Disseminating information to the public
This short paper proposes a type of “citizens’ information portal” to disseminate knowledge and provide an authoritative source or knowledge base on a range of lifestyle matters.
The benefits of a focussed information source
Curating information from a multitude of sources into a single website is not new or revolutionary. News aggregation services, especially, have been doing it for a long time. For example, News Now.
The addition of fresh, commissioned content, tailored to what the public needs and wants to know, will make this an extremely valuable resource. Authors will be from all relevant disciplines and walks of life with one thing in common – they are all respected in their field. That can include reputable journalists, politicians and experienced commentators.
Accessible and free learning facilities
Informational articles will be provided in tandem with a growing list of self-study modules. This will not attempt to be a formal accredited learning institute but will provide materials prepared by experts, presented in modules or chunks that an individual may work through at his or her own pace.
The single most important factors are credibility and impartiality
The primary objective is to deliver clear, useful and unbiased data, and background information that is essentially fact-checked. Opinion pieces will also be welcomed, provided they are clearly tagged as such and from respected individuals.
The NHS website is an excellent example of content that has no apparent bias or agenda. It is simple and clear presentation of facts and advice.
Is this not already available through government agencies?
The focus is on subjects that are not a direct responsibility of these formal bodies. Parenting, for example, is a topic that overlaps on many disciplines, from psychology to law and from behaviour to schooling with stops along the way for parent psychosocial health too.
However, relevant data will certainly be drawn from official sources, much in the same way as news websites draw on the government’s central Coronavirus stats and daily numbers.
What about existing Citizens Advice Bureau organisations?
There are organisations with drop-in offices in many parts of the country. They tend to be hyperlocal because the audience they serve needs easy access, often face to face. They provide valuable services advice and help for legal, debt management and consumer rights matters.
These areas of specialist expertise are not what the proposed intelligence portal would support.
Data accuracy and relevance
According to the Government’s Principles for data sharing: “It is of vital importance that data is handled in a way that inspires the trust and confidence of citizens.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) outlines the legal aspects and responsibilities of data sharing agreements but there is no fixed template and agreements can be shaped according t the requirements of each scenario and partnership.
There will be no handling or storage of any personal data whatsoever. Therefore, data protection regulations will not apply to the service.
Where they are published statistics will be subject to the Government’s Code of Practice for Statistics. Also, that body’s guidelines for ensuring source data is appropriate for intended uses.
Should comment and discussion be allowed?
Given the high levels of disinformation, fake news, trolling and general abuse that can be found on most every online news service that permits user comments, it makes sense not to permit them.
The internet has made everybody a potential citizen journalist, including those merely with opinions based on zero knowledge and expertise, or individuals pushing an agenda. This proposed portal will disallow material of this nature.
A report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service highlights the issues: Understanding Citizens’ Vulnerabilities to Disinformation and Data-Driven Propaganda. Case Study: The 2018 Italian General Election (PDF)
Then there is the additional cost of resources to moderate discussions with potential litigation as a publisher.
While this stance means the portal would be a broadcast-only service, that does not diminish its value.
Feedback will be enabled, so that registered and ID-validated users can pass relevant comments to the site’s admin team and editors. That would be a vital avenue to raise valid concerns, for example about errors in the content.
Choosing suitable media
While video appears to be the most popular channel for consuming all manner of content, there are many who prefer podcasts (audio clips) and others who ignore both of those in favour of the written word, which can be assimilated much more quickly.
Management and staffing considerations
Editing and commissioning skills will be needed to ensure content meets the required standards. Funding will be based on an initial small core team of full and part time staff that will grow as the scope of the portal expands to cover an increasing range of topics.
This outline is necessarily sketchy and is intended only to provide initial thought leadership. Next we will invite debate from both experts in this type of channel as well as members of the public, who are welcome to submit ideas.