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.
‘Our public services face an unprecedented set of challenges… Reform can’t confront these challenges effectively; radical innovation in public services now needs to move from the margins to the mainstream. The question is what analysis and principles should inform this radical innovation.’
The answer, argued in this discussion paper, is co-production. It defines co-production and sets out an emerging sector through case studies in order to build a better understanding and stronger evidence base for a method that asks both those delivering and using services to contribute in equal measure.
‘The quality of Departments’ work depends on their ‘human capital’, built up over a long period through appropriate recruitment, career management and training practices. The Centre has an important input to make in all of these areas.’
The Better Government Initiative aims to canvass the widest possible range of views, and to publish concrete recommendations which will be of practical interest not only to all three major parties, but also to the public more widely. The ‘Report on Departments‘ provides an interesting insight into the balance between the Centre and Departments, and makes a series of cross-cutting recommendations to optimise their relationship.
The Audit of Political Engagement series is a longitudinal study, providing an annual benchmark to measure political engagement in the UK. Each Audit presents the findings from a public opinion poll survey, providing detailed commentary on a range of indicators that have been chosen as key measures. These indicators enable tracking year on year the direction and magnitude of change since the Audit was first published in 2004.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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:
View of preferences
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
Cost-benefit led shift in choice environment
Value led outline of new shared policy platform
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-fundedresearch 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.
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.
Once upon a time social media was radical; now ministers regularly use it. Once ‘Transformational Government’ was an item on an agenda, but now it is the agenda. And, the Power of Information recommendations were just ideas; now they are in practice.
As yesterday’s concepts become today’s policies, those concerned with digital engagement in government are afforded the opportunity to think about tomorrow’s challenges. Here are 10 that have been playing on my mind…
Encouraging data-sharing but also reassuring the public and stakeholders on data integrity and security;
Approaching digital engagement as something that has costs associated with it rather than being a way of doing everything for free;
Investing thought and effort into exploration of the potential in municipal ICT and localised networks;
Managing and sustaining ‘everyday’ digital engagement as it becomes a party political issue;
Crowdsourcing problem-solving while ensuring that it is complementary to good governance rather than an alternative to it;
Giving civil servants remote access to systems to enable secure, mobile and resourceful working;
Creating a charter of democratic engagement entitlements and responsibilities for government and the public;
Developing an understanding of how to prioritise cross-border cyber-cooperation in order to mitigate cyber-conflict;
Improving the use of energy-efficient IT to underpin digital engagement;
Developing standardised digital engagement metrics suitable for use in the public sector and embedding their use.
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.
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.
… 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.