Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A changing attitude to information in government?

This story in The Guardian at the weekend - "Ministers wake to potential of people power on the net" starts to indicate a possible new direction in terms of a broader government information policy. Whilst campaigners have been concerned about recent threats to the FOIA in terms of a restrictive fees regime & an attempt to remove Parliament from FOI it would appear in the broader areas of open government and proactive release a more open approach is being considered. The Guardian reported that government is considering these issues:

The government plans to put more information on the net, including health and safety records of restaurants, and local planning applications.

Whitehall officials regard it as inevitable that information-sharing forums will develop to discuss the quality of public sector performance, including individual GPs and teachers, as well as bad garages, rogue builders, and holiday destinations

This can added to recent reports that government will consider in future publishing legal advice: the Constitutional affairs Minister Harrier Harman, broke ranks to declare that in future the attorney general's legal advice to the government should be made publicly available (though whether is this a formal emerging position or policy pitch for the deputy leadership contest is unclear) (also see The Guardian)

According to the article Tom Steinberg from mysociety appears to having some influence over this new emerging Government Information Policy (his My Society group were commissioned by the Govt to set up the highly successful No10 petitioning system). In a recent interview Steinberg suggested: "citizens being allowed to comment and exchange tips on government websites such as HM Revenue and Custom's e-tax service" for example.

Mysociety are also behind the Freedom of Information Filer and Archive project which has recently recieved funding and is under development.

Another possible new policy hinted at in the first article I referred to was "permitting civil servants to post information on sites", an issue recently raised on the ideal government blog.

These new policy ideas appear to be drawing on the emerging concept of "information commons" - "Information resources shared by a community of producers and consumers in an open access environment" (definition source). This paper is good intro to the concept: The Information Commons: a public policy report by Nancy Kranich. View PDF Published by Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

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