive online consultation and collaboration. We will also empower professionals to be active on online peer-support networks in their area of work.

Open feedback. Most importantly, the public should be able to have a fair say about their services. The Government will publish best practice in engaging with the public in large numbers online, drawing on the experience of the www.showusabetterway.com competition and the www.londonsummit.gov.uk, as well as leading private sector examples like www.ideastorm.com.

Open information, open innovation, open discussion, open feedback: well, that's just super-duper and fab and all that, but why not allow a little openness about what the UK government is doing? How about getting rid of the absurd Official Secrets Act, the very antithesis of openness? How about putting the teeth back in the Freedom of Information Act? How about not refusing to publish documents about the Iraqi war? How about letting us see details of MPs' expenses? How about letting us know where our MPs live? How about letting the public openly rate the government itself - the one group that seems excluded from the wonderful plans to "ebay-ise" UK public life?

Because, strange as it may seem, openness does not have hard lines: if you're going to be open, you're going to be *really* open, everywhere. Otherwise, it just further debases an increasingly fashionable concept, takes our cynicism up a notch or three, and alienates those of us fighting for *real* openness.

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