Bloglines - Ben Goldacre My Reply to His Reply

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Ben Goldacre My Reply to His Reply

By Rat Outzipape

This one is long and laboured - but if anyone follows me beyond this point I have some further comments to make about this in a further post.

Hi Ben, Briefly I am 90% certain that it was not yourself. So I owe you a very sincere apology.

However, although you are not the person, can you help if interested?

Further, also if you are interested I continue with 1. an explanation 2. a story 3. a discussion below. Forgive the format. But emails are difficult, often intrusive and sent to people who may not have the time to read them. I'm just setting out what is below in case you are interested or want to be amused.

  1. This is an example of the footer in question.

...

Best Regards  Lorraine Carter| Senior Project Manager|businesslink.gov.uk  Businesslink.gov.uk, First floor, The Cottons Centre, Cottons Lane, London, SE1 2QG.   (For a map see http://tinyurl.com/SE12QG).    Land Line: TBA  Mobile: 07843 278600 

Want to know more about businesslink.gov.uk? - Read about us in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/sep/04/it.egovernment

Practical advice for business www.businesslink.gov.uk  The online channel for Business Link, delivered by Serco on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs 

I think that what has happened is that this was pointed out to me and I followed the link and read the article which is, more or less, as I paraphrased it, although more thoughtful. It is by Michael Cross, but it does mention in the last paragraph:-

All these factors seem to merit more external scrutiny than the service gets. It is possible that Businesslink is an example of Whitehall finally getting e-government right, but some independent confirmation would be nice.

I think it is possible that this paragraph and, in particular, the last sentence, has caused me to conflate the authorship with yourself. I don't read Cross's column, but I do read yours from time to time, with some pleasure, I should add.

I am 90% certain because on one occasion I took a copy of internal mail to me and have now searched through it. But I don't have all mail. The surprising and disturbing thing for me is that what I 'remembered' was a footer that said something like "Dr Ben Goldacre says 'What swung me was trying out businesslink.gov.uk, the government's all-purpose portal for transactions with business. It's one of the trio of megasites destined to take on nearly all official transactions in the name of joined-up public services and, in theory, lower costs.'

This, of course, reads like an endorsement. But, it seems, one made in my head!

I will try to check this again, just to satisfy myself.

  1. This is a story about a story about a ... . I have just read Ian McEwan's Solar. In it the anti hero, Michael Beard has a crisp incident on a train where he eats someone else's crisps thinking all the time and very indignantly that they are his, while the other person also continues to eat them with a strange degree of tolerance and forbearance. Beard then tells this story at a business conference, but is challenged afterwards to reveal where he heard and how he came to elaborate the story in this way as it is an urban myth, themed the Unwitting Thief. (This is a sub theme about the conflict between the literal and the metaphorical, but not fully developed by McEwan, I think.) However, I have been travelling back and forth to Berlin recently on a contract. Two weeks ago, disorientated as I was since I learnt the contract was ended, and no doubt tired from travel, I was in a Berlin fast food lunch shop and actually dived at someone else's tortilla chips, taking one and very nearly sinking it into the accompanying guacamole! For a moment, just for a moment, I thought the canteen had placed the chips on the counter for all to take while they waited for their order.

I was mortified, and as I sat next to the diner whose dish it was through my lunch, I repeatedly apologised.

  1. Discussion. It does seem that memory is very unreliable. But I don't think I had realised the extent to which it can distort things. This surprises me. All of this does connect with the original theme of the emails. The episode has helped me.

Is it really possible to save money in government it?

Skimming through the company emails just now I was reminded of the wealth of detail and the difficulty in decision making that went with my role. If there is so much detail, and so many people have to take part in a task which involves co-coordinating their time and their permissions to progress, how can costs be cut?

Technically, this must be the area of incentive management. It would have to be researched in relation to IT software development, but the evidence I have seems to point to the fact that the contractual structure between client and supplier and the incentives that flow from it have been very poorly designed on the part of the government.

While IT is complex there must also be some sort of law that states that a complex system will be presented as of greater complexity in proportion to the amount of money that can be found to solve that complexity.

Obvious really!

Best Regards,

Adam Saltiel


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