A little thought experiment

As usual I’ve been thinking…

Instead of writing and sharing my random thoughts I’m keen to know what others think about the future.

So the basic experiment is this.

Assume ALL #localgov services are using digital tools (and people are actually using them) what do people see the biggest challenges being then?

I tweeted a version of this earlier…hence I included “people using them” as well.

So what do you think?




20 thoughts on “A little thought experiment

  1. It’s a great challenge to ask, but, playing devil’s advocate, why would we think that all local government services are using digital tools? There are services at my council don’t even have a web presence and it’s 2012…

    1. Good point…but I would suggest that all services in some way will use digital/web/the internet, even if it is in how it manages information or simply communicates with its own staff.
      I don’t believe there will be any part of local government that won’t be affected by digital/web/the internet in some way.

  2. Oh, absolutely and in one way or the other if affects all part. I’m just thinking that it’s an interesting premise to ask but frustrated that I am aboutthe help centre for disabled people doesn’t have – or seem to want – a web page we’re still fighting a battle. I’ve heard the argument that they’ll just have to catch up or die. It’s a superficuially ompelling one. It’s also a bit lazy.

    On your wider point, when – if – we reach the point where everyone is using it we have email as a good template for what that might look like.

    That would be:

    * dull
    * but effective
    * full of spam
    * with lots of really poor practice

    I’d guess that there’d be a kick back against digital in the same way that there’s a kickback against email. People use it grudgingly. But they never really signed-up for 60 emails a day and just about wear the 54 pointless ones to get to the occasional good ones.

  3. Being slightly flippant, you can’t empty the bins, or recycle digitally, or virtually.
    More seriously, the interface would have to be no more challenging than a push button phone – I was going to say TV remote, but I know many who struggle with those. However, if the interface was via something no more complex than the Sky remote and not alot of typing was required, you could be on a winner.
    Also, how do you manage those services that are very personal, such as social care? Being somewhat blunt, how would you organise the system to be accessible to those who are just not very bright and struggle to make their point face to face?

    1. I’m not thinking about the journey right now…more imagining what the future challenges beyond these might be and whether we are actually limited by our own current thinking…

      If we can’t imagine that future we won’t create it…

      1. Agree completely with your musing about the potential for the digital world to make things more accessible, efficient and therefore one might assume cheaper. However, the reality seems to be at present, that you just get another set of people – I.T. this time – telling you that if you want to do something differently, it will take time, cost money and by the way, we havent got anybody available/qualified to do it until all the current projects are completed, which will be about 6-9 months!
        The digital world is a bit like an iceberg rather than the Titanic. With the Titanic most of it was visible and you could see what you got for your money. I.T. is an iceberg, with the only visible bit being a screen, a keyboard and maybe a printer. the rest of it is buried in the bowls of the organisation be it local or remote.
        We’re a very long way off of having the sort of network you could or would even want to rely on as your single method of access to ‘the world’. Hurricane Sandy seems to have proven that.

    2. Serious answer to the flippant point. Digital can be used for recycling and bin collection. As part of Smarter Planet IBM instruments/puts sensors on recycling bins at supermarkets etc so that when they get full a lorry can come and empty them rather than a lorry going to lots of empty bins, or not going to overflowing bins causing people not to use them. If you’re just talking about consumer web access, then fixmystreet etc are good sites for users to request bin emptying when there’s a problem.

  4. a lack of discrimination in what people ‘complain’ about – whilst you have to phone up you have to really think carefully about whether your ‘complaint’ is a complaint worth bothering to phone up about, a comment which might be useful feedback, or you just thinking aloud to pass the time of day; in the current era, only the most tedious of vexatious complainants phone up every time they see the slightest overgrown bit of moss between two paving stones, but as it becomes easier for people to pass comment without effort, so more people will be led to pass comment.

