Doing I.T. Ourselves:
Citizen-produced websites and their relationship to
public services
Benjamin Welby
M.Sc. Public Admi...
Page | ii
Abstract
This dissertation explores the citizen-state relationship and questions whether it is changing in
respo...
Page | iii
Acknowledgements
My thanks go to the people behind FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com, OpenlyLocal.com and Armchair
Au...
Page | iv
Contents
Abstract .................................................................................................
List of Tables
Figure 1: Definitions of Democracy (adapted from Hendriks 2010, p. 22) .......................................
Page | vi
List of Illustrations
Illustration 1: FixMyStreet.com..............................................................
Page | 1
1. Introduction & Literature Review
In recent years there have been numerous websites designed to deliver or augm...
Page | 2
citizen-led websites in the British landscape by focusing on four particular examples of this trend. It asks
what...
Page | 3
to be treated as if they were equally qualified to participate in the process of making
decisions about the polic...
Page | 4
are not themselves in a position to govern. In the trustee model the responsibility of governance is placed
in th...
Page | 5
but it is an indirect and representative model where the responsibility for providing public goods and
services h...
Page | 6
Over time different approaches have been taken to ensure that the agent produces what the
principal wants: fair a...
Page | 7
1.3. Cultures of the internet
This dissertation presents case studies of situations where the 'principal' has fou...
Page | 8
hundred people one will create something, ten interact with that new creation and the remaining 89 merely
consume...
Page | 9
different. It is argued that this leads to the co-production of services outside the state's leadership and
contr...
Page | 10
2. Method & Methodology
2.1. Rationale and Approach
My working environment has brought me into contact with citi...
Page | 11
face and round table discussion2
. Throughout the research period the use of social bookmarking and a
private bl...
Page | 12
2.1.2. Survey
As part of the process to improve the council's web presence Hull City Council measured the online...
Page | 13
The web survey was added to hullcc.gov.uk and in this way was made available to all visitors of
hullcc.gov.uk ir...
Page | 14
who accessed the survey online, and those who accessed it though offline channels allowing Hull City
Council to ...
Page | 15
However, this meant that I was not party to the discussions behind the scenes in those locations
where citizen p...
Page | 16
3. Findings and Analysis
As explored in the Methodology this dissertation is based on a case study of four separ...
Page | 17
FixMyStreet.com was developed by the charity MySociety.org. Their primary mission is 'to build
Internet projects...
Page | 18
administrative burden that could be avoided if a resident used their website in the first place (McGuire,
2010)....
Page | 19
The success in the approach FixMyStreet.com provides is seen in the fact that it has been adopted
by some counci...
Page | 20
3.2. BCCDIY.com
Illustration 2: BCCDIY.com
3.2.1. What is the site and what is its purpose?
BCCDIY.com was launc...
Page | 21
£580,000. However, the council's response concluded that the estimated date of delivery was now August
2009 and ...
Page | 22
2010, the most recent of which was June 6th
2010 (BCCDIY.pbworks.com). This is despite simple user tasks
no long...
Page | 23
national community of developers who can experiment and explore different approaches and tools for
supporting an...
Page | 24
3.3. OpenlyLocal.com
Illustration 3: OpenlyLocal.com
3.3.1. What is the site and what is its purpose?
Launched i...
Page | 25
shared knowledge, increase efficiency, promote transparency and renew the relationship between local
authorities...
Page | 26
Tim Berners-Lee requested that government publish its raw data, and that it do so as quickly as
possible. Whilst...
Page | 27
to local residents. The fact that this activity was taking place independently of one another in separate parts
...
Page | 28
3.4. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk
Illustration 4 ArmchairAuditor.com
3.4.1. What is the site and what is its purpose?
A...
Page | 29
and year before the election David Cameron wrote about his vision of a new politics central to which was
the pub...
Page | 30
3.4.4. Analysis
Raw data is overwhelming and 10,000 row spreadsheets are generally only of niche interest.
Likew...
Page | 31
encouraged, and facilitated, by local authorities and in that respect provides a logical progression through
the...
Page | 32
3.5. Hull's Web Survey
This dissertation considers the impact of citizen produced websites on the relationship b...
Page | 33
Telephone Face to Face Total
Don't use the internet 39% 45% 42%
Prefer human interaction 27% 20% 24%
Didn't thin...
Page | 34
Telephone Web Face to Face Total
Telephone 93% 15% 42% 43%
Depends 0% 42% 9% 23%
Email 1% 22% 8% 13%
Internet 2%...
Page | 35
3.5.2. Council interaction
To establish the main reasons people contact the council we asked participants to sel...
Page | 36
Telephone Web Face to Face Total
Housing 25% 12% 13% 16%
Rubbish 32% 4% 9% 13%
Jobs 4% 12% 12% 10%
Leisure Facil...
Page | 37
However, the nuances behind those percentages suggest 'satisfied' is not synonymous with 'without room
for impro...
Page | 38
Moreover, there was only limited enthusiasm for the council to explore the use of 'web 2.0' tools
and services s...
Page | 39
3.5.4. Analysis
The survey demonstrates that there is significant awareness and usage of the internet. 55% of al...
Page | 40
3.6. Conclusion
The research presented in this chapter has considered four separate case studies alongside the
p...
Page | 41
4. Conclusion & Recommendations
At the start of this dissertation three research questions were proposed in orde...
Page | 42
anybody in the country. Moreover, BCCDIY.com has spawned a similar approach for council websites. Stef
Lewandows...
Page | 43
readily available. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of ‘Big Society’ contribution
a...
Page | 44
public to engage with the council by presenting stories in interactive ways such as blogs, videos or podcasts.
F...
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services
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My dissertation submitted as part of an MSc in Public Administration from the Institute of Local Government at the University of Birmingham.

It explores the citizen-state relationship and questions whether it is changing in response to the emergence of citizen produced websites. As the internet has matured, core characteristics of collaboration, transparency and flexibility have emerged. It is the contention of this dissertation that these changes have implications for the relationship between the public sector and private citizens. It considers the concepts of democracy, the provision of public goods and services and the cultures of the internet. The research is based on four case studies of citizen produced websites namely FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com, OpenlyLocal.com and ArmchairAuditor.co.uk. Complementing these sites is consultation conducted with the residents of Hull that identified their attitudes towards the digital sphere. The dissertation finds that these websites are not being produced everywhere but argues that there is national resonance to what has happened already and concludes that they evidence a change in the relationship between citizen and state. It is the contention of this work that these websites are the embodiment of the coalition's ideal for Big Society that sees active citizens accepting the responsibility for local issues. The success, or otherwise, of this approach will depend on whether the public sector is willing to accept the mantle of leadership and do what is necessary by publishing data by default, engaging with concerned citizens and embracing the innovative approaches of the internet.

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Doing IT Ourselves: citizen produced websites and their relationship to public services

  1. 1. Doing I.T. Ourselves: Citizen-produced websites and their relationship to public services Benjamin Welby M.Sc. Public Administration 2010 Institute of Local Government Studies, School of Government and Society University of Birmingham Date of Submission: 1st September 2010 Wordcount: 15,309
  2. 2. Page | ii Abstract This dissertation explores the citizen-state relationship and questions whether it is changing in response to the emergence of citizen produced websites. As the internet has matured, core characteristics of collaboration, transparency and flexibility have emerged. It is the contention of this dissertation that these changes have implications for the relationship between the public sector and private citizens. It considers the concepts of democracy, the provision of public goods and services and the cultures of the internet. The research is based on four case studies of citizen produced websites namely FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com, OpenlyLocal.com and ArmchairAuditor.co.uk. Complementing these sites is consultation conducted with the residents of Hull that identified their attitudes towards the digital sphere. The dissertation finds that these websites are not being produced everywhere but argues that there is national resonance to what has happened already and concludes that they evidence a change in the relationship between citizen and state. It is the contention of this work that these websites are the embodiment of the coalition's ideal for Big Society that sees active citizens accepting the responsibility for local issues. The success, or otherwise, of this approach will depend on whether the public sector is willing to accept the mantle of leadership and do what is necessary by publishing data by default, engaging with concerned citizens and embracing the innovative approaches of the internet.
  3. 3. Page | iii Acknowledgements My thanks go to the people behind FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com, OpenlyLocal.com and Armchair Auditor as well as all those who completed the survey into web attitudes. Special thanks also go to Hull City Council for providing me with access to the data and giving me the opportunity to study this MSc in Public Administration. I am grateful to the various people from different public sector organisations that I spent pockets of time with at Priorsfield for sharing their experiences and providing stimulating debate. I would also like to thank the academic staff at the Institute of Local Government Studies and my supervisor Dr John Raine. Over the two years of working with Hull City Council I have been exposed to different parts of the organisation and seen how the competing complexities of national and local government tie together. This dissertation is the product of those experiences within the Schools’ Finance, Streetscene Performance, Web Steering and Private Housing teams. The author would like to thank all those concerned individuals who are going out of their way to challenge the public sector and encourage those of us who are paid out of public funds to achieve greater things at work. Twitter has connected me with a geographically disparate community of public servants and private citizens who aren’t content to maintain the status quo. They are an inspiration and their authorities are lucky to have them either behind the scenes, or challenging from the open. My biggest thanks goes to Christine, my wife, it is not exaggerating to say that without her this dissertation would never have been finished!
