This story – Council bins pay as you throw technology - caught my eye because a representative of the Swedish Municipality of Svenljunga presented a very similar project that it was embarking upon at the V-ICT-OR Conference.
If I remember right, the difference was that the municipality's householders already have a weight allowance for refuse, but not technologically enforced, and the problem to be overcome was the "black market" in refuse collection; (presumably, refuse collection people accepting bribes to take more than they are supposed to). I sent the story to my friend anyway.
A short while ago I was quoted in The Times, no less (or may just have been The Times Online), as saying that Government plans to adopt a "presumption of rejection" of domain names to applications from local government bodies was "daft". Well today I got my comeuppance, as I went along to join the ".gov.uk Naming and Approvals Committee" representing Socitm and Local Government.
It transpired that the reported Committee decision that elicited my "daft" quote in response to a question about Public Sector Forum's revelation, from a LGC (Local Government Chronicle) reporter, was retracted within three days of the meeting anyway.
At the start of today's Committee's meeting, held at the COI (Central Office of Information) offices in Lambeth, we were addressed by David Pullinger, the COI's Head of Digital Policy, who explained the emerging policy context. It is expected that a decision approved by the Public Accounts Committee will be signed-off by the Prime Minister in mid –July… No new domain names for Central Government, Non-Departmental Public Bodies or Executive Agencies. For now, this will not be compulsory for Local Government (but the particular issues and environmental factors they face are being researched and considered with a view to being able to appropriately include them in the policy).
The expectation is that 90% of current Central Government etc web-sites will be closed – already 450 have been closed – and the plan is to rationalise all .gov.uk domains over the next three years. There will only be three customer-facing sites for the affected parts of Government – DirectGov, Business Links and NHS Choices. There will be nine public sector work-force sites and I can't remember how many ministerial and corporate sites etc – in total about 150 – down from 1,500.
I asked a number of questions and, in answering, David was at great pains to stress that "clarity to the audience is what's key".
Was the decision reported in the aforementioned minutes – to recommend sub-domains, rather than new primary domains – practical for Local Government, as I thought this may rely upon Internet address types (although I could be wrong)? It was clarified that this had been amended to utilising Directory-level names, as in http://www.newham.gov.uk/Topics/RegeneratingNewham/
What about the fact that many Authorities also use non-.gov domain names, as in www.newham.com? "It all depends on the audience and what helps citizens the most." (In subsequent discussion, the Committee thought its remit might be further clarified as "The Government domains Naming & Approvals Committee" to embrace this issue.)
Given shared services like Local Area Partnerships, Public/ Private Joint-Ventures and working with the third sector, how would the criteria for allocation of .gov domain names be agreed? "It depends on what helps the audience (to easily find and navigate public sector services) most, and maybe other criteria such as whether sites are Government funded."
What about commercial advertising? "Guidelines being (or to be) drawn-up."
Given the way the "network of networks" is developing, is this the right time to be introducing such controls? We are seeing the blurring of business and social networks, and new ways of searching based on technology like Tag Clouds, with less reliance on hierarchical structure and taxonomy. David described a sort of infrastructure that facilitated access to Government sites through other services such as Social Networks.
I expressed my view, as I often do when the opportunity arises, that Government tactics often seem to emerge in the absence of Vision or Strategy. David stated that the aims of Government domain-name rationalisation were born from a simple vision of serving citizens better.
As needs to decide how the policy should be applied in different circumstances arise, the overriding consideration will be what works for the audience. It seemed to me that the emerging policy had been pretty well thought-through, although I still think there is a need to square individual initiatives such as this with over-arching Vision, and compatibility with other strategies that develop as a result.
David left us to get on with our business, which mainly concerned considering reasons for the rejection of domain name applications, and the appeals process.
I hope I've reported this meeting fairly and accurately, and will be glad to make any corrections, if necessary, when the minutes emerge, but I thought this an important topic that we all should be well-informed about to enable us to whole-heartedly sign-up to the vision. To do that, we must feel able to influence the final outcomes ensuring not just a transformation vision for public service, but a practical one.
In the afternoon, I went along to a Mobile Technology event that Newham ICT ran at West Ham Football Club, supported by Microsoft, Orange and other vendors, and attended by colleagues from neighbouring boroughs, as well as Newham Council staff. How's that for working on the development of shared vision?!