NaBloPoMo #3

Can you be outcome focussed when examining an emergent space?

This was a point that was raised yesterday at Open Data Camp. There’s a good outline of the disagreement in this blog:

In essence, for me this comes back to what I mentioned yesterday – that whatever the “X” is in your “X Strategy” is the product you’re delivering. But, further, if the space you’re exploring is emergent – is in the Genesis space on a map – then it’s almost impossible to say what would be built on top of it. The point I made was that going to the Moon got us a load of extra cool stuff (like Velcro, although I’m not actually sure that’s true) but the US didn’t set up NASA in order to get Velcro.

Equally, setting up GDS has consequently produced the Digital Marketplace, but if you started with the desired outcome of “Save money on government procurement” then I don’t think you’d have got to “Create a new business unit in the Cabinet Office dedicated to digital delivery” as a solution.

The emergent space is, for me, a space where you need a fairly strong-willed leader who’s just going to say “Do this thing, because I am the boss and I would like it done”. This is a very good attitude to have in an emergent space, where it’s mostly gut instinct and lots of bets will lose. Having a strong conviction that X is the right thing to do because of personal belief or political convictions or whatever is helpful in making things happen.

It’s also the worst possible attitude to take in a well-understood space where we have data and vast stores of experience to draw on, because that’s when a more considered approach is absolutely vital. Mavericks are not needed when the product or service moves into the ‘Product/Rental’ space (although of course if there’s not someone in your organisation who’s scanning the horizon and trying out emergent stuff there’s a real danger of stagnation).

If you’re building a product, I think it’s easy to identify the datasets you wish were open. You can map those and then apply tactics to try to open them up:

  • You can second a member of staff to the relevant organisation and task them with internal advocacy
  • You can advocate from outside, leveraging the learnings of organisations like the Open Data Institute
  • You can advocate to the top and ask them to apply downward pressure
  • If the data is available but not open – for example trapped in PDFs – you can build it yourself (whether you open it up or keep it for yourself at that point is a business decision)

However, if we’re looking more broadly at a strategy to make more data open, particularly government data, then it kind of depends where you are as to what levers you can pull. I’d maintain that in some spaces opening data is in a Genesis space because it’s so novel. In those spaces stories are not enough, and it may be valuable to have tools available that reduce the barriers to people getting it done.

In the end though I still believe that where Open Data is in Genesis the best thing to do is to try to influence the most senior people and encourage them to demand it. Or, alternatively, become the most senior people for a couple of years.

Be the change you want to see.

November is National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. I’ll be endeavouring to write one blog post per day in the month of November 2019 – some short and sweet, others long and boring.

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