  4. 4. Page | iv Contents Abstract ..............................................................................................................................................................ii Preface/Acknowledgements .............................................................................................................................iii Contents ............................................................................................................................................................iv List of Tables.......................................................................................................................................................v List of Illustrations .............................................................................................................................................vi 1. Introduction & Literature Review................................................................................................................. 1 1.1. The nature of democracy .................................................................................................................. 2 1.2. Providing public services ................................................................................................................... 5 1.3. Cultures of the internet..................................................................................................................... 7 1.4. Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................... 9 2. Method & Methodology............................................................................................................................. 10 2.1. Rationale and Approach.................................................................................................................. 10 2.2. Strengths & Weaknesses................................................................................................................. 14 2.3. Ethical Issues.................................................................................................................................... 15 2.4. Conclusion ....................................................................................................................................... 15 3. Findings and Analysis.................................................................................................................................. 16 3.1. FixMyStreet.com.............................................................................................................................. 16 3.2. BCCDIY.com ..................................................................................................................................... 20 3.3. OpenlyLocal.com ............................................................................................................................. 24 3.4. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk .................................................................................................................... 28 3.5. Hull's Web Survey............................................................................................................................ 32 3.6. Conclusion ....................................................................................................................................... 40 4. Conclusion & Recommendations ............................................................................................................... 41 4.1. Conclusion ....................................................................................................................................... 41 4.2. Recommendations, or 'what does this mean for service delivery?' ............................................... 45 4.3. Further Research ............................................................................................................................. 46 Bibliography..................................................................................................................................................... 48 Appendices ...................................................................................................................................................... 54 Appendix 1: Web Survey............................................................................................................................ 54 Appendix 2: Telephone Survey .................................................................................................................. 54 Appendix 3: Face to Face Survey ............................................................................................................... 54 Appendix 4: Survey Data............................................................................................................................ 54
  5. 5. List of Tables Figure 1: Definitions of Democracy (adapted from Hendriks 2010, p. 22) ....................................................... 3 Figure 2: Models of democracy (Hendriks, 2010, pp. 2-28).............................................................................. 4 Figure 3: The rise of governing by netowrk (Goldsmith, 2000, p . 20)............................................................. 6 Figure 4: Total survey responses..................................................................................................................... 13 Figure 5: Average Age...................................................................................................................................... 32 Figure 6: Why didn’t you use hullcc.gov.uk?................................................................................................... 33 Figure 7: What is your preferred means of contacting the council?............................................................... 34 Figure 8: What kind of internet user are you? ................................................................................................ 34 Figure 9: What was the main purpose of your visit?....................................................................................... 35 Figure 10: What service area were you interested in? ................................................................................... 36 Figure 12: Summary of hullcc.gov.uk being rated from very dissatisfied to very satisfied............................. 36 Figure 11: How did you find the process of obtaining that information?....................................................... 36 Figure 13: Which of these areas would you like to see the council develop or improve?.............................. 37 Figure 14: Usage of social media tools............................................................................................................ 38
  6. 6. Page | vi List of Illustrations Illustration 1: FixMyStreet.com....................................................................................................................... 16 Illustration 2: BCCDIY.com............................................................................................................................... 20 Illustration 3: OpenlyLocal.com....................................................................................................................... 24 Illustration 4 ArmchairAuditor.com................................................................................................................. 28
  7. 7. Page | 1 1. Introduction & Literature Review In recent years there have been numerous websites designed to deliver or augment public services. These sites have occasionally been prompted by dissatisfaction with existing services and sometimes they have come from a desire to improve access to democracy but in the majority of cases they have been developed to support the public sector, not to attack it. These sites question whether online service should be entirely the responsibility of 'the state' and attempts to draw out the lessons for local authorities in how they approach, and embrace, those concerned citizens with the requisite skills to do it themselves. Having worked in a number of areas directly affected by these websites the issue of how local authorities respond to what they cannot control has inspired this work. Over the last 18 months it has become clear that the potential exists for local authorities to save significant money by using the internet effectively. What these sites suggest is that the burden of developing those channels does not need to be met internally. However, whether such expertise is available across the country is questionable. In order to test the hypothesis that 'citizen produced websites are increasingly important to public service provision and are consequently reshaping the relationship between citizen and state' this dissertation considers four case studies and the attitudes of residents in Hull. The dissertation begins with a literature review that considers the theoretical and conceptual context for this debate. It distils discussions about the nature of democracy, considers the nature of public service delivery and then addresses the role of the internet and the cultures it promotes. Following an explanation of the methodological approach and a discussion of the quality, and limitations, of the research the findings are presented. The case studies of FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com, OpenlyLocal.com and ArmchairAuditor.co.uk are complemented by quantitative and qualitative research completed in Hull providing the basis for subsequent analysis. Conclusions on this research, the recommendations for local authorities and the options for further study bring the dissertation to its completion. This is a dissertation that does not seek to consider the impact of the internet and technology on democracy. It does not seek to examine whether the 2010 election was the first internet election as it was claimed in the build up. It does not look to test the emerging model of Big Society and critique its potential for delivering services and protecting the vulnerable. This dissertation considers the current position of
  8. 8. Page | 2 citizen-led websites in the British landscape by focusing on four particular examples of this trend. It asks what those websites mean for the attitudes of local authorities towards the public as providers, not just customers and it tests the implications of those ideas with primary research completed with residents of Hull. At its heart is the question – what does the fact that ordinary people are making unsolicited websites that deliver services mean for the relationship between citizen and state? This dissertation is concerned with the relationship between the public and their services and the implication of citizen-produced, web-based activity. These ideas flow out of a wider discussion on the nature of democracy, the provision of public goods and services and the culture of the internet. As a result, this literature review provides a theoretical and conceptual background to the case studies examined in this work. 1.1. The nature of democracy Britain is a democratic monarchy. Her Majesty Elizabeth I is our head of state but the nation is governed by members elected as representatives for their constituents using a first past the post system. At a local level a similar system exists for the election of councillors. This means we have limited power and influence over daily decision making; our engagement with democracy is indirect. However, such a system would not meet with approval from some of those who have attempted to define democracy. Figure 1 demonstrates that what democracy actually means is open to debate. Lane & Ersson (2003, p. 3) A political regime where the will of the people ex ante becomes the law of the country (legal order) ex post Beetham (1994, p. 28) A political concept, concerning the collectively binding decisions about the rules and policies of a group, association or society (...) embracing the related principles of popular control and political equality Hadenius (1992, p. 2) A political system in which ‘public policy is to be governed by the freely expressed will of the people whereby all individuals are to be treated as equals’ Popper (1945, p. 69) A type of government in which ‘the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled’ Dahl (2000, p. 37-38) A constitution in conformity with one elementary principle, ‘that all the members are
  9. 9. Page | 3 to be treated as if they were equally qualified to participate in the process of making decisions about the policies the association will pursue’ Schumpeter (1943, p. 269) That institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote Goodin (2003, p. 1) A matter of making social outcomes systematically responsive to the settled preferences of all involved parties Finer (1999, p. 1568) A state where political decisions are taken by and with the consent, or the active participation even, of the majority of the People Lincoln (1863) Government of the people, by the people, for the people Churchill (1947) No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise…democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time Figure 1: Definitions of Democracy (adapted from Hendriks 2010, p. 22) In the 2010 general election the outcome was not decisive despite a 4% increase in the turnout to 65.1% (BBC, 2010b). The Liberal Democrats took 23% of the vote but only 57 seats whilst Labour, who polled 29%, had 258 leaving the Conservatives with 307 seats on the strength of 36.1% of the vote (Ibid). The first coalition government since World War Two, between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, entered government on the strength of 59% of votes cast; however, those 17.5 million votes only represent an electoral mandate from 39% of the country1 . This result came against the backdrop of campaigns against a ‘broken voting system’ and renewed calls for Proportional Representation (38 Degrees, 2010; Take Back Parliament, 2010; Vote For A Change, 2010). Such questions are not new. In 1774, fifty-eight years before the 1832 Reform Act, Edmund Burke formulated two models of representative democracy: delegate and trustee. The delegate model of democracy is closer to an understanding of direct democracy. In this model those who are elected make decisions on behalf of the public, as their delegate rather than for them as someone with more knowledge. They do not have the autonomy to act out their own ideas, theirs is a power delegated from the public who 1 The total Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote was 17,563,328 of a total vote of 29,691,380. This represented a 65.1% turnout. The total electorate eligible to vote in the 2010 general election was 45,608,879. This percentage is obtained by dividing the total Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote by the total electorate and multiplying by 100.
  10. 10. Page | 4 are not themselves in a position to govern. In the trustee model the responsibility of governance is placed in the hands of an elected ‘trustee’ and requires them to use their personal judgement to act in the best interests of the community even if that means ignoring the wishes of their electors. After winning the election Burke declared that ‘your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion’ (Burke, 1906). He was not returned when the people of Bristol next visited the ballot box and this indirect, trustee, model remains central to British politics. Kemp (1943) and Lucas (1976) have argued that representative government was the most viable option available with participation in the democratic process being about wider discussion and debate, not the narrow focus on Westminster. Haskell (2001) has developed those ideas and argued that representative democracy safeguards the nuances of the public interest and ensures due process rather than simple majority rule. However, recent academic thought and literature stands in support of direct and deliberative forms of democracy with a number of academics, including Mark Warren (1999a; 1999b; 2002), Iris Young (2000) and Michael Saward (2000) proposing that limiting direct participation dilutes democracy. Figure 2: Models of democracy (Hendriks, 2010, pp. 2-28) Hendriks (2010) proposes a summary of four different forms of government (represented in Figure 1), indicating that Britain is a Pendulum democracy. We have a form of government based on majority rule
  11. 11. Page | 5 but it is an indirect and representative model where the responsibility for providing public goods and services has been handed to our elected representatives. This conflicts with recent consultation carried out by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG, 2009) which states that 'it is fundamental to local governance that citizens have the right to influence the decisions that affect their lives and their communities'. Our involvement with the democratic process of decision making may be restricted but recent studies have suggested that rather than striving for political influence in the main debating hall people are instead ‘working around the state’ (Laycock, 2004, p. 266). Perhaps this offers an opportunity for the 'large and untapped pool of people who would like more say in what happens in their area' to exert their right without requiring political revolution (DCLG, 2009). 1.2. Providing public services In such a situation where councillors and MPs are not directly delivering services how do they ensure they get what they voted for in Parliament and that we got what we voted for at the ballot box? How does central government relate to the local and how do we, as citizens, relate to them both? In analysing these relationships the principal-agent model offers a tool for understanding the dynamics of trust and accountability. According to Lane (2000, p. 132) the theory applies to ‘human interaction that…*involves+…an agreement between at least two persons according to which one (the agent) is instructed to take action on behalf of another (the principal)’ and places the relationship within government by arguing that ‘government is the principal and the bureau chiefs…the agents’. Although elected members govern through bureau chiefs they do so because of the power delegated to them at the ballot box by the electorate. Consequently local government activity becomes an agent of twin principals: not only centrally elected representatives but Mr and Mrs Griffiths of Starkey Crescent as well. Williams and Giardina (1993, p. 161) suggest that this means ‘the decision-making process can be described as a network of principal-agent relations: electorate/elected public officials, elected public officials/bureaucracy’. This produces ‘an exchange agreement where both governors and the governed exchange part of their power but one in which both parties need the other…*ensuring government carries its function+…on condition that powers are not exceeded and that the agent is accountable’ (Hughes, 1998, p. 230).
