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Thursday, August 23

Milton Keynes betrays Keynes

google search milton keynes
The Guardian reports today that:

An independent website about life in Milton Keynes has failed in an attempt to win access to data on the same terms as the local council's official site. The decision by the government's watchdog on public sector information illustrates the weaknesses of rules supposed to encourage the re-use of official data.

The Milton Keynes case concerns a four-year battle by a web design company, Zero-Now, for access to information about public services held on a council database called the Community Online Information Network. Zero-Now wanted up-to-date information for use on its website However the council preferred to make the information available through two official websites, run by a contractor partly owned by the council, and

The opsi logo (OPSI) [Describing themselves at "at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging re-use of public sector information"] failed to uphold the complaint - on the grounds that the contractor with access to the database was performing part of the council's "public task". So, as no re-use of the data beyond the public task was taking place, Zero-Now had no grounds for complaining about unfair terms. However OPSI decided there was "room for improvement" in the way Milton Keynes handled information, and made five recommendations.
These are:
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH [Milton Keynes Council] should implement its draft re-use policy as soon as possible, and encourage the re-use of its information.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH considers undergoing the IFTS Online assessment process.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH publishes a standard licence on its website or considers mandating OPSI to license the PSIH’s material through the PSI Click-Use Licence.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH should publish details of any exclusive licensing and publishing contracts on its website.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH should publish a statement of what constitutes its public task.
However ...
PSIH would only be under an obligation to allow re-use in circumstances where re-use had already taken place either by the PSIH itself or by a third party.
So, the Council is entitled to deny access just so long as it refuses access to everybody. Great logic there. Plus it is entitled to 'exclusive contracts'. Somehow this 'encourage the re-use of its information'.

Sounds like OPSI needs to stop handing the job of reconciling these two opposites to someone else.

What's interesting is that there is a huge shade of grey here, because Zero-Now are nothing but a commercial enterprise and the Council dominates MK Web traffic.

The 'Official website for Milton Keynes'?!? Ya gotta love the chutzpah.

One look at MKWeb - #1 in Google for 'Milton Keynes' - tells me that it's taking it's community responsibilities online far more seriously. You'd like to hope it would be because it's council- sub-contracted and presumably Zero-Now's management there is suitably managed.

But despite all that, this still doesn't mean that Zero-Now shouldn't have rights to the Community Online Information Network stuff to use elsewhere, as a 'council person' (or OPSI) might think.

As The Guardian explains at length in the Free Our Data Campaign, this is about boosting the economy, amongst other reasons.

If this company - who do have a strong website of their own, marketing-wise - can do interesting things, imaginative stuff taking ideas from other websites, then surely the Council can reuse that elsewhere? Surely that helps the city? Put that in Zero-Now's contract.

It's worth noting that this also supports women in the economy.

There are many ways, through providing widgetised access to edited content, for example, like many a website does, that the Council can deal with them and everyone else. And can also provide access to - say - the local paper. or the local college or the local history buffs.

Even though the Council sites dominates on 'Milton Keynes' local sites thrive because people use them. Increasingly. Hence target the elderly, youth and radio four listeners (I'm characterising). They can have some screens, maybe one can be a (revised) 'PSI Click-Use Licence' - click - and you get a widget ...

I know there's this and there's that with government rules and scales and balances but this is 2007 and the Web is now several years ahead of government, especially slabs of it like the OPSI.

Where's the leadership to drive the changes which are needed? Who in government is doing that job? Gordon Brown? The Millibands? When did you last see a politician make a joke about their web-ignorance in public and be called on it by a MSM journalist, or themselves laughed at like they're an idiot and they need to get with the program? Huh?

One of the reasons I sound annoyed is because I was on a train the other day surrounded by teenagers talking Myspace this and Bebo that. The disconnect between their new world and the land of the OPSI's and most politicians is vast and agencies like OPSI and the COI are letting them down.

Another point which I doubt the Council is considering is that if Zero-Now really are as good at SEO as they claim then maybe they have something to worry about. However, given that a quick Google search reveals 933 incoming links to MKWeb versus 3 for, and given that this represents the standing start trusted sites have, then they shouldn't worry about too much traffic disappearing into a commercialised front-door.
"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones", John Maynard Keynes.
Give them access, manage that access and leverage benefits for yourself. Like other websites do.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Just for clarity I'll repeat these: Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say:
    The disconnect between their new world and the land of the OPSI's and most politicians is vast and agencies like OPSI and the COI are letting them down.

    I think COI are trying to help as much as possible. However, we have little influence and no control over these things. COI has to persuade other government departments to do things, but only if they choose to use us. COI does not have any policy making role in this are or funding to make these things happen (yet?).

  2. Hi Seb

    I understand. In this post I did, appropriately, have a go at those leading. But the COI has influence, of course. It's been the COI quoted throughout the Facebook episode, that's what I started from.

    'Letting them down' was about how the media of choice for youth has now changed so revisit the rules, if necessary, to follow them and be where they are. Otherwise we're letting them down.

    I can imagine the embarrassment ahead - in game ads? - and someone needs to start facing the MSM down.