Update 30 July 2011 Since I wrote this post the Government have published a new really rather natty organogram viewer thingy, which is absolutely great. There is good access to the underlying data too. I think my comments about maintenance of the data over time still pertain.
It's great news that the folks at No 10 have published new government organisation charts that Mr Cameron promised in May. Even better, I understand that there are plans to make this information available as electronic data.
But, I am concerned about how this information will be maintained over time. I imagine that most departments will not be keeping such information electronically in their resource management systems in a format suitable for instantaneous publication. For most, I guess that it will have been a not-inconsiderable effort for someone to prepare and validate it. With the requirement coming from the top, the job will have been comparatively easy: in the future, when there might be perhaps less of an imperative, it will be harder. The quality and currency of the data is likely to become uneven across the departments and is almost certain to decline.
I can't help thinking that being transparent about who does what is an important plank in building the new kind of open state that seems to be being so widely discussed at the moment. I believe it's worth a small investment to develop effective ways of ensuring this information is readily available and current.
I wonder if some sort of social solution to maintaining this data would be appropriate? I am thinking of something that will allow individuals to look after their own data such as an organisation chart wiki, like the one that I began on the Cogmap site, or the facility that is available within Yammer. (I have no connection with either organisation). If departments adopted a standard like one of these and used it to publish organisation charts both externally and internally, there would be a significant motivation for individuals to keep their entries up to date.
Even on it's own, something like this would be beneficial, but I can't help thinking that it could be a useful and very visible springboard for other initiatives to further transparency and openness.
I don't assume that this would be a trivial exercise. The software to support such an initiative probably doesn't quite exist yet and the change management involved would need careful thought. On the other hand it's not a huge undertaking either: perhaps it's worth some sort of low-cost experiment? Maybe something like this is already being considered?
If you know of what is happening or have views please do comment.