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2nd February 2010, 4:27pm
Software gives public their say on future of ICT
Giving feedback online Software funded by the University of Lincoln is being used to help the public have their say on the future of Britain's public computing infrastructure.

The web application allows readers to comment, discuss and annotate an online document, as if they were making notes in the margins of a textbook.

The software, called, is a free plug-in for the open source content management system, WordPress.

It was created as part of the JISCPress project, run by Joss Winn, technology officer at the University of Lincoln's Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), in partnership with Tony Hirst, academic at the Open University, with funding of 26,000 from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

A year ago, Joss and Tony recognised the software's potential to solicit responses to documents of widespread public importance, such as government consultations. They set up an independent website, WriteToReply, and began publishing Crown Copyright documents, inviting the public to comment through an earlier version of the software.

Documents such as last year's Digital Britain Interim Report have been published on the site and attracted a flurry of responses which were fed back to Government.

Having since attracted project funding from JISC, they refined their original work and now Government officials have acknowledged the usefulness of the tool by proactively asking WriteToReply to collate online responses to the Cabinet Office's new UK Government ICT Strategy.

Joss said: "We think it's a great way of joining up public documents and their responses on the web. In the past, people would simply be asked to download a PDF and email their responses to a public consultation. WriteToReply and the software that we've developed during our project allow people to direct their comments to any specific paragraph and respond to other people's comments, making the consultation process more deliberative.
"Publishing a document as a web page means it becomes part of the fabric of the web. Other websites, which discuss the document, can link to the specific paragraph in the consultation for their readers to go to. Using other sites, like Facebook or Twitter, people can share links to specific points in the document that they want to quickly draw attention to.
"We're seeing the software used in different contexts, apart from public consultations. Organisations are using it discuss strategic documents, students are discussing works of literature and interest groups see it as an alternative way of engaging a response to their documents. Anyone wishing to get detailed feedback on a document, paragraph by paragraph, will find it useful."

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