Last week, Stephen Carter, the U.K. government’s minister for communications, technology and broadcasting, released an interim report on the state of Britain’s digital capacity with recommendations for enhancements. The report, “Digital Britain – Interim Report,” is the result of a review Carter launched in October with the mandate of providing a comprehensive analysis of Britain’s digital economy.
Bill Thompson, BBC technology columnist, criticized Carter and his agency for producing a report lacking public engagement and that “reflects an approach based around control and secrecy.” Thompson points out that it’s 72 pages into the report before the authors added an invitation with an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for interested citizens and organizations to offer suggestions and join the discussion. Thompson added that it would be up to Carter and his Digital Britain team to follow up on these expressions of interest, “which is nice of them, and we must just hope that Carter and his expert panel will be carefully reviewing every blog post and online comment to ensure they don’t miss anything important.”
Tony Hirst, an Open University academic and author of the OUseful.info blog, realized it didn’t need to be this way. He twittered the question, had anyone put the report into an online environment that would allow comments and discussion. Joss Winn, a technology officer at the University of Lincoln in the U.K., twittered back that the WordPress theme CommentPress would be a good application for breaking down and commenting on the report paragraph by paragraph.
Earlier today, Hirst reports, that “two evenings (incl. a rather late night, last night), a lunch break and morning coffee later, Joss has WriteToReply.org up and running (I got in the way not getting Daily Feeds working;-), a CommentPress site for commenting on public documents.” And the first report they posted is Carter’s Digital Britain, of course. The site allows users to comment in considerable detail, with texts broken down into their respective sections for easier consumption. The site encourages users to comment on specific paragraphs, rather than comment on the text as a whole. Users can subscribe to the feed of comments, as well.
The concept is similar to Sunlight’s Public Markup, an experiment to open up bills online, such as last fall’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. Kudos to the authors of WriteToReply for harnessing the power of collective action and providing greater transparency.