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October 08, 2009



Thanks for reminding me why I stopped reading David Weinberger. He apologises upfront for using the "X is the new Y" cliche, but it's actually how he thinks: we used to believe Old Stuff, but now we believe New Stuff. I'm just glad I'm too young to remember those dark days when 'we' got our news from the newspapers and came away thinking we'd learnt the Objective Truth. (Oh, wait, I'm older than he is.)

As for the Tories, the words are about empowerment but the overtones are very governmental - I can't help feeling it's as much about giving people the opportunity to mould themselves as active citizens as it is about channelling anything from below.

I'm very disappointed by Tom Steinberg's decision. I was quite a vocal anti-Labour blogger in the run-up to the last election; from memory, my eve-of-poll advice was "Don't abstain. Don't be an idiot and vote Tory. But don't vote Labour." I've never understood anyone having anything to do with the Tories.

- Phil

Tony Bovaird

While the concerns expressed here are understandable, this post does a disservice to the government 2.0 debate. It is talking about non-government 2.0 and sets up a straw-man-opponent in which hardly anyone could possibly believe, then demonstrates convincingly how to knock this opponent over. Most of those involved in the government 2.0 debate do indeed want much richer interactions between citizens, service users, professionals, managers and politicians. However, few want the views of citizens and service users to trump the views of the others, just to have much greater weight in the future - not a lot to ask, given how little weight they have had up to now. A long way down the line, we are going to have to face up to the issues which Will Davies raises here, deciding where the proper balance lies between expertise and 'perspective' (better characterised as 'formally-validated expertise' and 'experience-based expertise). And we will certainly wish to ensure that both play major roles in decision making on public services and issues. But it is wholly implausible for Will Davies to suggest that we are now reaching the point where 'expertise' is being swamped, so that the legitimacy of current governmental decision making structures and systems is threatened by ill-informed, non-expert 'opinion'-peddlars.

Will Davies

Tony - this is fair enough, and evidently better informed than my own post. The distinction between 'formally-validated expertise' and 'experience-based expertise' is extremely interesting to me as a sociologist - I'd love to know more about where that comes from and where it leads.

I should qualify my post by saying that I'm theorising, not proscribing or making policy recommendations. Max Weber (who I guess is my main intellectual inspiration in life) sought to define the 'ideal types' of modern social institutions, which meant trying to specify the norms and philosophies which governed them, but which they never quite adhered to in any particular instance. This is kind of what I'm doing. Of course David Cameron is not about to transform the state from a top-down bureaucracy to an open network of data in the space of a few years. But it's worth thinking about the latter model as a political philosophy that is active in how governance structures are being transformed. Your comment (and the concept of 'experience-based expertise') actually confirms my hunch about this shift.

Ian Falconer

I'm interested to hear where you believe the automated expert fits into your argument.

As data becomes more and more accessible the desire to 'contract out' opinion to automated systems seems to have grown, whether it is the trading systems of bankers or the threat recognition systems of the military and intelligence communities or other 'expert systems' for meeting more quotidian needs such as food distribution. They are all distinctly post-bureaucratic.

The opinions are formed numerically, guided by coders who may not have the knowledge to actually understand the responses that they are dictating or the guile to provide escape avenues for the systems that they build.

"Computer says no" appears to be the response most apt to the post-bureaucratic age. I'm afraid that David Walliams is the limit to my academic references this Saturday morning, but I'm looking at this from the perspective of a resurgence of Game Theoretical analysis in complex behavioural systems and the potential use/misuse in future development of online discourse.

To put it another way - with transparency and open data access what is an opinion if it is formed or informed by a machine ?

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