[Yet more] Praise for Digital @ BIS

BIS Digital website screengrab

In the spirit of openness and transparency, there is a section of some government websites that deserves more of the searchlight. It’s the digital team pages, and one in particular has come under my scrutiny lately – Digital @ BIS.

bis.gov.uk/bisdigital has just recently launched. It’s primarily for webbies in the department and in its agencies, but it also serves to inform the wider public about what BIS does digitally should that public be minded to know more.

Not many departments have such sites even though more or less all have digital teams. Those that do are practicing what they preach.

The BIS example should be considered ‘best of breed’. It knows exactly who its audiences are and in what order. It’s design balances form and function. And it provides the passing novice or the hardcore practitionner with a wealth of content that taken as a taster or as a full course represents a hearty insight into a core function within a key government department.

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Stuff what I has been reading: 17/02/10 – 24/02/10

'Reading the TV novels summary' by pedrosimoes7

Over the last seven days, I have become a richer and more-engaging person for having read:

1. ‘Evaluating our blogs‘ from Stephen Hale’s FCO blog

“Foreign Office bloggers should focus on making sure that their blogs are integrated, personal, real-time, and 2-way. These are the headline findings of our detailed evaluation of the impact and reach of our blog”

The latest in a strong series of evaluations by the FCO’s Digital Diplomacy Group of their digital media activities. A very useful, well set out contribution to the growing body of research on governments’ use of digital engagement.

2. ‘British Social Attitudes 25th Report‘ from the National Centre for Social Research

“Every year the British Social Attitudes survey asks around 3000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run. The survey tracks people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes and informs the development of public policy.”

Published back in January, this report and the short summary of findings provided online, are essential reading on the British social attitudes ahead of the General Election.

3. ‘How to handle and encourage trailblazers‘ by Laurence Jackson for Guardian Public

“The public sector is hardly renowned for taking risks, but leaders should be able to identify trailblazers in their organisation – employees with a creative spark or energy or vision – and encourage them to realise their potential”

An overview of a study – conducted by Manchester Business School and Wickland Westcott – of the characteristics, career history and ambitions of 30 public sector leaders, selected for their ability to drive transformation in public services.

Moonpig will buyover Google in 2010

'Hands free mobile' by Obi-Akpere

I won’t be making too many predictions like the one above. But one I am happy to put my name to is that 2010 will be the year of mobile.

Whether mobile will take off or not this year has been the subject of much discussion with colleagues. There’s a lot of caution; many of us have been burnt by previous false dawns. But against the evidence – massive penetration of cheap smart phones, uptake of mobile broadband and the explosion of apps –  we have to be more ambitious about mobile in 2010.

From my vantage, the world of democracy and politics will be very much part of this mobile bonanza. Here are three prime areas:

1. General Election campaigning
Every party, media outlet and activist group will make extensive use of the web – that’s a given. It will be in the use of mobile that innovations and headlines will be made.

Whether its micro-donations to parties, opposition flash-mobs at events or manifestos in 160 characters – the mobile will make the election feel closer, more personal and more accessible.

Overkill, imposition and data security will all prove problematic.

2. Social marketing
As the functionality of mobiles increases, so the costs of social marketing via mobiles will decrease.

Government marketers have long been interested in mobile, and with the ability to run cheaper, better targeted campaigns we will rush to mobile in our droves. Expect lots of location-based games and personalised advice through apps.

The challenges will be around monitoring, evaluation and creativity (i.e. how to make it look and feel cool).

3. Service delivery
Fuelled by the sudden windfall of public sector data, we can expect a boom in mobile-based interaction with public services.

It is likely that most of these will be packaged up by social enterprises but government will also get involved, especially local authorities. Prime for development will be emergency services, transport infrastructure and environmental services.

Data security, security of payments and records management will prove problematic.

Only time will tell…

What’s in your crystal ball (app)?

Nudge nudge, think think – competing strategies for changing civic behaviour

Governments can no longer rely on the traditional behaviour change tools of regulatory and economic instruments to shape civic actions. But should they turn to choice architecture or deliberative participation as an alternative? Both are very in vogue, but can real shifts be achieved by appealing to perceptions of cost-benefit or by changing values?

