A New Life

It really was a long time coming. Those of you reading this, thanks very much for updating your links. Blogger was just getting to be too much of a hassle, with very little flexibility. Please bear with me a bit as I iron out some kinks. I’m already more excited about blogging!

Of ideas and government accountability

I really enjoyed reading about the ideas that are going to be up for discussion at Social Innovation Camp Scotland later this month. (No, I’m not going, though I wish I was). I particularly like Citipedia, because I think it is the kind of project that can result in lovely urban spaces like High Line Park that just opened in New York, coming to life. I also liked MyPoliceService, (and revisited Patient Opinion as I was reading about it), because I believe that people in government posts appointed to serve the public and paid by taxpayers’ money should be accountable to the public the way corporate employees are to a company’s board.

While on the topic, there is an interesting interview with disgraced ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in Vanity Fair, where he inadvertently says something that explains why services like these are important in a succinct way:

“I’m not going to make excuses,” he replied evenly. “Let me ask you a question: Is there a difference between politicians and anybody else? Or is it that the lives of politicians are so very public?”

“There is a difference, Mr. Spitzer. You were elected to a position of public trust.”

“That’s right,” he conceded. “It’s why I resigned without delay. Some said I could try to ride it out. But I didn’t see it that way. What I did was heinous and wrong.”

I think everyone who reads this knows by now that I think government accountability is important, and more so, the existence of some system where individual concerns are responded to. When buses and tubes in London routinely terminate before their final destination, something that never used to happen in New York with the subway and that frustrates me to end whenever it happens (a lot), I searched TfL and found this answer (it’s one of the most commonly asked questions, by the way):

If a bus is severely delayed or if several buses of the same route are bunched together, the route controller may ask a driver to stop the bus short of its usual destination. This bus can then turn around, and return to its usual timetable in the opposite direction. We do this for the benefit of our passengers, as it allows us to maintain an even service across the route and prevents delays from building up.

Nevertheless, we understand how frustrating it can be if you are on the bus that is curtailed. We expect controllers only to terminate buses early as a last resort. And it should only happen when there is a bus going the full length of the route close behind. The driver of the curtailed bus should issue the driver of the next bus with transfer tickets to allow passengers to complete their journey.

I can vouch for the fact that a) buses do not necessarily go the full length of the route close behind and b) drivers do not issue transfer tickets as a matter of course. I wish I had a person who could clarify why – and services like MyPoliceService will hopefully solve that problem with the police, which is a start.

All hail the Government

I didn’t intend for the title to sound so 1984-ish, but let’s get on with what I want to say.

Yesterday two people I know remarked that people have not really recognised the impact of the current economic downturn – one works in the finance industry and one in advertising (that’s you, Charles!). Most people are calling it the worst economic upheaval since the depression of 1929.

As the fortunes of the economy continue to tumble, I realise what an important role the Government is assuming in this situation. Whether it is the US Government’s $700 billion bailout of the troubled US banks or the UK Government’s £500 billion one for the UK ones – the latest is that the eight biggest UK banks are being part-nationalised – this much is clear: the government is the biggest client any non-banking company can have at the moment. In the case of banks of course, the government is literally Jesus/Vishnu/Allah/whatever, so the word ‘client’ doesn’t come into play.

And the reason the Government is big business is because everyone else is busy cutting costs.

That’s where agencies need to be focusing their efforts, because that’s where they’re going to win the pitches that will tide them over till the situation abates. Sure, the other pitches will be there and do need to be won, but the bigger chunks – and I’m making a reasonably educated guess here – will come from government business.

The government’s always been there. Most people just take them for granted. When it’s crunch time like it is now, much as people may hate it, there is no other option but to elevate them from the background to the lead role.

Equally significantly though, the Government is now forced to keep on the ball if they want to gain public confidence, and retain or gain power as the case may be. The governments in power in the US and the UK, two of the West’s most powerful economies, are witnessing considerable shifts in public approval ratings in the current economic situation. Governments are picking up on the fact that most people are moving online, and all media has an online presence (TV channels and radio stations have websites etc.). Therefore, they are forced to become more tech-savvy than they were. Note the huge amount of money and support that Barack Obama has raised for his presidential campaign through the internet. In fact, apparently the Tories in the UK have recently started a blog, even as they’ve concluded a rather high-profile party conference, and the Labour party already has a reasonably Web 2.0 site, replete with YouTube videos et al. Noticeable, however, is the lack of a blog. I suspect they’ll pick up on that soon enough. 

We live in interesting times.

(Image by Michael Kountouris)