Are you itching to be an armchair auditor?
There’s not much evidence available on how eagerly the invitation to enlist in the army of armchair auditors is being taken up.
I have been poking around various bits of the open data and transparency frontier to see what is going on. It’s a bit of a jungle out there with few celebrities known to anyone outside of the field. Broadly it looks like we have a set of prophets (Tim Berners Lee and Nigel Shadbolt for example) leading a broad church comprising fire-breathing zealots through to a ‘do we really have to do this?’ platoon. It is an interesting coalition which also includes entrepreneurs of all types keen to exploit this whole transparency agenda.
One place to get the feel for what’s going on is data.gov.uk/ where the congregation gets together to talk code, apps and data standards. Everyone seems very committed even though half the discussions seem to be written in a language that’s like English but doesn’t share its vocabulary.
The site’s discussion board has about 670 odd posts but many of those are from the same activists. So it’s not possible to gauge the wider public appetite for all this data by looking at this site. But some of the apps have been very popular like the one for antisocial behaviour, downloaded 80,000 times.
Where else could you look? I tried the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Department’s website as the Department has been hailed by some as trailblazers in the race for greater transparency.
The CLG web site has had over 100 hits a day since its launch in launch in September and 7000 page views. According to the CLG website this,
‘… is growing evidence that there is an ‘army of armchair auditors’ out there called into action by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.’
Considering the subject matter – local council spending – I thought 7000 sounded a lot.
But it’s difficult to compare because – oddly – few organisations involved in promoting spending transparency publish any figures on their websites about the number of views, hits or any other audience information. (And before you ask 289 page views.)
So I continued my trawl around trying to find some numbers to give me a sense of the strength of the itch. I happened on an interesting statistic about another website launched by the various organisations that review council services in December 2009. It had over 1 million page views in its first 19 days of existence.
I can’t direct you to it as it’s now been abolished by the coalition government. At current hit rates the CLG site will take another 10,000 days to be as popular as the website the government abolished.
I think the popularity of this site and some of the apps shows that there is an appetite for information rather than data. Simply flinging data into the ether and hoping that armchair auditors will sort it out looks overambitious and a potential turn-off to them. Not me though because I love numbers but you really shouldn’t design public policy around odd-balls like the RAA.
What conclusions can a reluctant armchair auditor draw from where we are right now? Is there a popular front for the armchair audit of public spending? Until we see some data on take up none of us can tell.
In the meantime I am taking my trusty abacus off to visit some local NHS spending information.