The capabilities for digital local public services – education

Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous post about Connectivity. This post focuses on Education and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines Education as:

Education: Provide access to training and technical support for users to become comfort-able and proficient. Enable a mind shift in citizens that value learning, connecting and communicating through technology, and that recognise the business and other opportunities of expanding Internet participation.

So this post will focus on some basic ideas and build on existing stuff that is happening now.

Most of what needs to be done here around people and skills is happening to some degree, although the key missing point in the wider Education is that we are currently not really educating people to access and meet service needs themselves – a bit of a comms and marketing job required as well as actual education in terms of being able to help themselves.

The really good stuff that is happening locally for people and communities such as social media surgeries, digital mentors etc need to be scaled wider and more quickly. This can and should link with schools as pretty much every school primary and secondary have access to computers and the internet, also libraries could and do already play a key role here.

The real challenge is providing a wider context for people to actually want to learn and engage with the internet in its broadest context, plus we need to ensure that those people who we essentially classify as digitally excluded are engaged in the education in some way.

There is a long way to go before we can get to a pervasive and ubiquitous climate – however what we need is for this to happen more visibly in peoples communities.

So my basic idea here is that we try and create opportunities for people to problem solve and understand how the internet can play a role in that – it doesn’t require people to directly have access to the internet now or understand it but it does require people to come together and help solve local problems and to understand through that how the internet can help transform how those problems can be met.

My recent experience with XJamGov was a similar thing, in that there were people there who whilst having smartphones etc, weren’t always looking to the internet to solve the problem, more that they focused on what needed to be done and then through conversation, exploration and prototyping came to understand how the internet could play a role.

These activities and events can in turn help others understand how the internet can help solve problems in a practical way and how there is still a major need for real people to play critical roles in digital public service provision.

I’d also like to see schools play a greater role in helping people access and understand the internet – As a parent I’m always hearing how my kids use the internet and digital technologies to help them through their work, they understand – even if they can’t articulate it – that the internet is a resource, a platform and a tool to help solve problems.

We should open this process up and be more inclusive in how we engage schools and communities in solving problems…after all they are the future users of all these services.

The 2.0 club, future of local government and white board paper!

On Tuesday I attended a meeting with colleagues at the Met Office and Gov 2.0 radio crew (John Wells and Allison Hornery).

It was a great opportunity to meet John and Allison face to face for the first time as well as have some interesting conversations and discussion. I really enjoyed listening to them and they reminded me of some simple truths as well as enlightening me with some insights.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Michael Saunby from the Met Office (a real geek as well, in a good way) – he was knowledgable, passionate and his enthusiasm was infectious. His attitude inspired me to be that bit more bold, bit more persistent and to continue nudging people across the council.

So what did I take from the session, well more than I expected really, so I’m going to take each thing in turn.

The power of story telling

Now working in communications you’d think story telling was something we did all the time, well I don’t think we tell stories in the way they need to be told in order to really create some social impact…in some cases we do, but on the whole we report council news, release political updates, report policy or issue statements. We are changing this and I’m almost being unfair on what my colleagues do, but I hope that this post will explain why I’m saying this.

Local government is considered the most efficient part of the public sector, it may not feel that way to some working in it, but Its approach to overheads, shared services, senior salaries and procurement put central government’s approach to shame.

It’s also considered the most trusted part of government. It is the most obvious place where genuine and meaningful democratic discussion and debate with citizens and users about how the wider public service offer can best be delivered. But this is in the context of severe budget pressures, modelled up to 2018/2019 where the sector is pretty much going to be in a position to only fund social care!!

One of the key challenges we have in addressing this future is by fundamentally rethinking how we deliver and ensure services are provided where they are needed.

This is where story telling comes in for me, the shift that will take place over he next few years will be radical, rapid and far-reaching and doesn’t just require a change in thinking about responsibilities and services from the public sector but also citizens, communities and individual people need to rethink their role in society. We need to find, share and tell the stories of our communities, of our services, of our people to influence a wider shift in society to even consider being able to address the future challenges.

