Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is to advise UK civil servants on using the Internet to engage with the public, a Downing Street aide told the South by Southwest conference in Austin on Sunday night.
Tim Kelsey, the government’s recently appointed director of transparency and open data, tweeted the news from the conference: “#SXSW rohan announces that Jimmy Wales to advise uk gov on #CrowdGov”, with "rohan" referring to Rohan Silva, a senior Downing Street aide to David Cameron.
A government spokesperson directed Information Age to remarks given to the Telegraph on Wales’ appointment. "Mr Wales will act as an unpaid adviser to Government to support its agenda to open up policy-making to the public," the spokesperson said. "He will advise Government on developing innovative new ways technology can be used to give the public a greater say in the policy-making process."
Speaking at SXSW, Downing Street’s Silva said that the government wanted to "usher in the age of open source government", with his talk spawning a new Twitter hashtag, #CrowdGov.
Wales’ venture into politics comes just days after he told a Financial Times conference that he does not want Wikipedia to become a "political lobbying force of any kind", saying that he is reluctant to repeat the Wikipedia blackout campaign against controversial US piracy law SOPA.
The current government’s use of online public consultation began with "Your Freedom", a crowdsourcing website designed to gather ideas on civil liberties, and "Spending Challenge", a similar site focused on cutting government waste. According to the Cabinet Office, the ideas submitted by the public on these sites went on to influence policy, including the ‘Protection of Freedoms Bill’ .
The government also used online consultation during last year’s ‘listening excercise’ in advance of the controversial NHS reform bill, inviting citizens to submit comments on a number issues related to the bill.
The ‘e-petitions’ site, meanwhile, promises that any petition that attracts over 100,000 signatories will be debated in the House of Commons.
Last month, however, a petition for a new debate on the NHS bill that attracted over 160,000 signatories was turned down by the Backbench Business Committee. According to a report from PublicService.co.uk, committee members felt the bill had already been debated sufficiently in parliament.