Bruce of all trades

I’ve just applied for some digital democracy work. (Yes, that is a hint!) My covering email (slightly adapted below) says I can do some stuff.

I’m passionate about democracy and IT, especially in hyperlocal democracy (community councils, parish councils, and similar).

Professionally, I’m a part-time social informatics researcher at Edinburgh Napier University, concentrating on use of the internet by, and information literacy in, hyperlocal democracy. See more at

I’m also web-weaver, minutes secretary and general IT supporter for Leith CentralLeith Harbour & Newhaven and New Town & Broughton Community Councils in Edinburgh.

I’m also a member of the £eithChooses participatory budgeting process steering group, concentrating on written communications.

Prior to returning to academia in 2010, I was production manager at a Scottish educational publisher, running a fair proportion of the IT as well as delivering finished projects on time and in budget.

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Practical Democracy Project session 8

As usual, this post is an edited version of my tweets from the event. My asides are in blockquotes. Most links are to Twitter presences.

Good afternoon Twitter. I’m at the Practical Democracy Project number 8, in Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. It’s organised by Delib, and has hashtag ‪#PracticalDemocracyProject. I hope to live-tweet so long as my laptop’s battery holds out.

Ben Fowkes is opening ‪#PracticalDemocracyProject number 8. The programme is

  1. An introduction to Delib’s work
  2. Niamh Webster (Scottish Government)
  3. Ali Stoddart (Scottish Parliament)
  4. Vilte Vaitkute (Media Co-op) 
  5. panel session.

Lunch is in there somewhere. There will be a round-up of the event emailed to participants. (I’ll share it how I can.)

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13 April: winding up

So I planned to got to these:

  • Speed Dating: discuss our ideas for a better Europe (10:00 to 10:30)
  • Brexit Breakfast Briefing (10:30 to 11:30)
  • Advanced principles in democracy: let’s challenge basic democracy and find a consensus (12:00 to 2:30)
  • User experience = Supporter engagement: websites for political engagement (13:00 to 14:30)
  • Where to from here? Redesigning democracy (16:00 to 18:00)
  • Festival closing party (20:00 to 22:00)

Here’s how I’ve got on so far! Continue reading

Join the conversation on Scotland’s performance towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the First Minister confirmed that the Scottish Government would be one of the first anywhere in the world to commit to meeting the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, both at home and overseas. Since then, all 193 UN member states have signed up to the 17 goals that seek to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Continue reading

A few thoughts on Brexit

Everyone else is having their say, so why shouldn’t I?

Full disclosure, in case I’ve not made it clear: I think Brexit is a mind-bogglingly stupid thing to do. This doesn’t mean I see myself as superior to those who did vote for Brexit… hang about a bit, yes it does! I sympathise with anyone who believes that the EU has harmed them personally, but this does not give you the right to stuff it up for everyone else.I have slightly more sympathy with those who believe that the EU has harmed a majority of the UK – at least that is altruistic in aim, although it’s harmful in outcome.

I have no sympathy for anyone who believes that any group of foreigners – or even all foreigners – are bad or evil. Anyone who believes that is wrong and evil. And as for those who brought about Brexit thanks to attempts to solve problems in their own party party, may the fleas of a million camels eternally chew on your scrotum!

Rant over for the moment. Having said what I’m against, what am I for? That’s a difficult question to answer just now… Continue reading

Edinburgh Council budget group challenge

I’m interested in local government finance mostly because of my interest in participatory budgeting (PB), especially £EITH CHOOSES. This leads to the question ‘where does PB money come from?‘ I’m also interested in how Scottish local government will ‘mainstream’ PB, leading me to consider ‘what budgets will be opened up to citizen input?‘, ‘how will this be done?‘, ‘how will citizen-control be squared with statutory requirements?‘.

On a personal level, I’m curious about how Edinburgh Council (CEC) decides how to spend its (our!) money, not least because it needs to make massive savings in 2019-20 onwards. I’m concerned about the effects this will have on me, on my adopted home city and above all, the many people who absolutely need government services and benefits. So I jumped at the chance to take part in a budget group challenge last Thursday.