  12. 12. Page | 6 Over time different approaches have been taken to ensure that the agent produces what the principal wants: fair and equitable treatment of all. The idea of Traditional Public Administration (TPA), based on the Weberian principles of the bureau, has given way to New Public Management (NPM). And whilst Olsen (2006), Schofield (2001) and Du Gay (2000) reject the complete dismissal of the ideals underpinning TPA, NPM is seen to completely discredit what has gone before (Hughes 2003). The subsequent impact of Modernising Government (Cabinet Office, 1999) was to cement existing ideas of outsourcing and partnership working that had been a feature of John Major's government and develop them further into ideas of network governance (Bovaird, 2009 (February lectures), Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004). Figure 3 demonstrates a comparison of these models with the rigid, hierarchical model of TPA giving way to greater public-private collaboration and, as capabilities to manage networks increased, to deliver the ideal of 'joined-up government' through more effective partnership working and, ultimately, ideas of co- production (Hajer & Wagenaar, 2003; Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004; Bovaird, 2007). Figure 3: The rise of governing by netowrk (Goldsmith, 2000, p . 20) The debate over network governance and co-production has looked at how formal public sector agencies would work together to solve wicked issues (Agranoff, 2007). However, this has sometimes bypassed the public as a potential network, strengthening the divide between public sector and private citizen.
  13. 13. Page | 7 1.3. Cultures of the internet This dissertation presents case studies of situations where the 'principal' has found themselves wanting greater participation in the delivery of goods and services. This has not been in a formal, electoral way but as an extension of an online culture where people pool skills, experience and resources in a completely natural and relational way. 70% of UK households have access to the internet, two thirds of the country are engaged in 'social computing' and 44.2% of the population have active user accounts on Facebook (Office for National Statistics, 2009; Li & Bernoff, 2008; eMarketer, 2010). Where the internet goes next is providing significant food for thought. For some, the internet has been blown out of all proportion; it is simply a tool that lets us do what we did slightly better and has no greater significance. Others argue that the real impact of the internet is yet to be felt and it will take some time before it is second nature for the majority of people (Edgerton, 2008). Keen (2008) and Carr (2008) suggest that it is having a significant but negative influence on the way we discern truth. They contend that expertise has been displaced by a wall of amateur noise. The fourth school celebrates the rise of the amateur and is entirely positive about the internet. In bringing more diversity and choice as consumers or providing new and interesting models of community and collaboration the future of the internet is bright and entirely positive (Anderson, 2007; Shirky, 2008; Benkler, 2006). Finally there are those who think that the open, collaborative web has been a good thing but it is a passing phase. Eventually, Zittrain (2009) argues, we will need the corporations the internet has rejected to step in and retake control. If the open, collaborative web is only a passing phase it is certainly having a significant impact on contemporary life. The internet has changed the way we access and acquire knowledge. News footage travels around the globe in seconds changing the focus of both politics and society. We can pay our bills and make our complaints virtually and in real time across a myriad of different websites. But arguably the most significant impact has been on the blurring of the line between public and private in how we live our lives. Every day millions of people share the banal, and the poignant; the exciting and the mundane; the real and the exaggerated through a host of digital networks and communication channels. However, not everybody is producing or interacting with content but many more are consuming it. Howe (2008) credits Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo with identifying the 1:10:89 principle of online activity which suggests that in every
  14. 14. Page | 8 hundred people one will create something, ten interact with that new creation and the remaining 89 merely consume it (Howe, 2008). Leadbeater (2009) refers to our world as ‘web-infected’ by combined product of peasant, academic, hippie and geek resulting in what he calls 'we-think'. Such a trend, Lessig (2008) argues, represents a conflict between two cultures. He suggests that the historic, and prevalent ‘read-only’ culture in which people consume what they were given is being overtaken by a ‘read-write’ idea where people are not simply consumers but producers with value in their shared creativity (Ibid, p. 28-29). This is a challenge to the business world, and commercial copyright in particular with the suggestion being that the rise of the amateur alongside technological transformation has enabled faster, cheaper, smarter and easier means of working (Lowe, 2008). Li and Bernoff identify this as the groundswell, ‘a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations’ (2008, p. 9). When seen in the light of our earlier discussions about democratic participation and the provision of public goods and services these internet cultures of collaboration and openness question the classic understanding of citizenship and the relationship between principal and agent. Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody (2008) discusses in depth the opportunities that exist for people to pick up and run with new ideas and forms of participation. He suggests that ‘the scope of work that can be done by noninstitutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo’ (Ibid, p.48). In its use of open source software and greater interactivity with the American people the Obama administration has begun to develop this idea of 'Gov2.0' (Lathrop & Ruma, 2010; Obama, 2009). In Britain, the first 100 days of the coalition built on the outgoing government's commitment to publishing open government data in support of transparency and to stimulate innovation (Cameron 2010; Brown 2009). Furthermore, our new government have used crowd sourcing in support of the Big Society vision that the public should be able to contribute money saving ideas and reshape legislation (Her Majesty's Treasury, 2010; Telegraph, 2010a; Telegraph, 2010b; Her Majesty's Government, 2010). Rather than NPM approaches to government, or institutionalised control over what is heard and consumed, the open source, collaborative and crowd sourced cultures of the internet offer something
  15. 15. Page | 9 different. It is argued that this leads to the co-production of services outside the state's leadership and control requiring a new paradigm in approaching public services; a communicative approach under the moniker 'We-Gov'. (McCormick, 2010; Campbell, Goldsmith & Tumin, 2010; Boland & Coleman, 2008). 1.4. Conclusion This literature review has considered the existing structures of governance and the way in which the delivery and management of public services has altered as a result of changing ideologies before addressing the ‘web-infected’ culture in which we live and noting the potential for this to affect current models of service delivery. The historic idea that political democracy means an arms-length principal-agent relationship rooted in the ideal of public service having responsible for service delivery is coming under scrutiny. Some modern Britons want something more. Where once they may have felt powerless to do anything about the prevailing political norms the twenty-first century citizen is able to use the internet to alter the shape of public service delivery. Following the 1:10:89 principle we must recognise that not everyone will be motivated, or skilled enough, to design and publish their own website but, if somebody else did, it would be readily available to other interested parties. The nature of this discussion is not one of politics but it is heavily informed by them. The electoral pressure over our political structures has resulted in plans to hold a referendum in 2011 (Gay & Woodhouse, 2010). At the same time, the rhetoric of Big Society has given fresh impetus to the idea of co- production whilst the commitment to publishing open data confirms its significance to the coalition government. The distinctions between citizen and state are being reconfigured and irrespective of the referendum, there are increasing opportunities for concerned citizens to make a point and influence or deliver services themselves providing a model of democratic participation that is more than what happens at the ballot box. Through the use of case studies and research from the people of Hull we will explore these developments and attempt to answer the following research questions: How have citizens produced websites that provide public services? What do these sites mean in the context of the debate about democracy? Are citizen produced websites important to the future of public service delivery?
