I indulged my inner geek last weekend, going along to the second half of the UK GovWeb barcamp (essentially an informal conference about technology in the government sector). I always feel a little bit like the token sceptic at these things, perhaps because I am one of the few politicians who goes and find my geekish enthusiasm somewhat self-censored by political realities.
However, one of the sessions I attended was about the state of blogging in government to discuss policy development. The conclusion was that there isn’t that much. I think that’s a consequence of politics: civil servants and council officers keep their counsel private (that’s their job) and politicians like to present fully formed and defendable policies to the public (that’s, arguably, their job). The result is neither want to cast light on their policy development role.
And it set me thinking about the way I work in Wandsworth. My time in my current council role is littered with cast-off ideas that didn’t make the cut. Why? Because they were impractical, or because they didn’t really help us with any of our priorities, or because they were too expensive, or because my colleagues just hated them, or any number of other reasons.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s far better to have ideas and kick them about to see if anything can come of them than just assuming nothing will happen and never seeing the one in ten (or one in a hundred, or a thousand, or a million) that will make it all the way to the end and become a useful policy.
But why can’t we do it in public? There are few times when the collective wisdom of everyone in a room isn’t greater than any individuals, so why not expand that room through something like the internet? Why can’t we start having a few policies put out for public consideration at an early stage, with everyone knowing that most will eventually fall by the wayside, but that some will emerge at the other end much stronger for the collective scrutiny and input they receive?
For example, my idea to develop the technology sector in Wandsworth by staging a manned lunar mission might not be viable – but as we go through the process of discovering that we might come up with great ideas that do work (velcro, anyone?).
Being a politician, however, I immediately see the downside: unless the idea is successful it is merely knocking copy for the other side. And that is where my geekish enthusiasm is self-censored.
So what will I do with my next exciting idea? I’m afraid I’ll probably discuss it with officers and take it though the usual process.