David Cameron trialling app to aid government decisions

Updated on: 2012-11-08 || Source: bbc.com

A mobile app to aid in decision-making and day-to-day government affairs is being trialled by the prime minister.

Mr Cameron has been using it to keep track of live data relating to jobs, housing and other areas.

It also monitors polls and posts on social media, giving the PM an at-a-glance view of how the country feels about him and his government.

The Cabinet Office said the app would be offered to more government figures next year.

The app, which had the working title of Number 10 Dashboard, was developed by the Cabinet Office's digital team - and pulls data from hundreds of data sources including Google, Twitter and Facebook.

The Cabinet Office confirmed it was "working on a data visualisation dashboard to provide ministers and civil servants with information on key public services as well as other indicators. The dashboard is in working form and is now undergoing further development".

It is a web app - meaning it can be viewed on any type of internet-enabled tablet or mobile device. It has a look and feel similar to that of the government's data website, data.gov.uk.

A source at Number 10 confirmed to the BBC that the app, which is still in its testing phase, is currently on the prime minister's iPad, as well as devices used by a select group of staff within the Cabinet Office.

"It's been presented to the PM in person," he said.

"He's used it, given feedback on it to help improve it - and there is now great demand for it right across government."

'Radical for government'

The source said that in 2013 the app would be "rolled out across Whitehall" and would give ministers a more immediate and honest view over what is happening in the country.

"If you want to provide ministers and officials with information about performance of government, you can look at government data - but you can also look at data from the real world," he said.

"All we're doing is bringing government into line with what leading companies, big and small, have been doing for several years. It's radical for government, but it's not radical for 2012."

The app will provide Mr Cameron with information relating to "trending" topics from search engines and social media - keeping tabs on the levels of activity around key words such as "mortgage" or "loan".

The app, which is in the final stages of beta testing, also pulls data from Adzuna - a London-based start-up which aggregates large amounts of data from a number of job vacancy and property-listing sites.

"The benefits of using our data is that it's right up-to-the-minute, real-time data about what's happening in the market," said Doug Monro, co-founder of Adzuna.

It will allow the prime minister to see, in real-time, whether there are more or less vacancies day-by-day, and what the average salaries on offer are.

A traffic light system displays the current status of various government initiatives - and whether any need special attention.

Official data from the likes of the Office of National Statistics and YouGov is also incorporated.

'Miracle'

However, questions have been raised over the reliability and usefulness of data which is "live" and unverified.

"If it's reliable, it's through some kind of miracle," Dominic Campbell, founder of FutureGov, told the BBC.

"I don't see the benefit for [David Cameron] personally. What's he going to do with it? He's a figurehead politician who's just going to use it for speeches."

Adzuna's Mr Monro defended the approach, saying: "The real reason is timeliness. In bringing all sorts of data into government decision-making, it's changing the way the government uses data."

iPad
Mr Cameron's iPad was a gift from Apple, according to a gift list disclosed by the government

But Mr Campbell said he worried that following information through social networking could lead to a more "reactive" government.

"Trending topics is hardly a way to govern a country," he said.

Rumours of an app first surfaced in April this year when it was speculated that the prime minister would use it to keep an eye on the activities of ministers on various different social networks.

A freedom of information request revealed that the government was indeed working on an app - but until now no solid details of its functionality had been given.

Mr Cameron has in the past joked that he used his iPad for playing popular games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.

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