  16. 16. Page | 10 2. Method & Methodology 2.1. Rationale and Approach My working environment has brought me into contact with citizen produced websites and exposed me to the internal debate over what they mean for the future of public service delivery. This dissertation draws on personal experiences from my time in Hull. Consequently it is important to identify that I am not an entirely dispassionate observer. As a 'digital native' I have great belief in the potential contained within the internet for more meaningful engagement and significantly reduced costs. Therefore, my role as 'research instrument' is configured by my ontological, epistemological and axiological ideologies (Piantanida & Garman, 2009; Patton, 2002). Without them I would not have been motivated to consider this topic. The goal of research is twofold. On one hand it exists to uncover previously unknown ideas, beliefs and facts whilst on the other its use lies in testing existing hypotheses. In order to explore the research questions identified in the Introduction a multi-method approach to research has been taken: qualitative case studies are used alongside a cross-sectional quantitative survey. In this way data from multiple methods can be used, providing a way of attacking 'a research problem with an arsenal of methods that have non overlapping weakness in addition to their complementary strength' (Brewer & Hunter, 2005, p.4). In order to conduct this research it was important to design a stategy that would 'obtain answers to research questions' (Burnham, Gilland, Lutz, Grant & Layton-Henry, 2004, p. 30). The first stage of designing such a strategy was a literature review that provided a theoretical and conceptual foundation for understanding the issues of participation and democracy, public service delivery and the emergent culture of the internet. Coupled to this was unstructured exposure to the local government digital community. Twitter provided a mechanism for building a network of officers working in communications and engagement as well as those involved in the design and production of the four websites in question. This has allowed insight into long running but sporadic discussions. This was supported by attendance at unconferences such as LocalGovCamp Yorkshire & Humber or LocalGovCamp Lincoln which afforded opportunities for face to
  17. 17. Page | 11 face and round table discussion2 . Throughout the research period the use of social bookmarking and a private blog have enabled these contributions to the debate to be recorded alongside my developing thoughts and ideas on an ad hoc basis (Borg, 2001; Janesick, 1999). 2.1.1. Case Study The four websites that have been chosen represent a period of three years in the history of online civic engagement by those outside government and their selection was informed by the findings of the earlier research phase. Initially the examples of FixMyStreet.com and BCCDIY.com were identified as suitable examples for consideration. However, as the research continued it seemed logical to include the experience and contribution of OpenlyLocal.com and, most recently, ArmchairAuditor.co.uk in order to create a broad-based sample that allows for contrast and comparison between cases. All qualitative research depends on whether the ‘findings are grounded in empirical material’ (Flick, 2009, p. 15). The case studies have been researched empirically using observation of the sites as they have developed. This has provided an understanding of the circumstances around their creation and their interaction with existing state led activity. Having first been alerted to the impact of FixMyStreet.com on service delivery in April 2009 I was aware of the debate and, 'on the spot' as different ideas were formulated and sites were launched providing real-time overview to developments in the field. The websites are different examples of citizen-led activity in areas that in theory were the responsibility of the state to provide. They have been done unbidden, at no cost to the public purse. In examining these case studies it is hoped to shed some light on all the research questions established earlier. In order to do so the following questions were asked of each site to provide a background for analysis: What is the site and what is its purpose? Who set it up and why did they do that? How does the site work in practice? 2 An unconference is a participant led gathering on a theme or purpose. It differs from the classic conference model in that they are run for free, the agenda and schedule is set in the morning by the attendees and use round table discussion rather than lecture style sessions.
  18. 18. Page | 12 2.1.2. Survey As part of the process to improve the council's web presence Hull City Council measured the online attitudes and browsing habits of Hull's residents. This allowed me to consider these issues on wider scale than a restricted sample might have achieved. The survey provided access to a large urban environment with a history of deprivation that regularly ranks highly in the wrong league tables. However, it is also home to a technologically advanced telecommunications infrastructure and a highly active digital community which has spawned the successful digital conference Hull Digital Live. Against this backdrop Hullcc.gov.uk was recently awarded only 2 stars (out of a possible 4) in the annual review of council websites, a reduction in its rating in previous years (SOCITM, 2010). This quantitative research adopted a cross-sectional approach by providing a snap shot of the city's attitudes. Although the council had conducted previous consultation it was not effective as a tool of comparison as the research which was carried out was limited in scope and could not constitute a longitudinal study as there was no attempt to track individuals over time. Furthermore, because the council was particularly interested in the attitudes of those who did not access the internet such as the elderly, or those from a poorer social background it meant the survey was conducted over the telephone and face to face as well as through hullcc.gov.uk meaning three variants of the survey were used, a further departure from the previous research. The questionnaire asked a selection of up to 31 questions that were dependent on the answers respondents gave and whether they were accessing it via hullcc.gov.uk, over the telephone or face to face. Paper versions of these surveys are available as Appendices 1 to 3. Although I set the questions the final surveys were designed in light of pilot work with a selection of staff within the Customer Service, Communication & Marketing, Museum Education, Streetscene, ICT and Policy & Strategy service areas. The questionnaire used a combination of closed and open questions as well as Likert scales, multiple choice and single option questions. The raw quantitative data is included at Appendix 4. The free text responses provided useful information to the council but the quantity of information they contained has meant choosing to focus only on the quantitative data..
  19. 19. Page | 13 The web survey was added to hullcc.gov.uk and in this way was made available to all visitors of hullcc.gov.uk irrespective of where they lived and, because we could not predict who would visit the website we made the decision to give 50% of visitors in a particular time period the opportunity to complete it by appearing in an in-page pop-up that asked visitors if they wanted to complete the survey. If they said yes it would take them to the survey after completing their visit if no then the survey would never present itself to that visitor again. Kingston Communications handled the telephone survey as part of the council's call centre contract. Callers to the city's 300300 helpline were asked if they would be happy to complete a survey and, if so, they received a phone call later that day to follow their enquiry up. The sampling within this part of the survey was therefore self-selecting. In the first place it was restricted only to those who contacted the council via the telephone and, of those, only members of the public who expressed a desire to be included. To complete the offline survey the council commissioned Force 7 on the basis that they would target make use of the city's Customer Service Centres to ensure that the views of those without access to the internet provided balance to the responses gathered elsewhere. Figure 4: Total survey responses The surveys ran concurrently with Kingston Communications and Force 7 instructed to poll a minimum of 500 respondents to provide an offline sample size of 1,000. The web survey targeted 1,000 responses to provide a total sample of 2,000. After running for 4 weeks there had been a total of 1,847 responses. As can be seen from Figure 4, 938 responded via the website and a combined total of 909 from the offline surveys. Although Force 7 failed to reach their target there was a good balance between those 399 938 510 Offline Online 0 200 400 600 800 1000 Face to Face Web Telephone
  20. 20. Page | 14 who accessed the survey online, and those who accessed it though offline channels allowing Hull City Council to bring the consultation period to a close. 2.2. Strengths & Weaknesses No research can ever lay claim to perfection. And whilst it is good to acknowledge the strengths of the research contained in this dissertation it is important to reflect critically on the processes used and the activity recorded. In terms of the consultation in Hull there are inevitably certain limitations in the data. By choosing to use only the quantitative data and discount the qualitative responses I have purposefully limited the data being considered in this research. The concerns and issues contained within them had operational resonance and the dissertation is not negatively impacted by their exclusion. Neuman, (2006, p. 222) suggests that the researcher can never know ‘whether the cases selected represent the population’ and with the data collection outsourced to Force 7 and Kingston Communications this adds a further variable into both the sampling process and the execution of the survey. However, by targeting those who have visited the website, contacted the council via the telephone or accessed services offline it is hoped that this purposive sampling has targeted knowledgeable individuals by identifying those relevant to the research topic rather than necessarily being representative of the population (Flick, 2009). Arguably the size of the sample was a strength of this research as it offset these limitations in the data and provided a wide ranging picture of use across the city, both genders, all ages and different access channels. The empirical research into the website case studies found its strength in the public way in which those sites were birthed and the access to the discussions which took place via social networks, forums and blogs. Moreover, because these phenomena took place outside of Hull and away from my working environment it was possible to be a detached observer rather than an involved public servant. Nor was I involved as a private citizen as I live outside Hull meaning that my expectations of a council could remain separate from my working environment. This allowed me to appreciate the nuances of the situation from within an organisation and lend balance to my personal perspective.
  21. 21. Page | 15 However, this meant that I was not party to the discussions behind the scenes in those locations where citizen produced websites had local significance such as Birmingham. Moreover, despite my hoping to have structured discussions it proved impossible to do so with either stakeholders from those authorities or the individuals who had contributed to the design and delivery of their websites. 2.3. Ethical Issues The research contained within this dissertation does not touch on sensitive ethical issues. However, in approaching the consultation Hull City Council were legally obliged to comply with data protection legislation. Consequently, all personal data relating to those who conducted the survey was separated from their responses. Contact details have been securely stored and used only to follow up those who expressed a desire for further involvement in the council's web design project. 2.4. Conclusion This research is not perfect. It would have benefited from greater access to the narrative, ideas and opinions as understood by individuals involved with the citizen produced websites contained within this dissertation whichever side of the public sector/private citizen axis they represent. Nevertheless, it is believed that the overview provided by four separate studies is more important than the personal motivations or the characters involved. As a result this research treats the sites and what they represent as important rather than the developers behind them, save to recognise that they are produced by independent, concerned amateurs rather than public sector employees. Furthermore, those websites which demonstrate the themes and allow the issue to be explored do not stand alone. By using quantitative research produced through consultation with residents of Hull we can test the emerging ideas in one of the largest urban environments in the country. This will provide an opportunity for us to weigh the impact of the case studies and draw conclusions about the value of citizen produced websites, the implications they have for the relationship between citizen and state and identify opportunities for future research and discussion.
  22. 22. Page | 16 3. Findings and Analysis As explored in the Methodology this dissertation is based on a case study of four separate websites combined with some quantitative research conducted in Hull. This chapter will present the findings of that research and analyse each part of the research individually. Each website will be considered using three separate questions as well as a concluding analysis. Although the raw data from Hull is included at Appendix 5, this study will consider a selection of relevant questions only. 3.1. FixMyStreet.com Illustration 1: FixMyStreet.com 3.1.1. What is the site and what is its purpose? FixMyStreet.com, launched in early February 2007, helps people to report, view and discuss local problems to their local council by simply locating them on a map irrespective of where they are in the country. Those problems range from potholes in the road to graffiti to broken street lights and once the location has been selected a resident can add details of the problem and an optional photograph. These reports are posted publicly and with the ability for people to leave their own updates. This is linked to a mechanism to provide alerts when problems are reported within a given radius or an entire area. As a result residents can browse all the problems in their area and contribute updates to them and avoid duplicating the same reports. It also means that the responding council is able to post further information to the individual who reported the issue but also to any other interested residents. However, if the council does not respond or the problem is not dealt with then these problems will continue to be marked as 'unfixed' or status unknown. 3.1.2. Who set it up and why did they do that?
