Half Baked Idea – Citizen Data Transfer Protocol – cdtp://carlhaggerty

I make no apologies but this post is most certainly one of those¬†half-baked ideas ūüôā

For a while now I’ve been thinking about what civic architecture means, what it might look like, how it might be built and who might actually do that as well as why would we actually require something else.

Below are a few of the posts and thinking which has led me to where I am now

Martin Howitt’s Overview of the Localgov platform

Catherine Howe’s two posts on Civic Architecture

A post i wrote whilst working at Public-i called Playing games with local participation

A couple of my previous posts on this blog

So let me begin by saying that I personally believe that the internet itself is the platform for the digital civic architecture and that pretty much all of the components that are required are already there, but perhaps just not distributed evenly.

So for me after a conversation with Martin over lunch on Monday, I finally found a bit of clarity and realised that in order for a civic architecture to manifest, it needs a protocol to ensure that appropriate data and content related to civic conversations, decisions, people etc is able to be transferred across the internet.

Some people may well argue that this happens already but I’d like to suggest that what we need to create is a Citizen Data Transfer Protocol (CDTP)which facilitates the civic content and maintains key components along the way including identify.

In the same way that “http” facilitates the internet – see definition from wikipedia:

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.

Hypertext is a multi-linear set of objects, building a network by using logical links (the so-called hyperlinks) between the nodes (e.g. text or words). HTTP is the protocol to exchange or transfer hypertext.

I’d go as far to suggest that the CDTP would be a protocol for distributed, collaborative, hyperlocal people, networks and communities. This has the potential to be the foundation worldwide civic architecture, which builds upon the internet.

This clearly requires a lot more thinking and development, especially the data model that would sit behind it.  Also the request methods would need to be defined, however this requires a wider conversation about how we would want a civic society to operate and therefore which methods would be included (to give an example using http the methods include get, post, put, delete etc).

It is also likely that a mark-up language might need to be adapted in order to ensure specific civic data or content is presented consistently. We might require a CDPL (Citizen Data Presentation Language), but this isn’t really in my thinking right now.

Another key element is how the CDTP would interact, connect and integrate with standard http sites and content. My thinking at this point in time is that it would use thinking and standards around linked data to help create and facilitate the environment.

So what would it actually do?

You may have noticed in the title that I included an address cdtp://carlhaggerty – my thinking here is that this address is my civic persona and identity.

This address allows me to create a civic presence away from my general social presence which is often confusing and pretty much about general stuff, my family and sometimes utter nonsense. It most certainly isn’t a civic persona.

What I imagine is this containing a living history of my civic involvement, contributions and actions. Coupled with some kind of gamification  layer that shows and displays my civic actions and persona within my neighbourhood, community, town/village, city, county and beyond. As well as my communities or networks of interest.

For me a key element to any civic architecture is that it isn’t a social network itself but is a platform that connect people – for some time I struggled to see how this could have been achieved but for me the CDTP allows this to happen and it can be open to everyone.

Like all my half-baked ideas, this is about as far I have come with my thinking right now, although it has certainly provided some much-needed focus to my future thinking.

The Local GDS question – again…

Last Friday evening conversation started on twitter about a local GDS, the why, what, how, who, where etc.

Now I didn’t have too much time to get involved in the conversation on twitter, although I did post a comment on Ben Proctors blog post¬†on Friday evening – I would have contributed more but was actually at karate with my son and then had quite a busy weekend which included a 1 day kayaking course (which I can highly recommend). ¬† The one thing I did tweet was that I’d be better off writing a blog post about this as it will certainly take more than 140 characters.

When I previously wrote about over on the GDS blog back in March this year I started the post with this statement:

Does local government need a local government digital service? –¬†The easy answer to the title question would be No‚Ķbut I don‚Äôt like easy answers and I believe that No is fundamentally the wrong answer.

I mentioned the types of things that I felt were and still are needed to help move this forward e.g.

  • Leadership and vision
  • Skills development
  • Connecting
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks
  • Setting the bar high
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central

Also things we should avoid doing

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place
  • force it
  • focus on technology
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers

I’d recommend reading the post for the comments alone which were really fascinating as are the comments on Ben’s blog

I think I need to clarify things before we can move forward.

First: saying we need a local GDS does not mean that it is a physical team based anywhere in the UK and has paid staff < I’m sure many people would jump at the chance at this kind of thing but in my personal view it isn’t sustainable.

Second: saying that we need a local GDS does not mean that it is restricted to just local government people / staff < events and movements like govcamp demonstrate that a collection of people passionate about solving problems is all you need to make wonderful things happen.

Third: lets not forget that 400(ish) local councils are not easy to co-ordinate and are very different in terms of politics, but that shouldn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.

Fourth:  there is no silver bullet to what people may perceive to be a local GDS.

Local GDS already exists…so lets move on…

Can we just all accept that Local GDS is already here and has been for years, we just simply haven’t called it that. ¬†I’d say that localgovcamp is probably the best physical manifestation of what this looks like and it meets outside of London.

If I go back to what a Local GDS should do and ask myself has localgovcamp done this then this is what you get….

  • Leadership and vision ¬†< YES
  • Skills development < YES
  • Connecting¬†< YES
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks¬†< YES
  • Setting the bar high¬†< YES
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central¬†< YES

plus the things it shouldn’t do…

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place < AGAIN YES
  • force it¬†< AGAIN YES
  • focus on technology¬†< AGAIN YES
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers¬†< AGAIN YES

So if we can accept this, then how do we make it better, scale it, get more recognition and also make the sharing of outputs easier regardless of the local council environment < YES this means we have to accept that some councils work on old systems and we have a responsibility to help those just as much as we have a responsibility to innovate for the rest.

The main issue is that there are a large number of councils who have still had no contact or even heard of  localgovcamp which does concern me as the whole sector needs to transform not just those who are connected.

I personally believe that those people who really want to move this forward should all work together on working out how we achieve the following:

  • better co-ordination and information sharing across all local councils including town and parish
  • a bit of consolidation and rationalisation on the many standards and frameworks which are out there some of which conflict and are legacy from eGovernment days.

There are more things but solving these two would go a long way to making things better.

Just so people are aware, I’ve already spoken with the LGA and a group of people are talking towards the end of September early October on how to move some of this forward.

It isn’t an exclusive group of people and I’m not concerned or precious about this and if other people want to move this forward in different directions then please do – however I want to make a plea that whatever happens – it needs to be practical, thought through and realistic as well as inclusive for all councils to engage with. That will mean kicking some up the backside in order to get them engaged of course.

I am keen on seeing this get resolved as I’m looking to the future of the sector and I’m worried that we will simply disappear and I’d at least want the knowledge to be available to those who needed it.