    this will inevitably have a knock-on effect at the other end – even if the organisation has policies which allow the person on the other end of the wittr account to ignore the seemingly trivial, they still have to read it, evaluate it, and make a decision about whether and how to respond; the more comments, the more people needed to deal with the comments – and whilst currently most people would probably not care about a bit of overgrowing moss between two paving stones, in the highly-digital, highly-combative nu-world that overgrowing moss becomes an internet sensation, with moss-haters and moss-fans together converging in an argument about moss, cc’ing the organisation (because IT’S VERY IMPORTANT the organisation knows about this) into the argument and berating the organisation FOR NOT CARING ABOUT THE VIEWS OF THE PEOPLE WHO PAY YOUR WAGES, etc.

    that is, of course, an extreme extrapolation the extreme of which is probably unlikely to occur – but even now, i do see incidents not far off that (and could be blamed for causing incidents like that myself, sometimes), and even now i’m aware of the problems, sorry, ‘challenges’ which are caused to the organisation in having to work out what to do about them – time which could be more profitably spent improving service for the people with genuine complaints.

    looking again i think i might have basically said the same thing as dan did but in a more hysterical manner! as a digital advocate member of the localgov digital advocacy community myself, i do though worry that much of our digital advocacy sometimes looks like were expecting somebody else to deal with the consequences of what we would see the world look like…

    1. I accept this, to pose a supplementary question…do you see in that future, organisations we now call local government and even central government?

      Or are we actually creating a future that keeps us all at the centre and fails to reduce dependency?

  5. Literacy and numeracy. Around 20% of adults in the UK are functionally illiterate and/or innumerate. If you can build effective digital services for those people you’ll be doing very well indeed.

    It should go without saying that this is the key issue in digital inclusion, not access to computers and internet connections.

  6. Carl,

    Your reply to Simon is spot on. I think there is a very real risk of local gov creating a dependency culture, with or without the existing range of digital tools that it understands.

    I believe it would be true to say that in both central and local gov, the range of things that have been made completely self-service is really very small. I’m also going to suggest that this has a lot to do with a culture that for a very long time indeed saw automation as a direct route to job losses. That’s unlike many commercial businesses, who were able to see automation in terms of increased profits, and who had been doing some kind of automation for at least a century.

    When I first read your short blog, I was puzzled by your use of the word “people”. I’m still not completely sure whether you mean local and central government staff, or whether you mean citizens and service users? Clearly two very different future scenarios arise, depending on which.

    If digital solutions to service delivery exist and are not being used, a local authority/government department ought to be looking closely at itself and asking why not? Even if the digital options won’t reduce staff (probably pared to the bone already, of course), they may add value, permit easy access to information previously too time-consuming to collate, etc. And if the case in point is a service where it’s clear the public are willing, able and even clamouring to be able to access by digital means, the business case that says “Nope, not for us, thanks” is going to be worth scrutiny, to say the least.

    However, the biggest challenge to me seems to be avoiding ill thought-out forays into digital for services where the service users involved are unwilling, unable and not asking for it.


  7. I think if in an ideal world all services where using digital and understand it, embrace it, embed it then there will be a difficulty in managing expectations of our customers, a smaller local/central gov world will add more pressure to manage this. The other issue would be that we will lose the interpersonal skills developed by offline conversations.

  8. We need a trusted identity that a citizen can use for all public sector services. It has to be inclusive of LAs, GPs, HMRC, DWP, voluntary sector, services outsourced to private sector et cetera. The technology standards and products are available for federation – but agencies have to trust every other agencies’ enrollment processes. I believe that this will not happen unless there is parliamentary political pressure.

      1. The standards are in place. The technology is proven. But there aren’t enough agencies implementing them and insisting that suppliers follow the standards.

  9. The biggest challenges are to make digital services:

    1) User centric, not built around the needs of an organisation, or just an add on to an existing system but designed around how the users’ needs which leads on to…

    2) Device centric, responsive and usable on the device that their being accessed via, given (anecdotally) around 25% of users already access council websites on a mobile device.

    I’ve seen many cases of getting stuff online as a box ticking exercise rather than a real attempt to deliver quality digital services, and blogged about it here.


    There also needs to be an acceptance from officers that digital is part of their day-to-day work, where appropriate. I’ve heard that some Local Authorities may have, or are looking at separate digital service delivery teams. For me, this isn’t the way to go and it’s a bit like having a a Customer Services for phone calls, another for email and so on.

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