countculture

Open data and all that

Open data meme suggestion: Enabler or blocker?

with 2 comments

Are you a blocker or enabler?

Earlier today I gave a presentation at the Open Knowledge Conference on open local data, OpenlyLocal and the Open Election Data project. It was a slight update of the talk I gave to the Manchester Social Media Cafe earlier in the month, and one of the key additions was a simple idea I added on the final page, which was about where we should go from here.

I’d been using the idea in conversation for the past months ago (and I’m sure I didn’t invent it), but it seemed to resonate with the audience, and so I thought it’s worth repeating as a short blog post, and it’s this:

When dealing with government, with organizations, with public officials, with outsourcing companies we need to develop the meme:

Are you an enabler or a blocker?

It’s a blunt and somewhat unsophisticated weapon, but in the past few months of doing the Open Election Data project, it seems to have been far more effective that any other I’ve tried — better than appealing to the public good, better than engaging on an intellectual level, better than asking for it nicely, better even than talking about potential savings.

Maybe it’s because, as someone suggested to me after the first meeting of the UK government’s Local Public Data Panel on which I sit, civil servants and other public officials only do things because there’s a benefit to them (or a downside if they don’t). [I’m not sure they’re any different than most people working in the private sector in this respect, by the way.] I don’t know, and I don’t really care. What I do care about is getting things done, and this seems to be working for me.

So, I offer it out there, not as an original idea (I’m sure it isn’t), but as a suggestion of both engaging with public bodies, and as a method of dealing with problems.

When you come across people or organisations given them the option: do you want to be an enabler or a blocker. If you’re an enabler, great, let’s see how we can make this work; if you’re a blocker, fine also — now we know we’ll just go around you and get on with it anyway.

Written by countculture

April 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The trouble with this is that more experienced Civil Servants (and again, I’m sure this applies in the private sector where intramural politics are strong) who are blockers will do everything to appear to be an enabler.

    The classic method (aka ‘the Sir Humphrey’) is to be very strongly supportive of the principle, but insisting on introducing procedural means which make progress very difficult and/or slow.

    Martin Burns

    May 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    • So I’ve discovered in my short time dealing with government. However, the way I’m dealing with this is the same way I deal with I deal with technical probs — if someone’s got a solution that works, great; if it’s more trouble than it’s worth, move on and sort it out yourself.

      This translates into real-world situations by approaching people as potential enablers (I should prob edit the post to reflect this). However, if they don’t deliver after a relatively short period of time, then you bypass them. Possibly they are blockers, or possibly they are just ineffective. Either way, life’s too short to get caught up in civil service politics. Time to JFDI!

      countculture

      May 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm


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