This has been quite a week, with US, Australian and British governments issuing their reports and directives on government 2.0. As usual, the longest and most comprehensive report comes from the UK, with its “Putting the Frontline First: smarter government”, as a sequel to the impressive Digital Britain report published last June (see an excellent post on the latter by my colleague Nick Jones).
Consistently with the UK government tradition, the report is very well structured, although a bit wordy. I suspect that, if I had British rather than American editors for my Gartner research notes, their average length – and the average length of each sentence – would probably be about twice as much.
It reiterates some of the themes addressed in previous years, such as “increasing back-office efficiency to release resources to the frontline”, as well as some of the traditional lines of the UK e-government plan, like single point of contact and more “joined-up services”. The report also blends the lasting impact of the Power of Information Review with the overseas trend of having a single access point for public data (data.gov.uk).
Although this report is both more generic and less impactful that the Australian one, it contains a few very good points.
The first one is the one about encouraging greater personal responsibility. The report suggests that
Opening up information is an important step to empowering citizens to drive improvements in public services. However, it is the actions people take on this information that will improve life outcomes for themselves, their families and communities
This rightly puts the availability of public information in the context of what “general citizens “ (rather than political activists) can use it for.
Another excellent point is about what we at Gartner call pattern-based strategy. The report says that
Approaches such as predictive risk modelling can help to identify the different groups in society that will most benefit from targeted support
and mentions cases the areas of health care and benefit fraud as early examples.
Other very good points are the following, which highlight the potential of government 2.0 to engage the public in service delivery and not just on political participation:
[…] involving those who use services in their design and delivery. Websites such as fixmystreet.org and the NHS Choices website are receiving feedback on local services in volumes never experienced before. Web 2.0 takes this a stage further by offering communities the chance to pass real time comment.
[…] public servants can mobilise people to help each other. Millions of dedicated citizens share their valuable skills through peer support and volunteering. They can act as sources of advice to others in similar positions, for example through the Expert Patient Programme.
[…] civic society can help deliver public services itself. Investment in local social enterprise has grown significantly over the last 10 years, and there are now 62,000 social enterprises in the UK
A vision that puts together the ultimate goal of citizen engagement (to better serve themselves) and the use of predictive analytics is definitely compelling and going in the right direction.
Unfortunately I am less hopeful when it comes to execution.
The desire for control transpires from the report, by indicating Directgov as the primary channel for online engagement, and by setting government in charge of deciding how and when established civic organizations could be engaged.
The report says nothing about online communities (such as groups on social media) that complement the work of established civic organizations. Nor does it say anything about how government employees should engage on social media to discover, understand and ultimately liaise with those communities. Nor does it say anything about how predictive analytics will have to rely also on information created and rated by those online communities.
However it is fair to say that the report starts scratching the surface of what real engagement actually means. If the UK government will be able to do what the Aussies are doing by encouraging employees to engage on line on citizen’s turf, it may be close to a breakthrough on government 2.0.
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