How to build democracy with technology away from elections

There is a lot to be said for a British general election. It is brutally fast in delivering the people’s verdict. It uses technology that everyone can understand and is impossible to hack remotely. And in returning to Rick Wakeman’s prog-rock classic, the BBC has given it back its theme music.

But elections alone are a pretty thin form of democracy. Those who shifted from Labour to vote Conservative did so because of Jeremy Corbyn, because of the party’s far-left manifesto, because of Brexit, because they like Boris Johnson or a mix of these and others. The reasons will come out in surveys and interviews, but aren’t a formal part of the results and the government can ignore them. Continue reading “How to build democracy with technology away from elections”

Searching for specialist search services

General search engines are an amazing free service that participants in one piece of research valued as being worth US$17,530 a year. (Not sure about that, although DuckDuckGo did help me find said piece of research in seconds.) But as I write for Computer Weekly, professionals can benefit from more-focused search services.

Several of these specialist search services are aimed at journalists. Krzana focuses on recent material, linked to geography and subject to minimise time wasted by journalists in Birmingham sifting out news from the city of the same name in Alabama. The Inject Project aims to provide related but different material, such as similar stories in another country. (More on both these services from the NUJ Freelance newsletter here.) Image library Shutterstock has launched services that let users search for images with images. Continue reading “Searching for specialist search services”

Looking for interviews on diversity of approach in software development

I’m working on an article for Computer Weekly on the benefits of diversity of approach in software development. Employers have legal obligations to avoid discrimination by gender, race, religion and other protected characteristics, but in this case I am interested in how involving people with a range of professional and personal approaches can lead to better results.

This could include people focused on anthropological research, visual design, representatives of those who will use the software or something else entirely.  I am particularly interested in specific examples where the diversity of people involved has improved the resulting software.

If you would be willing to talk about this or can help in organising an interview, please email mail [AT] samathieson.com by 5pm on Monday 28 October. Thanks in advance.

Why don’t you ditch your smartphone and do some NUJ freelance training instead?

Times theatre critic Ann Treneman recently wrote about an Edinburgh Fringe show that encouraged the audience to use a smartphone while watching, and being told by an usher that “99.99999%” of people have one.

Actually, Ofcom research says the actual figure for smartphone usage in 2018 was 78% of Britons aged 15 and over, up just two percentage points on 2017 (see page 12 of narrative Online nation report). So there are 12 million adults in the UK who don’t use smartphones, including for several years me. Continue reading “Why don’t you ditch your smartphone and do some NUJ freelance training instead?”

Ministry fails to do justice to data protection

When I pitched a data journalism project to PublicTechnology.net and Civil Service World on government departments and personal data breaches, I didn’t expect the biggest perpetrator to be the Ministry of Justice, or that its 3,184 incidents in 2017-18 would be 27 times the number of the second-placed Ministry of Defence.

The ministry has two reasonable arguments for such high numbers. Firstly, it reports every data breach while some departments do not. Secondly, it directly runs the justice system in England and Wales through HM Courts and Tribunal Service, which was responsible for 70% of its breaches. If the Department of Health and Social Care ran health and social care directly, it would have a much higher figure too. Continue reading “Ministry fails to do justice to data protection”