In line with the aim of being ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’, the Number10 website have released a section called transparency.
Information is listed under the following sections:
- Business Plans: Check progress on implementing our policies
- Who does what in Whitehall: and how much are they paid
- Who ministers are meeting
- Government contracts in full – coming in the new year
- How your money is spent – coming later this month
- An additional section to find all other government data that is not listed in the above sections
There is a list of policies under Business Plans which, combined with actions, would not look amiss in a company’s performance measures.
As data that can be statistically analysed it leaves a lot to be desired but there is a promise of actual datasets in the future. However, there are some useful ways of examining what is available and that is by understanding that there is more than just quantitative data (things that can be measured) available as evidence. Textual and image based information can be analysed using other techniques rather than ones based on statistical techniques.
It is not like traditional research: you don’t have to test hypotheses statistically or develop scales, seek out representative samples in order to generalise about the entire population. You do need to ensure that you pursue good practises as determined by others and there are various methodologies such as phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory and discourse analysis. In fact, the range of research methods is so wide that the third edition of the The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research has 42 chapters.
The appropriate technique depends on the question and what you would like to discover. In the summer of 2009 as part of an ethnographic project, I interviewed three people who worked in media in order to understand their perceptions of speaking or writing publicly and privately (e.g, writing as a journalist and using Twitter). I collected a series of interview scripts and used these as data.
Some benefits to quantitative analysis include being able to generalise findings from a sample towards the entire relevant population with a measurable degree of confidence. This ability is lost when dealing with qualitative analysis although there is a gain in the level of detail which may be more useful. After my research I don’t claim to know how all journalists communicate publicly or privately but I did get a sense of levels of privacy that vary according to each person and can then investigate this theory with others.
In a similar manner of understanding greater details, the government’s business plans are a series of actions and while they don’t allow for much generalisation across policy regimes and different parties in terms of statistical confidence, they do illustrate the manner of process that is used. The content published by the government highlights a way of working ‘efficiently’ and in a ‘corporate’ manner which may be more familiar to business and human resources managers.
So the qualitative data could lead to a hypothesis about running government as a business and suitable people for such an enterprise could be people with appropriate qualifications such as an MBA. The next task would be to look for other evidence that supports this hypothesis.