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Answering some questions about e-voting (part 1)

My most recent post on this subject was constructively challenged by someone I respect highly. This person asked:

  1. What are ‘high logistical and environmental costs’, in £££ and time?
  2. How many people are affected by mobility issues, visual impairments or other things preventing them from going to polling places.
  3. Concerning proxy voting, postal voting and statutory aids for people with visual impairments:
    1. How many people are involved?
    2. How many would benefit from the change?
  4. How often does it happen that polling places become unavailable?
  5. What would success in increasing turnout (due to e-voting) look like?
  6. Concerning ‘facilitating reliable and rapid results (including fewer spoilt ballots)’:
    1. What speed up could be expected?
    2. How many spoiled ballots happen?
    3. And under e-voting, how many errors?
    4. What are the risks & consequences of hacking?
  7. Concerning ‘reducing the costs of paper ballots’:
    1. What does it cost?
    2. How much would it cost to run e-voting instead?
  8. Interesting question is how/whether e-voting helps or hinders a sense of community…

This post attempts some back-of-a-fag-packet answers to questions 1, 2 and 3. The other questions will have to wait for another post.

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More thoughts about Online Identity Assurance and e-voting

(With thanks to Peter Cruickshank for raising the public money issue, and for suggestions on reading)

On Tuesday 19 June, I was at two events. The first was a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Online Identity Assurance stakeholder group. The second was a seminar on Vote.Scot: Shaping the future of online voting in Scotland. They provided a very interesting set of information and questions. Continue reading

More thoughts about e-voting – and participatory budgeting

(with thanks to Liam Bell for feedback on the first draft.)

On Tuesday 12 June, I was at a workshop organised by the Scottish Government (SG) to consider how lessons from e-voting, as used in participatory budgeting (PB), can inform SG’s investigations of how e-voting might be used in Scottish elections. A key theme of the discussion was how a system that would initially be used for PB voting could be set up so that it would ‘naturally’ evolve to be used for other voting ‘use-cases’.

It’s not my aim to describe what others said at the meeting: a scribe took detailed notes and I hope that a transcript will be published soon. However, I hope this post will describe my thinking, and how it’s evolved a bit since I last wrote about e-voting. Continue reading

Have your say on Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan

(This is a copy of a post on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development blog.)

Do you want to help transform government?

Imagine a country where citizens and governments come together to solve the most pressing challenges we face; where the decision making process is transparent and accountable, and where you have a real say in the policies and services that shape your life.

Whether you would like more opportunities to be involved in public service decision making; to see more information or data released in areas such as transport or education; or want more information on how public money is spent, open government is for you!

What is open government?

Governments use public money to shape the society we live in. The decisions they take impact on the day to day quality of life that we enjoy. Open governments do not just allow us to see what decisions are made, they allow us to take part in shaping them and provide us with the information we need to examine and challenge their choices.

An open government is one that shares information, empowers people to hold their actions to account and supports people to take part in the decisions over public policies and services that affect them.

A good example is participatory budgeting (a way for people to make decisions on how public money is spent), which was one of Scotland’s first commitments to Open Government. It has been hugely successful in both uptake and impact, being widely implemented all across Scotland, with thousands of people taking part and having their say on how public money should be spent. This progress on participatory budgeting demonstrates the impact it has had on opening up public budgets and encouraging public participation in decision making.

Let's make Scotland work for you!

Have your say!

Do you have an idea for how government could be done differently in Scotland? Perhaps more participatory budgeting, more information on public finances or greater understanding of how policy decisions are made? If so, we need your help to make open government the new normal in Scotland.

What’s in store?

In June and July 2018 the Scottish Government and Open Government Network will be inviting the public and civil society organisations to share their ideas that can help make government in Scotland work better for its people.

There are a number of ways to get involved.


From Tuesday 29th May, you will be able to submit your own ideas online and browse the ideas that people are discussing.


 Join us at locations across Scotland for a series of events where you can tell us in person your ideas for change. Find out more and register.

Help us spread the word

We need your help to get the message out about our plans to develop Scotland’s next Open Government Action Plan. Can you share via your newsletters, repost this blog on your website or pass on our leaflet to your networks and peers?

Events list

What happens with your input?

Once the crowdsourcing of ideas has finished the team will analyse all the input ahead of a meeting of the OGP Steering Group, which consists of eight network members and eight government officials.

The OGP Steering Group will use your input to develop between three and five commitments that will make up Scotland’s second Open Government Action Plan, which must be ready by the end of July 2018.

Behind the scenes – the process

Since the turn of the year work has been underway to develop improved processes and a project plan ahead of creating Scotland’s 2018/20 open government action plan. We’re now all set to press ahead.

You can find out more about the planning process and Scotland’s OGP Steering Group here.