Tom Steinberg, the director of mySociety, has posted an excellent set of priorities for all western governments of any persuasion regarding their approach to the internet.

Tom’s to-do list is very much in stark contrast to the comments made about the web by Andy Burnham, the Culture, Media and Sport secretary, in an interview given to the Daily Telegraph just after Christmas.

Burnham put forward the idea for rating websites, much like films and video games, and duly had techies across the land up in arms – most of them concerned with the minister’s lack of understanding of how the internet technically works. MP Tom Watson, much vaunted as one of the few people in parliament who not only ‘gets’ the web but actively participates in it, gave the opportunity to those concerned to have their voice heard by offering to take their comments to Andy Burham and Lord Carter personally using his blog.

This incident highlights a few of the points Tom makes:

1. “The most scary thing about the Internet for your government is not pedophiles, terrorists or viruses, whatever you may have read in the papers. It is the danger of your administration being silently obsoleted by the lightening pace at which the Internet changes expectations”

2. “Hire yourself some staff who know what the Internet really means for government”

3. “The citizen discontent resulting from massive shifts in expectation could wash your entire government away without you ever having anyone skilled enough to tell you why everyone was so pissed off.”
[Note: this is my numbering]

Fortunately, in the example above, Tom Watson was able to spot the discontent (3) and does understand what the internet means for government (2) and knows that what’s scary isn’t paedophiles, terrorists or viruses (1). Furthermore, Watson was able to connect with those who were discontented and be in a position to at least bring that to the attention of those concerned in government. However, this is not a way to run government across all policy areas.

Tom Steinberg is right that education is key, and incentivising universities to train those who are interested in politics and digital technologies is vital. However, this is a long view position and won’t solve the problems being faced by governments today.

So, I would like to add an idea to Tom’s list:

Recruitment, hiring and selection policies across politics, government and the civil service need to change, and change fast.

The irony here is that some of the best minds regarding this space have at one stage been employed within government, but the government seems unable to keep them. The latest example of this occuring is Jeremy Gould, who is leaving government to spend more time with his family.

Which may lead some to conclude that not only do hiring policies need to change but also how people are managed and the environment in which they work needs to change.


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