  23. 23. Page | 17 FixMyStreet.com was developed by the charity MySociety.org. Their primary mission is 'to build Internet projects which give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives' (FixMyStreet.com). Examples of their other work include TheyWorkForYou.com a site to track the activity of your local MP and WhatDoTheyKnow.com a public portal for making and publishing Freedom of Information Requests. The site came about through frustration with the existing provision available through council websites. Often the reporting mechanisms were hidden away and difficult to use. Furthermore, in order to report a problem you'd need to know the council which was responsible for that location. Instead, supported by the Young Foundation and funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs Innovations Fund, this project has produced a single website that can be used by anybody, anywhere in Great Britain so long as they can find the problem on a map. 3.1.3. How does the site work in practice? In the first six months the site received 3,000 reports and as of August 29th 2010 a total of 119,000 reports had been logged. However, only 35% are marked as fixed which suggests that councils are not responding to the issues being raised (BBC, 2009a). However, of the 77,000 with an unknown status, 68,000 are categorised as 'old problems' that may have been resolved a long time ago without anyone providing an update. This is one of the biggest challenges to FixMyStreet.com as the status of a problem relies on either the person who submitted the complaint, or the council, to go back and provide an update. On receipt of a problem an email is sent to the relevant council but this does not necessarily integrate with the systems used by the councils. Whilst the council may respond to the report it does not necessarily mean they will update FixMyStreet.com. King and Brown (2007) provided a critique of how councils responded to FixMyStreet shortly after its launch. They found that local government officers were concerned at the duplication of what was available on their own websites and that they felt it was difficult to manage expectations regarding when a problem might be resolved. Although FixMyStreet.com offers a council the facility to provide an update to residents using the comments function a number of councils have noted that this creates an additional
  24. 24. Page | 18 administrative burden that could be avoided if a resident used their website in the first place (McGuire, 2010). However, some councils have chosen to explore how they might adopt FixMyStreet.com. In Barnet, for example, they are running a version that uses the council's template. It can be accessed from the homepage or directly at http://barnet.fixmystreet.com and provides a dashboard of recent problems reported, and fixed. During August the council have fixed 56 problems that were reported through the site. Furthermore, because it covers the country and uses open source technology others have developed functionality to plug into FixMyStreet.com. A good example is Stuart Harrison, webmaster at Lichfield District Council, who has built both a mechanism for reporting problems via Twitter (called Fix My Tweet) and a mobile version of the FixMyStreet.com website. Those tools are not just restricted to his local residents but, should they wish, have enabled every council to deploy a mobile problem reporting platform. Other volunteers have produced apps that work with the Iphone and on Android smartphones. Very few, if any, councils offer such mobile access to problem reporting through their own websites. 3.1.4. Analysis FixMyStreet.com represents the first example of citizen produced websites considered in this dissertation. Although it was built using government funds it is now operated independently by MySociety.org. Arguably it provides a better service to the public than the efforts of local authorities despite being produced by a civil society organisation. Whilst 50% of problems logged on the site have an unknown status the example of Barnet suggests that those councils who embrace it can provide a transparent and up to date snapshot of problems that have been reported. FixMyStreet.com was designed for local people to easily report problems. It was also built for local authorities. Not to draw attention to their failings but to simplify the act of reporting problems so that people might avoid duplication, subscribe to local updates and do it online rather than through costlier offline access channels. It demonstrates the economies of scale in providing a single national tools for something common to all councils as well as economies of scope in that any additional functionality can be accessed by all irrespective of where it was initially developed.
  25. 25. Page | 19 The success in the approach FixMyStreet.com provides is seen in the fact that it has been adopted by some councils to act as their mechanism of choice for reporting all problems. It is not a niche pressure site that can be ignored by councils meaning that those who have developed their own solutions are considering how it might provide true integration across their operating procedures. This site questions the ability of councils to provide appropriate online services and some have responded negatively by continuing to invest in their own solutions. This means that the public sector has continued to invest resources in solutions that do not provide the joined up, transparent and feature rich approach offered by FixMyStreet.com.
  26. 26. Page | 20 3.2. BCCDIY.com Illustration 2: BCCDIY.com 3.2.1. What is the site and what is its purpose? BCCDIY.com was launched in September 2009 and describes itself as 'an unofficial website, aimed at providing a useful service to people in Birmingham based on the contents of the Birmingham City Council website, combined with other tools and services' (BCCDIY.com). It uses the content found on the official website but has provided additional functionality such as the addition of local imagery, events and news. The purpose of BCCDIY.com was to provide a site that was 'easier to navigate, better customisable depending on the area you live in and more accessible to users with disabilities' (Birmingham Post, 2009a). The site was built using open source software and its name highlights the adoption of a 'do it yourself' attitude towards the information it contains. This means that instead of containing 'locked down' information it embodies the knowledge of city residents who are able to change things that might be wrong, add additional information or provide useful functionality such as integration with FixMyStreet.com (Ibid). 3.2.2. Who set it up and why did they do that? In the summer of 2007 Birmingham City Council announced that they were going to be replacing their old website. Two years later there was no new website which prompted local resident Josh Hart to find out what was happening using HelpMeInvestigate.com (HelpMeInvestigate.com, 2009; joshuahart.co.uk, 2009). A freedom of information request was submitted to the council and their response on 31st July 2009 stated that the project had begun in March 2005 with an estimated 7 month duration at a proposed cost of
  27. 27. Page | 21 £580,000. However, the council's response concluded that the estimated date of delivery was now August 2009 and the estimated cost of the site would now be £2.803m (WhatDoTheyKnow.com, 2009). This prompted the Tax Payers Alliance to ask ‘why the costs involved have been allowed to escalate so massively’ (Birmingham Post, 2009b). On September 7th 2009 the new site was launched to widespread disgust particularly via Twitter (Birmingham Post, 2009a). This prompted Glyn Evans, director of business transformation to defend the site as being designed for a majority of residents, ‘not the Twitterati' (BiminghamPost, 2009a). This only served to agitate Birmingham's 'strong and vocal social/digital media scene' but rather than continue to engage in fruitless criticism of the council Stef Lewandowski decided that the most appropriate response was to see whether the people of Birmingham could follow their words with action and build their own site (steflewandowski.com, 2009). Within 24 hours he had put something together which provided a solid foundation for further development that was 'not perfect, but...simple' (Birmingham Post, 2009c). A week later a hack day was hosted at which sixty or seventy people attended (Eventbrite.com, DIYCouncil.com). Further functionality was added, and novel ways of gathering the information the council wouldn't provide were used (When’s It Bin Day?, 2009). After a couple of weeks there was an accessible site that 'didn't do everything, but what it did do it did quite well' (DIYCouncil.com). Clearly the driving force behind the project was Stef Lewandowski but it would not have been possible without the effort put in by the volunteers who attended the hack day and subsequently contributed to improving and developing the website. 3.2.3. How does the site work in practice? Since the initial burst of enthusiasm the collaborative, 'do it yourself' approach has not produced the additional functionality, or the updated content that was believed to be possible. The last recorded update to the site was on October 16th 2009, four weeks after the site was launched and no money has been pledged to support the running costs of the site (BCCDIY.com; Pledgie.com). Furthermore, the collaborative environment for sharing ideas and making suggestions has seen only 3 updates since February
  28. 28. Page | 22 2010, the most recent of which was June 6th 2010 (BCCDIY.pbworks.com). This is despite simple user tasks no longer working when you browse around BCCDIY.com. The new Birmingham City Council website has bedded in and although the city's digital community remain disappointed at the result of spending almost £3m, volunteers who produced BCCDIY.com have not provided a serious challenge to the council website. Indeed, the fact that the community based, collaborative approach was unsustainable supports the investment the council made in the redesign of their new website. Nevertheless the council commissioned a review into the episode. The 64 page review is fairly damning about the tools the council bought and the design of the site as well as making no mention of how the council involved its expert citizens about what they want from their website (Service Birmingham, 2010). BCCDIY resulted from that exclusion. 3.2.4. Analysis In Birmingham the council spent a lot of money and took a long time to deliver a new website. In a couple of weeks the local development community produced something that worked and was, in their opinion, more useable than the official site. However, since its launch little further effort has been made and, whilst it can be held up as an example of citizen activity, it is clear that this example of community led citizen production was unsustainable and did not provide a serious alternative to the council's offering unlike the organisation led citizen production of FixMyStreet.com. One analysis of BCCDIY.com would be to dismiss it as being a twenty first century example of writing an angry letter and to suggest that it was purely done to make a point. The fact that the site was not updated is therefore predictable: once that point was made, there was no reason to continue developing the site. The counter argument to this is found in the words of Stef Lewandowski who saw the production of the site as more positive than writing angry tweets because it was 'about what we as citizens of a city expect from our local government through the web' (steflewandowski.com, 2009). Although BCCDIY.com may be dormant he has shifted his focus to every council site in the country and is attempting to build a
  29. 29. Page | 23 national community of developers who can experiment and explore different approaches and tools for supporting and improving council websites at DIYcouncil.com. The BCCDIY.com case study stands as a lesson to councils that the public has the ability to use the internet to good effect whether in producing something, connecting with interested individuals or publicising an embarrassing story. Birmingham's new website remains an overly expensive investment but whilst cutting spending is important councils need to engage with their expert citizens and ask them to help design services (Telegraph, 2010c). Perhaps Bristol City Council have taken the experience of Birmingham as their motivation for investigating ways they might work with the local development community rather than in isolation from them (Eventbrite.com).