When John was sharing his insights on story telling and gov2.0 in its broadest sense he reminded me of the 3 components of social impact driven out of the book “the tipping point” by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.) John pointed out that you need:

  • knowledge (mavens)
  • story tellers (salesmen)
  • networkers (connectors)

Without these three components (and the book cites many examples of this) effective large-scale social impact isn’t really achievable.

We need to decide what role we play in any given situation, sometimes we will be more than one, but my view is that as a sector we certainly can’t be all three. So we need to ensure that we connect with the right networks, understand where the local knowledge hubs in communities are and who the local story tellers are…So coming back to my comment about whether I’m being unfair on my colleagues, I know that they understand this wider context and challenge and we are changing the way we work so we can start to contribute to telling these stories. So it isn’t unfair, more of a healthy reminder to us all.

We underestimate the role of citizens and education in shaping the future of public services

I’m not one for staying focused on the doom and gloom of the future – where some may see a dire situation, I see opportunity.
I hear lots from people across the public sector referring to engaging with citizens, co-designing services and all of the other collaborative methods – but we don’t hear much about citizens designing services with themselves at the core of the delivery – I know there are many examples but the overall focus still seems to put local government and other public sector organisations in a default position as service provider – but with a new redesigned view of it.

Looking ahead however that simply isn’t going to cut it, local government can’t be considered the default service provider – citizens, communities and individuals will need to think long and hard about the real needs they have and how these can be met. Even commissioning isn’t going to go far enough in my view…the future will be very, VERY different.

The reason I also refer to education (schools) is that as a father of two young children, I started to think about what opportunities there were in education to create and foster a new level of social awareness and responsibility – I mean beyond the basic citizenship stuff you hear about – I mean developing core competences such as resilience, responsiveness, creativity and social entrepreneurial skills. I also have to think long and hard about my role as a parent and what behaviours I model. As Spiderman said “with great power comes great responsibility” :).

About 12 years ago I used to work as a sustainable development project officer and the majority of what people were saying then is what we should already be doing (the difference now is technology really isn’t a barrier any more), I just hope that as a society we actually make the right choices over the coming years and look at our own impact not just in environment terms but what impact we have in and on our communities.

A lick of paint simply isn’t enough

So two things have happened recently that have really confirmed this view in my eyes.

1) We recently put some white board paper up in the office as we weren’t allowed a white board…that single act of creating a visually creative space changed the way I viewed our space at work and has already reaped benefits which simply weren’t there before…there is something about having space to draw, doodle, share ideas and sometimes technology isn’t the answer as there are lots of online tools that could have done this for us.

2) During my trip to the met office we got to visit the Think Space room which basically was a boring meeting room refurbished into a truly creative space, comfy chairs, white boards, flip charts, mini pool table…the kind of place that invite and stimulate conversation, which it did, we only went to view, but spent nearly an hour having a reflective conversation as well as a really good discussion about innovation and change.
My point here is that we need to do more than simply paint an office – we need to also create the right environment to allow people to be creative, innovative and think differently. This is a challenge when the current thinking is we need to get as many people into our offices as possible to help us reduce the amount of properties we operate from, therefore saving money!!

As a school governor of a primary school I’ve been lucky enough to experience a school where each class has a role play area, not just the young kids (key stage 1) but throughout the whole school. The benefit of this is that children learn best through play, acting out experiences and making sense of the world around them. It truly is a wonderful thing to see and to hear about.

My point is that the physical environment is a key part of this and we shouldn’t underestimate the role this has in enabling people to discover and imagine a new future.

This also goes for our community spaces, not just the offices we work in…I sometimes wonder whether we have lost our natural desire to be explorers, innovators and community driven people. But maybe people simply feel disconnected to those things by the sterile nature of our streets, towns, villages and office spaces.

In a previous post I referred to a video of John Tolver (CTO of the City of Chicago) and the difference in his role where he takes a truly enterprise wide view of technology…it goes beyond his organisational barriers and into the wider community. His role and the people who created it, realise that fostering a new society as well as transforming the council go hand in hand.