Saturday 3 August 2013

GDS's grip on public expenditure

It's always a pleasure to read the Government Digital Service's diary, This week at GDS. And never more so than when it's written by Mike Beaven as it was yesterday:
... Carl Meweezen and his team over in ERG (Efficiency and Reform Group), who look at all things spending in government and look at where we’re saving money. Mark O’Neill and Gill (Elderfield) worked with their team over there, to help them build a thing called the ‘Government Interrogation Spending Tool’, or ‘GIST’, as it’s known. That went live and there’s been some really good feedback from Stephen Kelly, Carl and his team, and the Minister (Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude), saying, “Thanks for creating something that’s very easy to use and intelligent.” So well done to those guys.
The "thing called ... 'GIST'" is an infographic of public spending. We have seen GDS's penchant for arresting graphics before. That was aspirational, at the time. Now it's reality:

It's not just Stephen Kelly and Francis Maude who have provided "some really good feedback" about this infographic.

Here, for example, is Pete Swabey, writing on the Information Age website:
UK government's new spending data site is "an embarrassing mess"

GIST website "is a joke", says data visualistation expert Stephen Few, and fails to allow users to make basic comparisons

... It is "either an attempt to obscure the data under the guise of transparency or the work of people who have no knowledge of data visualisation", he told Information Age. "The charts in every case are either inappropriate for the data or appropriate but ineptly designed."
Few. What a scorcher.

ElReg have provided some really good feedback, too:
Ha ha, Osborne, these Gov 2.0 web wranglers have wiped out UK debt

"A digital revolution, masterminded by a team of dress-down civil servants, could save the taxpayer billions," The Times newspaper gushed on Tuesday. And behold: it already has. The UK has apparently paid off its national debt years ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's predictions.

Alas, it's no miracle, but an infographics cock-up by the dress-down civil servants at the Government Digital Service ...
The "cock-up"  referred to is the unfortunate omission from GDS's infographic of the UK's £50 billion p.a. of debt interest, a point which ElReg picked up from Guido Fawkes's, No Interest in New Government Spending Website – you get the gist.

Readers who submitted comments to ElReg also expressed mystification at the annual Department of Health expenditure quoted in GDS's easy to use and intelligent infographic as £5.1 billion. They were expecting a figure closer to £120 billion.

The "digital revolution, masterminded by a team of dress-down civil servants" quotation comes from Rachel Sylvester's column in the Times on Wednesday, Geeks in jeans are the Treasury’s new heroes, the latest episode in GDS's PR blitz.

Much more positive feedback like Information Age's, ElReg's and Guido Fawkes's and GDS are going to run out of biddable publicists, even at the BBC and the Guardian. And the Times.

Readers may remember POST, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. We last encountered them misbriefing MPs on the subject of on-line identity management.

Now POST have produced a paper on Invasive Alien Plant Species:
Invasive alien plant species (IAPs) exhibit greater abundance, density, or competitive dominance than species native to habitats ... Early detection and eradication is more cost effective and less risky than later interventions, which may have unintended consequences, such as increases in another, previously suppressed invasive alien species.
Are POST trying to tell us something about the effect of the advent of GDS on the habitat in Whitehall?

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