  30. 30. Page | 24 3.3. OpenlyLocal.com Illustration 3: OpenlyLocal.com 3.3.1. What is the site and what is its purpose? Launched in September 2009 with information from 12 councils, OpenlyLocal.com now contains a directory of 159 councils comprising 9,964 councillors who sit on 5,852 committees and 48,334 committee meetings. It provides access to 321 hyperlocal sites, an open data scoreboard containing over 270,956 pieces of data and a breakdown of council spending using 148,983 financial transactions. It has a dual purpose. Firstly, from the perspective of the casual viewer it provides easy to use access to local democracy offering information about local councillors, subscriptions to updates relating to them or their committees as well as keyword alerts for particular areas of local concern. Secondly, it champions the cause of local open government data (countculture.wordpress.com, 2009). OpenlyLocal.com is at the forefront of the open data agenda. It scrapes content from local authority websites before turning that rough information into structured data and combining it with other relevant datasets. The finished article is then made available for reuse in a variety of formats as open and linked data. 3.3.2. Who set it up and why did they do that? Chris Taggart is an open government and transparency activist who set up OpenlyLocal.com in September 2009. Having previously worked on Parliamentary data he was keen to explore the possibilities at a local level where the understanding of democracy is often opaque and access to records limited (countculture.wordpress.com.2009). He found that accessing a comparable level of information was 'fraught with difficulties as there is no single source of data' and OpenlyLocal.com is his attempt at solving that problem (Ibid). However, his motivation is more than simply aggregating information. He believes that championing the cause of local data can generate awareness of local issues, encourage community involvement, bring
  31. 31. Page | 25 shared knowledge, increase efficiency, promote transparency and renew the relationship between local authorities and the public (Taggart, 2009). Furthermore, he fears that the decline of local media has the potential to increase the disconnect between the public at their elected representatives at a time where the tightening of budgets and the potential cutting of services necessitates openness and the involvement of the community (Ibid). 3.3.3. How does the site work in practice? OpenlyLocal.com initially contained basic information relating to councillors, committees, committee membership, and minutes for those committee meetings. In the 12 months since it launched it has become a local hub of statistics, data and news relating to any given neighbourhood. It has remained committed to its original aims of providing a platform of open governmental data that supports and enhances local community action. The site now contains a directory of all the hyperlocal websites in the country and provides tools to those citizen journalists that enable them to display OpenlyLocal.com data on their websites. However, whilst it contains an impressive amount of information the site is still limited in its content by the way in which local authorities are publishing their information. There are 434 local authorities in the United Kingdom but OpenlyLocal.com has only been able to collate the information relating to 159 whilst the site's data scoreboard is only able to list 23 councils as having provided their data under a truly open license allowing it to be reused as widely as possible. Whilst open government data has increased in importance in the last twelve months the efforts of OpenlyLocal.com has so far only connected with those individuals who understand the ideologies and are aware of the emergent trends. Unfortunately a number of councils continue to see transparent government, freedom of information requests and open data as a burden rather than a very natural part of local governance. 3.3.4. Analysis “the raw data should be made available as soon as possible... As a lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it - if interested communities outside government have not already done it” Tim Berners-Lee – Putting Government Data Online (2009)
  32. 32. Page | 26 Tim Berners-Lee requested that government publish its raw data, and that it do so as quickly as possible. Whilst the national launch of data.gov.uk, a central repository of government datasets, is worthy of celebration the progress at local level has been much slower. OpenlyLocal.com has attempted to further the debate and has at least provided a nice user interface for the data it has obtained. Prior to this site there was no easy way of comparing structured data from one part of the country with another. However, the difficulties he has had in obtaining democratic information (only 37% of councils are represented after 12 months) suggests local authorities are performing poorly in helping members of the public to engage with their elected representatives. OpenlyLocal.com is more than simply a portal for local democracy. By aggregating information from a number of sources contextual information about expenditure, crime, health and demography is added to the details of a councillor. Because the data is completely open it means that the information and tools available to developers, and novices, is easy to access and publish elsewhere. This is particularly beneficial to hyperlocal citizen journalists who can ensure their readers are better informed and have greater awareness of the issues facing their local areas. Chris Taggart is eager to work with local authorities to improve the way in which they are publishing and treating raw data. This accounts for the Open Election Project which encouraged all councils to publish their 2010 local election results in a way that was 'machine-readable' and allow remote indexing and interrogation. The support for local authorities has continued following the coalition government's commitment to publishing spending data with OpenlyLocal.com being a source of best practice as well as a watchdog to ensure councils are not simply paying lip service to their obligations or being exploited by private sector suppliers (OpenlyLocal.com, 2010; countculture.wordpress.com, 2010). OpenlyLocal.com was launched at the same time as BCCDIY was being produced in frustration at Birmingham City Council's failure to involve concerned, expert citizens in ways that could have ensured the service available to the public met expectations. Where that citizen produced site was attempting to reinvent an entire council web presence, Chris Taggart's website is a mechanism for aggregating multiple sources of information to provide a meaningful overview of data relating to a particular locality. Both sites are attempting to repackage existing council information in ways that are more meaningful and accessible
  33. 33. Page | 27 to local residents. The fact that this activity was taking place independently of one another in separate parts of the country is proof that there is definitely an interested community outside government of concerned citizens willing to invest time and effort into producing useful resources for others. OpenlyLocal.com is the work of a single activist who believes that there should be greater transparency to government and easier access to public data but he is approaching the topic with patience and in a way that provides insights for all those involved with the process whether ordinary resident, hyperlocal activist, private company or local council.
  34. 34. Page | 28 3.4. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk Illustration 4 ArmchairAuditor.com 3.4.1. What is the site and what is its purpose? ArmchairAuditor.co.uk takes raw financial data published by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) and provides a user friendly interface for people to investigate what their council has been spending with external suppliers. Currently it covers 115 different services, 1,938 suppliers and 10,439 individual payments. This means that a visitor can access a high-level view of amounts spent by each service area and the totals paid to particular suppliers as well as being able to drill down into the detail of an individual payment. In each occasion there are comment threads allowing for contextual information to be added, questions asked and opinions shared. Built with open source tools using open data published by RBWM, ArmchairAuditor.co.uk has been made available to anyone who wishes to take the source code, add their local data and produce versions for any other councils. 3.4.2. Who set it up and why did they do that? The man responsible for this citizen produced website is Adrian Short. It is not his first citizen produced, government focused activity as previously he was responsible for the Mash The State campaign which encouraged councils to make better use of a technology called RSS to provide remote access to real- time updates and combine it with the use of QR codes (square barcodes) to add virtual context to physical objects (MashTheState.org.uk; mashthestate.wordpress.com). Mash The State represented a challenge to local authorities to improve their own websites and understand the simplicity of existing web technologies but ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is a completely independent service produced at the government's behest. Writing at the height of the expenses scandal
  35. 35. Page | 29 and year before the election David Cameron wrote about his vision of a new politics central to which was the public scrutiny of data: 'we will extend this principle of transparency to every nook and cranny of politics and public life, because it's one of the quickest and easiest ways to transfer power to the powerless and prevent waste, exploitation and abuse'. (Guardian, 2009) Following the election the coalition government has moved quickly to put this into action stipulating that all councils must publish external spending over £500 and inviting us all to be part of 'an army of armchair auditors' (Pickles, 2010). ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is motivated by a desire to help people look at the data which has been released so that they can make their own minds up about what is going on because 'when people are informed they have more power...[and are]...more involved in democracy [by having] a close idea of what's going on on a daily basis' (adrianshort.co.uk, 2010). 3.4.3. How does the site work in practice? ArmchairAuditor.co.uk has a specific focus on providing an overview of data in RBWM but does not claim to provide an analysis or to draw conclusions about patterns of spending within the authority. It is currently the only example of this raw data being used by private citizens to build such a tool. However, by providing a signpost to raw data across the country, and making the source code for the site available according to open source principles the building blocks are in place for it to be deployed elsewhere. Supporting innovation in the presentation of data and providing opportunities to the private are two of the motivations behind the release of open government data. For the residents of RBWM this has meant they have two tools to help them understand what local spending consists of. The publishing of their raw data has facilitated the creation of ArmchairAuditor.co.uk but they also present the information using a commercial product called Spotlight on Spend. The two sites can be compared and contrasted in terms of the features they provide and the interface they offer but whichever site you prefer the positive reception of ArmchairAuditor.co.uk has brought it to the attention of local, and national media (adrianshort.co.uk, 2010).
  36. 36. Page | 30 3.4.4. Analysis Raw data is overwhelming and 10,000 row spreadsheets are generally only of niche interest. Likewise there is significant disillusionment with our existing model of politics and the behaviour of those in power. However, they do not act as a barrier to individual passions about government spending – whether it's too much in the wrong places, or not enough elsewhere. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is motivated by a desire to put useful information into the hands of the public, free from interpretation and without spin. Sometimes that means entirely innocent items of expenditure suddenly become highly embarrassing when reduced to a spreadsheet (as in the case of Woking Borough Council and their £18,254 spend on lingerie which was actually a refund of rates (Get Surrey, 2010)). However, openly commentable, transparent environment allows for that context to be provided, and offers a challenge to local authorities to increase the contextual information on what they spend. Adrian Short suggests that in twelve months more will be known by the public about public spending than those within government did last year. By giving people tools to 'surf through the froth of data, make sense of it and get into informed conversations with their neighbours and the people spending the money you're creating a genuine power shift from the government to the governed' (adrianshort.co.uk, 2010 – Radio 4 interview article). It is hard to argue with the analysis that this represents a significant change in the dynamic between the principal and the agent. RBWM published their data and a member of the public chose to build a collaborative tool to present that data and facilitate local residents in evaluating, auditing and challenging the council on its external expenditure. Although ArmchairAuditor.co.uk complements the commercial product purchased by the council it is questionable whether Spotlight on Spend provides additional functionality that made the investment worthwhile. Because of this it is possible that as more councils publish raw data they will adopt the Armchair Auditor platform as their free, open source, mechanism for contextualising their raw data. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is not a political website, it does not include any democratic information, it does not provide any way of transacting with the council and is not built using tools or information that constitute fundamental parts of a council website, nor is it making a point about existing council websites and the quality of their provision. This is an example of a citizen produced website that has been
  37. 37. Page | 31 encouraged, and facilitated, by local authorities and in that respect provides a logical progression through these four case studies. FixMyStreet.com is a site built by a non governmental organisation to deliver particular services. BCCDIY.com saw disillusioned Birmingham residents produce something new and competing. At the same time OpenlyLocal.com was scraping together a national resource of democratic data from inaccessible locations and providing both challenge and encouragement to local authority approaches to transparency. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk stands on the shoulders of these three sites. It is facilitated by changing attitudes towards open government data and the recognition that concerned citizens are building tools that stimulate local democratic engagement and foster informed participation in local debates.
