iGov - can data make a difference in government?

 
David Cameron

The news that the government has developed an app, the Number 10 Dashboard, to give David Cameron and his top team data on the state of the UK has met with a cynical response. "Not the way to run the country. X Factor gov't!" - according to one tweeter.

The idea that the prime minister and senior civil servants might be running the country from an iPad with some kind of iGov app has obvious comic potential. We know for instance that the PM is a fan of Fruit Ninja - let's hope he does not get the two mixed up.

But there's a serious intent behind the app - to use the latest techniques to make data available to policymakers - which in other contexts would be applauded. The Number 10 Dashboard, according to someone who has been involved in its development, is merely echoing what is already being done in the business world.

The search company involved in the project, Adzuna, says it is drawing data from a wide variety of sources - Twitter, Google, property listings and recruitment sites - coupled with official government statistics. The idea is to give users what Adzuna's co-founder Doug Monro calls "a data-driven approach to decision making."

If the information is presented in a user-friendly way, rather than in some hefty document buried at the bottom of a red box, that just might make our leaders more likely to absorb it. The fact that this initiative has been pushed through - no doubt amid scepticism from some in the PM's media team - is a small victory for the government's geek tendency.

And from across the Atlantic comes evidence that it is worth listening to those who say a deeper understanding of data matters. Nate Silver, the statistician whose blog crunched the numbers ahead of the presidential election and produced a stunningly accurate forecast, is now being feted as a seer.

Yet beforehand, his confidence in predicting an Obama win was derided by those pundits who insisted it was "too close to call" and by Republicans accusing Mr Silver of allowing his Democrat sympathies to cloud his vision. As one rather fabulous webcomic has it "to surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger."

It is that belief in numbers which has driven the development of the Number 10 Dashboard - if you believe the people behind the app. Mind you, it's one thing to have the right data at your fingertips, quite another to use it to make the right decisions. David Cameron is apparently going to show off his Number 10 Dashboard to President Obama the next time they meet. Given the scary numbers that the app may provide on government deficits, is it fanciful to suggest that the president might suggest a game of Fruit Ninja instead?

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    Great leaders shape events they don't follow them....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    By its very nature, an App is ecosystem locked, so you have to spend public money on developing an iOS, Android, Windows Phone etc. apps all with the same data being synchronised between them.

    Can't we just do all this on a much cheaper and much more user friendly generic website instead?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 7.

    clearly data can make a difference but what makes an even bigger difference is the way its used and the quality of the morals of those in power.No matter how much great data you have it will never be of use to the UK while we are governed by spives liars cheats and generally corrupt individuals who are only out to feather their own nests

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 6.

    I'll say what I said before, it'll start out all innocent and then 3 updates down the line it'll expand the permissions to access everything personal on your phone. Who you are, where you are, how fast your travelling (new speeding fines?) who your contacts are, what websites you visit and all your text messages.
    Want to fit the nation with tracking devices? There's an app for that!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    In principle, a good idea. But the info seems to be restricted to Whitehall's use only, and not the rest of us... In an age of supposedly "transparent" government, I don't think the government should have access to info about us that we don't have. Roll it out for everyone, so we can see what they're basing decisions on.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    As Adam Curtis' films for the BBC show, it's possible to construct a narrative for the past half century in which all our present problems were _caused_ by an over-reliance on quants.

    Indeed, it's arguable that the best and greatest political leaders - FDR for example - are the ones who take decisions entirely unsupported by data. That's probably why they're politicians and not businessmen.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    In a democracy, that kind of monopolisation of power through information is inherently undemocratic. Unless the app is rolled out to anybody who might want to use it there is great potential for abuse. In a government as little trusted as the Coalition, that is not a good thing.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 2.

    be nice if we could get our hands on a version of it, may be helpful in more ways than one

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1.

    It's certainly easy to criticise, but governments run (or at least should run) on facts and figures so services that pull them together quickly is a good idea.

 

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