In their fantastic discussion paper Nudge nudge, think think, Peter John, Graham Smith and Gerry Stoker walk us through the emergence of ‘Nudging’ and of ‘Deliberation’ as competing strategies available to policy makers seeking to change the behaviour of citizens. The authors discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both strategies and provide a handy comparative analysis, which is neatly summarised in this table:

Nudge Think
View of preferences Fixed Malleable

 

View of subjects Cognitive misers, users of shortcuts, prone to flawed sometimes befuddled thinking Reasonable, knowledge hungry and capable of collective reflection

 

Costs to the individual Low but repeated High but only intermittently

 

Unit of analysis Individual-focussed Group-focussed

 

Change process Cost-benefit led shift in choice environment Value led outline of new shared policy platform

 

Civic conception Increasing the attractiveness of positive-sum action

 

Addressing the general interest
Role of the state Customise messages, expert and teacher Create new institutional spaces to support citizen-led investigation, respond to citizens

 

In the coda, the authors explore how the two strategies can learn from each other and be brought together in a coherent manner. Although they accept that coherence is very difficult in practice because both strategies hold different understandings of human behaviour and theories of change, they both share a fundamental driving principle:

Governments accept they cannot rely on issuing commands or creating incentives: they must deal directly and engage with the citizen, whose participation helps to co-produce public outcomes.

Ultimately, as the authors conclude, to be a successful practitioner of nudge it you need to understand what makes deliberation work and to be an effective practitioner of think you need to understand the dynamics of nudge.

The paper discusses at length the design of Nudging and Deliberative processes, but does not spend enough time – to my mind – considering how they are communicated to the public, even though both strategies are highly reliant on effective marketing of intriguingly differing styles.

Room for improvement aside, this is a very accessible article containing learning and challenges for functions across government.

Another paper from the same ESRC-funded research programme that is also worth a read is Can the internet overcome the logic of collective action? which takes an experimental approach to investigating the impact of social pressure on political participation. This paper tests the hypothesis that social information provided by the internet makes it possible in large groups to exert social pressure that was previously only considered viable for smaller groups.

Who is accountable? Giving power away in a centralised political culture

We are all localists now.

So starts a new research report by IPPR exploring the political consensus around decentralisation and the barriers to achieving it in practice – Who’s accountable? The challenge of giving power away in a centralised political culture.

The researchers asked a representative sample who they regarded as accountable for the performance of public services. Across a range of services – health and policing, for example – no matter who is charge, the public placed responsibility firmly at the feet of government. However, in other cases – such as education and transport – accountability is more diffuse. Why?

The report considers a number of factors, but of particular importance seems to be good communication. When power is devolved, the lines of accountability must be made clear. The examples of devolution in Scotland and public transport make for interesting case studies in this respect.

However, in the report the authors write:

… ministers may be more inclined to give up powers where lines of accountability are clear and when they can be reassured that once they’ve let go, the public, the media and the oppoistion will accedpt that responsibility rests at the local level.

I do think the authors should have spent longer considering the important influence of party politics and media representation, alongside that of public attitudes and perceptions, in order to get the full picture.

Otherwise, it is an interesting and well set out piece of original research.

Stuff what I has been reading… 02/03 – 08/03

The ‘Dunbar number’ in the age of social networking

An intriguing article that explores whether given the technical opportunity an individual’s stable social network can push beyond Robert Dunbar’s 148.

The transformative potential of the ‘Fifth Estate’

Professor Bill Dutton, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, persuasively defines an emergent ‘Fifth Estate’ enabled by digital media and explores its transformative potential. Dutton’s article is strengthened by his linking of the transformative influence of the ‘Fifth Estate’ on politics with its effect on education, work and other areas of society.

Helpless or hapless?

This stood out for Jeff Jarvis‘ pithy summary of all the different financial ‘rescue options’ open to newspapers facing uncertain digital futures, and why he believes none of them are any use.

Stuff what I has been reading… 23/02 – 01/03

Second Life is a feudal society

James Grimmelmann produces a very well-worked analysis of the law and feudal dimensions of Second Life. ‘Virtual worlds built purely for play and where the stakes are not too large should remain mostly untouched by the offline legal system’, he writes, but are we not always hearing how Second Life is a real market?

Can Social Networking Technology Undo Old Political Networks?

No, says Silvio Waisbord, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. And, quite frankly, he’s tired of hearing the suggestion that it might. Quite a loosely-argued piece, but I pick it up because hidden somewhere in there is a fantastic research opportunity to analyse what happens to a polity when the discourse is split across conventional and innovative media.

MPs talk but don’t listen online

… so reports the Hansard Society in its recent snapshot of the ways in which parliamentarians are – or are not – making use of digital media. Disappointing that the pace of change has been so slow. It would be great if the next report went local to find out what constituents think.