The old barn on Kelston Roundhill is finding a new purpose threshing ideas, as Graham Padfield puts it so well in his poem The Barn on the Hill. The old name for Kelston Roundhill is Henstridge Hill, the “gathering place of stallions” in time of need. Last week a bunch of us who work on digital ideas felt the need for a gathering of the clans.
We met because while massively optimistic about the possibilities of the digital world or information age we share some concerns:
- individuals are suffering loss rights and of agency. This problem is getting worse;
- and organisations aren’t going through digital transformation at the pace or in the manner we hoped for – this is not getting better fast enough.
The concerns are well expressed for example in Sarah Gold’s TEDx talk or Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby lecture. There are many insights to be had from the experiences of the Government Digital Service GDS. Martha’s dotEveryone project expresses the ambition to make Britain brilliant in the digital age. If that’s to happen we need to understand the problems and know what each of us can and should do about it in practice.
It was wonderful. The tribe gathered. The location, setting, furniture, food, walk worked. A good time was had by all. In terms of concrete results the afternoon produced excellent and clear problem statements, and many memorable epithets – see below.
If you want to use the Old Barn at Kelston as a workspace for threshing ideas or a bunkhouse click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The machine knows it’s f*cked; there’s more fluidity, more possibility of change than ever
- They know it’s not a little thing but they’ve no idea what to do. And if in doubt, do nothing.
- [Civil service leaders] are a million miles from doing anything about the appalling state of the data the country runs on. Data sits below services, which sits below policy. They do policy.
- There are 80m live NI numbers – “Don’t write that down!”
- Who controls the tech? Who writes the code? Who owns the data?
- The digital world is not delivering. YouTube makes a loss. Twitter bonds are junk. Processing one Bitcoin consumes the energy it takes to power a US house for a year. It’s not sustainable.
- I’m here because I refuse to believe we cannot unf*ck this
But when we discussed it we hit a series of paradoxes:
- organisations change when they respond to crises but we found it hard to articulate the crises. You can’t conceive of a worse data breach than OPM but even then nobody seems to care; it makes no difference.
- there’s a top 200 (or top 1000) who control everything: a nice, urbane, clever elite monoculture who don’t get digital. They need to be brought on board (a process of “digital dunking”). Or herded off a cliff. Michael Young would recommend the opposite: ignore them. This is the “Sir Bonar dilemma”.
- we think the situation – the Internet – needs new institutions, but we don’t know what. Or maybe we don’t need new ones. Maybe we need to reform existing institutions we have, but we’re not sure we know how. Or maybe we should abolish them.
- Institutions and organisations seem to be hostile to or threatened by individual agency
We didn’t reach conclusions. If you pursue every topic, as we did, you run out of time and resolve nothing. But at least everyone caught their trains.