  38. 38. Page | 32 3.5. Hull's Web Survey This dissertation considers the impact of citizen produced websites on the relationship between the citizen and state. Having considered four case studies this consultation provides an insight into the digital outlook in Hull, a city without any citizen produced websites. 3.5.1. Demographics and internet habits There were 1,847 responses to the survey. 510 over the telephone, 938 through the website and 399 via face to face questionnaires. This provides a balanced sample between online users and their offline counterparts. The average age of respondents was 40 for women and 41 for men. Amongst face to face respondents the average age was lower and telephone users provided the eldest group as can seen in Figure 5 (Web Q.20, Telephone Q.26, Face to Face Q.26). Figure 5: Average Age In general, the same questions were asked of all participants but the survey was designed to gather context specific data too. Consequently, for those accessing the survey offline amongst offline participants the question was asked why they had not used the internet. Figure 6 shows that almost 1 in 2 respondents stated it was because they did not use the internet, a quarter favoured human interaction while a third group felt the internet would be unsuitable for meeting their needs (Telephone Q.5, Face to Face Q.6). 45 38 36 49 43 32 300300 Web Face to Face 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 Female Male
  39. 39. Page | 33 Telephone Face to Face Total Don't use the internet 39% 45% 42% Prefer human interaction 27% 20% 24% Didn't think I could access it online 15% 10% 13% 8 minor reasons 19% 25% 21% Figure 6: Why didn’t you use hullcc.gov.uk? Those who did not use the internet accounted for 378 of the 1,847 people polled. Although 22% of them had no interest in ever changing that and only 23 were interested in training it does suggest that a sizeable majority of the 'digitally excluded' would go online given the right circumstances (Telephone Q.6, Face to Face Q.9). Those who used the internet were asked to identify all the ways got online. 85% of respondents used broadband and usually connected in their homes but the survey supported suggestions that being connected on the move is increasingly important with 26% of respondents using mobile broadband, a mobile dongle or public wifi. Furthermore, amongst face to face respondents 28% of internet users did so through their mobile phones (Web Q.1 and Q.2, Telephone Q.11, Face to Face Q.11 and 12). Figure 7 shows the result of a question identifying the preferences of respondents when contacting the council. Despite the level of internet access, digital forms of communication such as using the internet or sending an email accounted for less than a quarter of responses. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of those completing the survey through the call centre identified the telephone as their preferred method alongside 42% of those polled face to face making this the most popular method. Unexpectedly only 7% of responses indicated that they preferred personal, face to face interaction when contacting the council (Web Q.12, Telephone, Q.4, Face to Face, Q.4).
  40. 40. Page | 34 Telephone Web Face to Face Total Telephone 93% 15% 42% 43% Depends 0% 42% 9% 23% Email 1% 22% 8% 13% Internet 2% 13% 18% 11% In person 3% 4% 18% 7% By post 1% 2% 4% 2% Other 0% 1% 2% 1% Figure 7: What is your preferred means of contacting the council? In order to establish the level of skill possessed by those taking the survey we asked individuals to identify their level of comfort with using the internet on a scale from tentative and reluctant user through casual and regular usage to the category of 'I-couldn't-live-without-it'. Figure 8 demonstrates the outcome of this question with three quarters of respondents identifying themselves as either being unable to live without the internet (29%) or regular users (48%). Whilst only 4% of people described themselves as tentative or reluctant users the survey had already filtered those respondents who were not internet users. That figure accounts for some 20% of the original 1,847 respondents and, had the question been asked prior to their removal, it may well have increased the significance of this category (Web Q.4, Telephone Q.10, Face to Face, Q.13). Figure 8: What kind of internet user are you? 48% 29% 19% 4% Regular user I couldn't live without it Casual user Tentative and reluctant user 0% 25% 50% 75% 100%
  41. 41. Page | 35 3.5.2. Council interaction To establish the main reasons people contact the council we asked participants to select the purpose of their last interaction with Hull City Council. 44% of people had contacted the council looking for information, including 61% of web users. As Figure 9 shows, the focus was on reporting or requesting something over the phone whilst face to face respondents were most likely to pay for something or log some feedback. These figures indicate that whilst Hull residents go online to find information they prefer to use other channels to transact with the council (Web Q.7, Telephone Q.1, Face to Face Q.1). Figure 9: What was the main purpose of your visit? As a follow up we offered a selection of 23 different areas of the council and asked them to choose which one they wanted to contact. Figure 10 shows the top 5 which between them account for 58% of enquiries. Whilst housing, rubbish and council tax related concerns were the dominant issues on the telephone those visiting the website were considerably more likely to be looking for information about leisure facilities whilst a similar amount of face to face and web visitors wanted to know about housing and jobs (Web Q.8, Telephone Q.2, Face to Face Q.2). 26% 30% 24% 5% 15% 61% 2% 2% 6% 2% 28%27% 8% 11% 14% 11% 28% 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% 300300 Web Face to Face
  42. 42. Page | 36 Telephone Web Face to Face Total Housing 25% 12% 13% 16% Rubbish 32% 4% 9% 13% Jobs 4% 12% 12% 10% Leisure Facilities 0% 17% 3% 10% Council Tax 19% 4% 8% 9% Figure 10: What service area were you interested in? 3.5.3. Website Satisfaction In order to assess the experience of using the website we asked participants whether they had achieved success in visiting the website. Those visitors who said they had were asked to rate their experiencing using a Likert scale from 'very difficult' to 'very easy'. As Figure 11 shows, an overwhelming majority of people found it easy or very easy. Those who couldn't achieve what they had wanted were asked about what they did instead. The findings suggested that 1 in 20 of all visitors to hullcc.gov.uk leaves the site disappointed and takes no further action, 1 in 20 of all visitors contact the council call centre whilst 1 in 50 of those who can't achieve anything will write a letter to the council (Web Q.9, Telephone Q.14-16, Face to Face Q.16-18). With visitors to the website this question was developed using another Likert scale to rate 11 specific areas of the website. The breakdown is provided at Figure 12 but in total, 59% of all responses were satisfied or very satisfied whilst 17% were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Neither Satisfied Very satisfied 7% 10% 24% 41% 18% Figure 12: Summary of hullcc.gov.uk being rated from very dissatisfied to very satisfied Very difficult Difficult Neither Easy Very easy 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% 300300 web FacetoFace Figure 11: How did you find the process of obtaining that information?
  43. 43. Page | 37 However, the nuances behind those percentages suggest 'satisfied' is not synonymous with 'without room for improvement'. Whilst 64% of people were satisfied, or very satisfied, with the 'look and feel' of the site, 23% of people were at the other end of the spectrum in their rating of the site's navigation. Furthermore, although 63% responded positively in terms of 'finding what I want', 22% had a negative opinion of the site's search functionality (Web Q.13). The survey also asked for participants to identify areas of the site to improve. Of 1,508 responses, 32% said that the site was fine as it was. Figure 13 provides a breakdown of all responses and the proportions attributed by each access channel to the different areas. Of those who completed the survey online seven areas were criticised by more than 1 in 4 respondents (Web Q.14, Telephone Q.13, Face to Face Q.21). Figure 13: Which of these areas would you like to see the council develop or improve? 32% 27% 23% 22% 21% 19% 18% 16% 15% 9% 8% 8% 7% 6% 6% 42% 28% 9% 28% 37% 30% 30% 29% 28% 27% 24% 23% 11% 11% 10% 11% 35% 19% 24% 16% 16% 6% 5% 8% 10% 6% 8% 8% It's fine as it is Search Structure Look and feel Content More transactional services Subscription to relevant information Geographical information Customer accounts Greater use of audio or video Blogs Use of social media Contribute your own content to the site Do not visit Other Total Telephone Web Face to Face
  44. 44. Page | 38 Moreover, there was only limited enthusiasm for the council to explore the use of 'web 2.0' tools and services such as greater use of audio or video, councillor and officer blogs or the ability for visitors to contribute their own content to the site (whether as a comment or an image). In terms of social media usage a breakdown of the popularity of different sites can be seen in Figure 14 Facebook was the most widely used site with 55% of web users having an account but less than 1 in 4 of them wanted to council to have a presence in that environment. In general the interest in these services was low with only 3 of 16 different 'web 2.0' services or functionality used by more than 1 in 5 of those consulted (Web Q. 16). A note of caution is provided about the fluidity in the use of online tools by the decision of the local newspaper to close the fourth most popular service, ThisIsYourMail, shortly after this research was completed. Users of a service Proportion of those using a service who wanted the council to do so too Facebook 55% 23% Youtube 36% 24% Discussion Forums 22% 60% ThisIsYourMail 18% 39% Blogs 15% 51% Twitter 15% 36% MySpace 14% 33% Wiki 13% 39% Subscriptions 11% 67% Flickr 10% 41% Comments 8% 66% Linked-In 7% 46% Aggregation 7% 55% Bebo 7% 54% Friendfeed 4% 71% Yammer 4% 65% Figure 14: Usage of social media tools
  45. 45. Page | 39 3.5.4. Analysis The survey demonstrates that there is significant awareness and usage of the internet. 55% of all respondents have Facebook accounts, 85% of those accessing the internet do so from their homes, 81% of those completing the survey use the internet with only 4% of those suggesting that usage is reluctant and tentative. Furthermore, 55% of all respondents have Facebook accounts and 36% of them use Youtube. This does not mean that the entire population of the city is actively using the internet. The survey demonstrated that 20% of respondents do not use the internet and of those, 22% had no interest in getting online. In addition, only 23 were interested in receiving training. Even amongst those who used the internet regularly it appears that there are not high expectations of the council website. Despite a 2 star review from SOCITM (2010) a majority of visitors declared themselves to be satisfied, or very satisfied, with the council's web presence. Furthermore, when asked how the site could be improved, 32% said it was fine as it was. Users were clearly more interested in the site working well rather than adding ‘bells and whistles’ Nevertheless, the reaction of 25% of responses demonstrates that a desire for the council to achieve its digital potential exists in the city. Whilst some residents believed that the use of emergent web tools would detract from the delivery of services they represent an opportunity to add the functionality which 1 in 4 people felt was missing. For some of those participants they wanted to be able to contribute their own content and have access to a more relational and responsive means of communicating with the council suggesting that there is an appetite for greater transparency and openness from Hull City council. In other parts of the country local digital experts have taken it upon themselves to add those tools when the council has failed to deliver it but in Hull this has not happened. This suggests that the internet is not widely understood as offering an opportunity for democratic participation with only 24% of those surveyed identifying the internet as their preferred access channel. Perhaps if the council took five years to deliver a new website and spent almost £3m this would motivate local residents as it did in Birmingham. Certainly this consultation has provided the council with the opportunity to ensure that citizen produced activity does not take place for the wrong reasons. With over 300 people leaving their contact details and wanting to be involved in developing the website this provides the platform for co-production.
