Thursday, 24 July 2008

Government: there must be a better way...

Or that's clearly what the UK government thinks, launching a new website this week:

The government is after suggestions of better ways to use and communicate public information. Basically, ideas for mash-ups using a whole range of new data that's being made public.

So you can see on a map which streets have most car crime, and decide not to park there.

Or you could see what time the next train is leaving with highly sensitive MI5 dossiers left on the seats.

Or look up to see which pensioners are getting the most money each week so you know to concentrate your favours on them.

[potentially these last two wouldn't be possible with the current data on offer. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time...]

I guess it's a nice touch, having us do their work for them, but wonder if it's going about things the wrong way round? They're asking people for suggestions of answers, rather than finding a clever way to uncover needs that people have. Which comes back to the whole Henry Ford "If I asked what people wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse" point - perhaps it'd be more interesting to see some really innovative way of understanding the kinds of needs that citizens have and then publishing these before asking for random ideas.

As you would expect, the site is coming up with a range of ideas (some apparently too humorous to publish) - take a look at the 'latest ideas' section. Ideas currently range from the pointlessly bandwagony (Showing which constituencies in the UK are greenest) to the unintelligible (Ranking of Correlations between Geographically distributed Temporal datasets) to the encouragement of mob violence (Show on a map where people under anti-social behavioural orders live) [sorry - that's another one that doesn't exist in reality...]

Anyway, it's a neat idea but I'm not sure they've quite got their heads around the idea of customer collaboration and probably not gathering the best feedback possible - anyone seen any better schemes they should be learning from in the private sector?

And, since they won't let you post ridiculous ideas on their site, anyone have any they'd like to share?

Here's a starter: hoodie resource page - somewhere that shows empty buildings and wasteland areas with a rating for proximity to off licence and distance from police stations...