What nigov is not…

James Stewart picks up on my rant about Belfast City Council’s minutes system with lament on e-Government in general.

He makes the interesting comment that:

Properly modelling government structures is a complex business, and my experience so far that it’s a lot of work to build the critical mass required to make a wiki work in a context like this. But given the service the council provides, it won’t take much to shame them, and it’ll be interesting to see how the project develops.

This is, of course, true, but at this point I’m not really expecting this to build up any sort of critical mass. In my experience, very few people in Nothern Ireland are sufficiently interested in what local government actually does. I don’t need to fund a focus group to realise that the size of the interesection of that small group with the also rather tiny group of people who are likely to contribute to a wiki is going to be very close to zero.

However, putting the content on such a wiki does still have some benefits.

Firstly, it helps me keep aware of what the Council is up to. By adding pressure to myself to spend 15 minutes a day doing something on the wiki, just to keep it ticking over, I’m making sure I’m paying attention to what’s going on. Without the wiki my good intentions here are more likely to get swallowed by all the other things I’m meant to be doing every day.

Secondly, the content will get picked up by Google. Currently the minutes, although theoretically public, are so well hidden behind a complex search tool that in practice they’re invisible to the search engines. By breaking them out of this constraint, it’s more likely that someone else will be able to find what they’re looking for.

Thirdly, by making them part of a wiki, it allows others to comment on them or help tidy them up, by making relevant cross-links. I’m not really expecting this to happen much, but it’s better to have the option open than not.

Lastly, it provides a framework for anyone else in NI who’s interested in this to do likewise without needing to have the technical ability to set up a wiki. If someone wanted to put, say, Carrickfergus Borough Council minutes online too, the barrier to doing so is now much lower. Again, I’m not really expecting this to happen any time soon, but again, it’s better that the ability is there.

Of course, in an ideal world, lots of people would find this immensely fascinating, and we’d have a steady stream of contributors, properly cross-referencing and cross-checking everything, and helping provide the checks and balances necessary for good government. But this is, after all, Northern Ireland…

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