  46. 46. Page | 40 3.6. Conclusion The research presented in this chapter has considered four separate case studies alongside the prevailing digital attitudes of the people of Hull. In examining those case studies it has seen that citizens outside of government, whether acting within non-governmental organisations, as part of frustrated communities, or entirely alone have had various motivations. FixMyStreet.com wanted to have better online services, BCCDIY.com grew out of dissatisfaction at the actions of a local authority, OpenlyLocal.com promotes transparency in support of democracy whilst ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is an open sourced and collaborative approach to the sharing and interrogation of open government data. Those citizen produced websites have not always met with favourable responses from 'the state' but in the 18 month period covered by this research significant changes have taken place. Not only has the coalition government used crowd sourcing websites to gather ideas on how to save money or which laws to repeal but all councils have been mandated to start publishing government data. In Hull, the council has yet to do so and this could explain the absence of citizen produced activity. In some parts of the country these collaborative, transparent and open source ideas have had an impact in the way local people engage and interact with their public services. Does the fact that it has so far bypassed Hull an indication that citizen produced websites are of only minimal importance to the future of public service delivery? In the following chapter this question will be addressed as conclusions are presented, recommendations made and further research opportunities identified.
  47. 47. Page | 41 4. Conclusion & Recommendations At the start of this dissertation three research questions were proposed in order to test the hypothesis that 'citizen produced websites are increasingly important to public service provision and are consequently reshaping the relationship between citizen and state'. This concluding chapter will present the conclusions formed on the basis of exploring those questions before providing some recommendations and highlighting opportunities for future research. 4.1. Conclusion 4.1.1. Doing It Ourselves This dissertation has looked at recent developments in Britain that have taken place as a result of different individuals deciding that rather than leave the delivery of public services to the state, they 'do it ourselves'. FixMyStreet.com is a site, initially funded by central government, which to all intents and purposes delivers a seamless public service. BCCDIY.com comes from the opposite end of the spectrum where a community of disillusioned locals developed something to make a point and to demonstrate that the nature of participation could no longer be considered as simple as attendance at a ward forum. OpenlyLocal.com was born at almost the same time with the aim of promoting local democracy and providing access to elected members and their work. Over time it has become one of the leading resources for local residents and a champion of transparency and openness in local government. The final site, ArmchairAuditor.co.uk sees the relationship between citizen and state coming full circle. Although Adrian Short is an independent activist who has built a website he has done so with data designed to be reused at the behest of central government. Such websites are not commonplace but the open source approaches underpinning them all mean that the potential exists for numerous localised duplicates to appear as and when data is published or concerned citizens hope to make a difference in their communities. However, the evidence from Hull shows that citizen production is not happening everywhere making it premature to celebrate the existence of a national network of concerned citizens building websites motivated by higher ideals. Such a network is improbable, and unnecessary. Of the sites considered in this research two of them, FixMyStreet.com and OpenlyLocal.com are sites built to cover the entire nation. By pooling the functionality and information related to specific issues these sites are useful to
  48. 48. Page | 42 anybody in the country. Moreover, BCCDIY.com has spawned a similar approach for council websites. Stef Lewandowski is currently working on DIYCouncil.com which takes the principles underpinning BCCDIY.com and applies them to all council websites across the country meaning that citizen produced websites do not need to be produced by a local resident to have local resonance. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk presents a different model. Adrian Short's website is not a national window onto local government spending but he has published the technical information that makes it work on an open source basis. This means that the machinery can be picked up and put down anywhere, by anyone subject to the release of local data. Until Hull City Council begins to publish open data it would be unfair to conclude that the absence of citizen produced websites in Hull is down to a lack of active citizenship amongst the city's population. 4.1.2. Brave New World The 2010 general election raised questions about the nature of representative government with large numbers of people wanting to effect change to the first past the post system so that their votes might exert greater control. Following their coming to power the coalition have committed to reconsidering the nature of democracy in Britain. Whilst they have formally confirmed that there will be a referendum they have also advocated the use of crowd sourcing to encourage wider participation in the democratic process. Furthermore, the publication of raw data has demonstrated that the government wants to give raw data to the public so that they can do things with it. This is not a coalition innovation but they have moved swiftly to build on Labour’s foundations. Whilst this may be motivated by political ideology and issues of transparency it would be naïve to ignore the fact that the economic condition of the country has provided the perfect conditions for government to look for members of the public to do things for themselves. Prior to the election we heard the idea that large government institutions would be replaced by a ‘Big Society’ empowering local communities and individuals (BBC, 2010a). Coupled to rhetoric concerning an impending ‘Age of Austerity’ the new government has made a clear statement about identifying ways of doing more for less. Through FixMyStreet.com, BCCDIY.com and OpenlyLocal.com, sites which precede the election, people were already getting involved with service delivery but they have had to find ways of accessing information that was not
  49. 49. Page | 43 readily available. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of ‘Big Society’ contribution anticipated when government published that data. The individuals involved with these sites are sharing what they’ve done and welcoming the contributions of others to identify ways to save the public purse some money. Sometimes these people have an axe to grind, sometimes they’re public servants but, in the case studies we have considered, they have all been concerned citizens. However, for residents of Hull these sites have had a minimal impact. Are citizen produced websites a niche movement whose significance is overstated? Indeed, further questions must be asked about civil society groups without an electoral mandate, about the exclusion of those who are not digitally enabled and about the potential for those who shout loudest to exert a disproportionate influence. What is clear is that these questions will not go away. The very idea of ‘citizenship’ is coming under scrutiny in today’s increasingly globalised culture where societal and communal boundaries are blurred. A local authority understands citizenship to be narrowly defined according to geographical space and their area of activity. However, the public may expect to find public transport timetables or NHS information through a local authority's website alongside signposting toward events in neighbouring boroughs or counties. The examples of FixMyStreet.com and OpenlyLocal.com (and DIYCouncil.com) demonstrate this non-parochial attitude and indicate that much of what a council does is the same as any other when it comes to putting it online. This means that developers in one part of the country are building things that can be used by anybody anywhere. Furthermore, by opening the code to other volunteers it means a useful addition can be made for one location that can be applied elsewhere as in Lichfield’s mobile interface. ArmchairAuditor.co.uk is focused on one location but provides a platform that can be applied anywhere, by anyone. Their activity has taken place for free, in support of good governance and motivated by the altruistic attempt to benefit both citizen and state. As such it is the very definition of ‘active citizenship’. However, such activity is a challenge to local authorities who have hitherto enjoyed complete control over their message, their content and their exposure to risk. In general local authorities have not been effective at providing transparent insights into their inner workings, nor have they provided opportunities for the
  50. 50. Page | 44 public to engage with the council by presenting stories in interactive ways such as blogs, videos or podcasts. Furthermore, the example of Tameside Council restricting Twitter accreditation to traditional news outlets suggests that they do not regard those responsible for hyperlocal blogs as valid contributors to discussions of the political sphere (Guardian, 2010). Our representative democracy is not made redundant through this technological advance but it does provide the opportunity to facilitate other modes of participation. For example, the 'crowd-sourcing' of ideas, feedback and criticisms during the drafting of policies can heighten participation in the policy design process and, through highlighting this via a council's digital presence (whether on its website or elsewhere), involve a wider audience. Rather than simply being the purview of legislators or officers these ideas can provide open and collaborative policy design. BCCDIY.com demonstrates that should a council fail to meet expectations there are competent individuals willing to lead their peers and produce viable alternatives. Whilst this is less likely to happen with hospitals or rubbish collection the Free Schools proposal of the coalition government which allows motivated groups of people to challenge existing educational structures by forging their own public services is an example of direct democracy couched within a representative model of trusteeship (Conservatives, 2010). 4.1.3. The principle of ‘WITH’ The communication revolution has made it possible for citizens to take control of their public services where they are absent or in need of improvement. The relationship between citizen and state has been altered by a technological revolution that has enabled people to self-organise, share experience and maintain geographically dispersed networks of practice and expertise. The capacity for people to put together a website and present multiple sources of data in easy to access and simple to understand ways has taken the ownership and control of knowledge away from the historic seats of power. Instead, normal citizens have become the curators of government with sites such as the ones discussed in this dissertation springing up to cover a myriad of purposes. Such behaviour is a threat to the autonomy of local authorities and the continued acceptance of our current framework of governance. Whilst public service provision will continue with, or without, these

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