Public Services in a Networked World

Blog post from Carrie Bishop, Director of FutureGov and Workstream Facilitator.
The original title for this workstream was ‘There is no generation gap’, in reference to the use of technology, in particular new web technology.  Aside from the mileage I could have got from having a great theme tune (The Who, anyone?) I felt like it was missing something as a title.  I mean, of course there’s no generation gap – FutureGov recently ran an event with Google called [Interactivism] which saw 20 people aged 60 – 85 from Gransnet teaming up with a bunch of techies and designers to work on ideas that would make their lives better through web technology.  The [idea] that most won over our Gransnetters was an app that would alert them when their hospital appointment was running late so they didn’t have to wait around. 
This is clearly not a generational issue.  The application of web technology and the questions we have to address in local government is more about how public services look in a networked world.  So that’s the title of this work stream: Public Services in a Networked World.
I think we need to focus on a few things and in the run-up to [October] I’d love to see some discussion on what these mean to local authorities (if anything) and where our efforts would best be focused during the sessions.
The first is technology.  I nearly wrote Technology, with a capital T, but thought better of it because what I’m talking about here is not [multi-million pound tech projects] that end up costing more than they save, but web technology.  The hallmarks of good web technology are that it’s lightweight; beautifully designed for the user; makes good use of data so it does something useful; and is usually social, allowing interaction between users.  As we see in the surge in [smartphone use] and [social media], this is how many people prefer to communicate, so we need to figure out how the best bits of this kind of tech can be applied to public services.  It’s not about shiny tools; it’s not (just) about having a Twitter account – we need also to understand where it shouldn’t apply, what the benefits are, and how to manage the risks. 
To me, public services in a networked world aren’t just about technology either.  It’s also about understanding what people need in a world where information is much more freely available, people are more empowered to take control of their lives, and the tools they’re using to do that are different. It requires a return to first principles, blank pages, blue skies, and dare I say it – innovation.  That’s why I’d like to explore the discipline of Design Thinking, and how it can be applied to public services.  I hope to bring along some people who know about the process of co-design and co-production (genuinely designing and implementing services in partnership with service users), and perhaps even do some quite practical things that bring these ideas to life, while at the same time avoiding Death by Buzzword.
The other big theme I think is worth developing is around skills and leadership.  Producing services with, rather than for, people; making web technology integral to service delivery; and communicating online all require skills and behaviours that are hard to find in lots of public sector workers.  I say hard to find because they’re there, but in many cases dormant right now.  I’d like to explore how we awaken the curiosity, energy and delight in the current workforce as well as how we can role model using web technology.
These are my initial thoughts and I really want feedback – is it the right focus?  What else could we cover?  What should we ditch?  Since the work streams are running concurrently, what would make you come along to this one?  Are you open to bribery?*
Over the coming weeks I and others interested in this work stream, will talk about how we can make the session practical, interactive and fun.  There will also be news of who else will be joining the work stream during the summit.  If you want to get involved then drop me a line in the comments!
I’ve got a feeling this summit is going to be unlike any other…
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2 Responses to Public Services in a Networked World

  1. Jaxrafferty says:

    There will be a generation gap if you insist on labels like ‘gransnetters’ for anyone over 60 – cos we won’t talk to you any more. And some of us do do more than go for hospital appointments, though we do that too and yes that app would be very useful 😉 Otherwise Carrie your usual spot on self.

  2. Roger White says:

    Carrie – hi. I guess the current disturbances in major cities in England are going to impact on the Summit in ways we can’t quite guess yet. But since you raise technology and social media and they are at the heart of various aspects of the disturbances let me instance a few examples of the relationship that occur to me in the heat of the moment.

    1. The use of social media including Twitter and Blackberry messaging by rioters to co-ordinate (co-ordinate probably pitches it too high) their activities. For obvious reasons, I’ve relied mainly on media reports and re-postings on the web to reach this understanding.

    2. .An apparent social media paralysis in response by central government. I’ve just blogged about how Directgov, their web portal, and its Twitter feed remained supine over the first few days of the riots – see

    3.One or two examples of local authorities and CEs pro-active on social media, for example Ruth Hyde of Broxtowe on twitter at @Relhyde. Are there significant others I’ve missed?

    4.Most positively, the mobilisation of volunteer effort to take action, for example #riotwombles on Twitter to help clean up the streets of London and web sites people have set up to try and identify rioters from available photos.

    Of these four streams of activity my sense is that the most active and effective (positive and negative) have been 1. and 4. Where were 2. and 3. In any numbers? It may be that I’ve missed much of the organisational activity but in all the social media sources I follow (web sites, blogs, Twitter) they were significantly absent.

    You mention that there may not be such big generational gaps in technology use but there are certainly organisational gaps with too many public sector agencies either not understanding the importance of social media or believing it’s a minority sport. Of course this has been known for some time by some (including you of course) but the current disturbances provide a vivid example of how this can play out in a fundamentally important area of public life. This surely merits discussion at the Summit.

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