Blog post

Could the iPad Redefine Public Service Delivery?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 29, 2010 | 0 Comments

web 2.0 in governmente-government

In my post yesterday I alluded to why the new Apple’s device may have an impact on decreasing certain types of digital divides and become a compelling platform for certain users.

Let me take this one step further, and make a three more considerations about the potential impact of this new device (as well as those that – I am sure – will emerge from competition, as we have seen after the iPhone).

Citizen engagement (aka Government 2.0)

There is a lot of talking about how to engage the citizenry by making them participate in the government decision-making process and collaborate on government service delivery.

One of the points I’ve always made is that engagement – at least for people who are not professionally interested in government (such as suppliers, advisors, lobbyists and the likes) – can be achieved most effectively when connected to something that people need or do, at the point in space and time where they have to interact with or think about government.

For instance, I file my taxes, I feel that’s too cumbersome or complex or just too much and I’d like to have my voice heard. I am applying for a school for my kids and I’d like to say something about programs or excessive teacher turnover or the cost of textbooks. I am checking my health record online (if I just could, of course) and I may want to express my opinion about health care reform. And so on.

But I may also want to be engaged as I read something on a newspaper or a book that raises a question in my mind, or when I watch the news on TV, or as I participate in a Facebook group discussing product recalls, or as I am reading my e-book on the train and I get stuck for the n-th time, and so on.

Of course I will be using different devices (or having them close to me) when each of these situations occur. A smartphone as I am walking in the street, an e-reader on the train, my desktop or laptop at home.

But could the iPad become my primary device from an engagement perspective, the one that is closest to me in most of the cases when I may be “engaged”? How many of my “life events” (to use an old e-government term) will feature an iPad in my hands? Quite a few, I’d argue. Several of these events involve various members of the family. Browsing for schools, checking for museums and other interesting places to visit in a trip, looking for hospitals and elderly care facilities (and related government financial support), for instance, is something I would be doing with my wife or other family members, sitting on the couch or maybe at dinner table.

The iPad is more than a personal tool, it is a social tool, that people will share for certain activities, and – as such – will be an effective platform to engage people at the point in time and space where they are more inclined to be engaged.

Apps for Democracy (and Teaching and Caring and…)

The several application and mashup contests that have been run in various jurisdictions as part of their “open government” initiatives have generated quite a few iPhone applications. What if the iPad led this to the next level? What if governments were able to mobilize developers to implement applications that support better access to public information or easier consumption of public services?

One way of course is to continue with the AppsForDemocracy contests. As I highlighted in a recent post, the British government has institutionalized the submission of applications that use open data on their site. Presumably there will be more iPhone apps, which can run on the iPad, and then we’ll see the emergence of iPad-specific apps, which exploit the larger screen and some of the other peculiarities of the new device.

Besides this, governments may start reflecting about whether to create more focused incentives to develop more specific apps, in areas like education, elderly care, tourism, culture, environment, and so forth. Games for people with cognitive impairment or for kids who need different stimuli to better learn; animated maps with information about places of interest and the ability to reserve entrance or seats; courseware for new parents linked to information about baby care (can you imagine an app that teaches you how to hold the iPad as a baby, and links you to sites – including social networks – where you can fin relevant information about different aspects of parenting?). Possibilities are endless.


In my previous post I mentioned two categories – teachers and social workers – who may be natural users of an iPad. But there are many more, from doctors and nurses, to food or tax inspectors, from city councilors and their staff to planning and zoning officials, from customer relationship officers (think about them sitting with you at a table, sharing information with you on an iPad rather than behind a counter) to purchasing officers (as they sit with prospective suppliers, discussing different elements of their proposal).

Of course I am not suggesting that government agencies buy loads of iPads. This is meant to be a consumer device, and it is too early to judge reliability and usability besides what presented by Apple the other day, and whether it would make any sense to see it as a corporate device too.

However it may be interesting to start reflecting about how this new generation of devices may overcome some of the issues that were experienced with more traditional devices, while supporting the unavoidable blurring of personal and professional use of devices, which is one of the basic (although vastly underestimated) tenets of government 2.0.

Post Scriptum

Finally, for those who do not believe that the iPad will change much, take a look at this wonderful forum where people (mostly Apple fans) discussed the launch of the iPod, back in 2001. The comment I like most is:

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!
Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!

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