Thoughts on Public Sector Online 2008


Yesterday i attended Public Sector Online 2008, this time though as a speaker, which was exciting and challenging even to me, who can talk for days on end about anything really (given the chance).

However, whilst the conference was great and very valuable, i found the previous nights conversation over a few beers near Piccadilly Circus with Jeremy Gould (Whitehall Webby) personally more beneficial. I say this because whilst the conference gave lots of varied perspectives and information, a one to one conversation for about 3 and bit hours was naturally better and more free flowing….anyway on to the conference itself. Not being a formal delegate did mean that i could float around a bit, not sure if that was what they wanted me to do but it was great to go where the conversations were leading me.

The agenda as like most was speakers for most of the morning with a couple of breakout sessions before lunch and then more breakout sessions after lunch (mine was at this time) and then final speakers and closing remarks….nothing different there then…

The chair for the day was David Dinsdale, Director for This was a really interesting opening session not just because of what he was saying about increasing customer satisfaction but looking at my notes i have clearly written in big bold letter “HEINZ IS THE BENCHMARK FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION”.

This was because David was explaining that in the USA Heinz was the highest rated company for customer satisfaction over and above Amazon and other big players like eBay.

Personally i have never been dis-satisfied with a tin of baked beans or any other Heinz product. The lessons are that how do they achieve that and how can we in the public sector evolve and perhaps shift our thinking to increase the satisfaction ratings and in particular online?

Another note which stands out is “IF CARLSBERG DID WEBSITES”….one to think about i guess, the concept not the beer itself.

Next up was Sharon Cooper, Director, Proposition Strategy and Product Design –

My first thought was, I love the job titles and the level of importance they place on the web channel, i think we need to raise the level of corporate web managers or at least responsibility within local government to ensure that it is at least 2nd or 3rd tier management. Something to think about anyway.

The most significant thing for me hearing Sharon was probably something, she hadn’t intended to be a key point but it really struck home and i believe can help shift local government websites into a more service focus. Sharon stated “DirectGov is a Service Website and not a Political Website”. This is the reason i believe directgov works for many people, it only has services and things to actually do on it.  It isn’t cluttered up with pages and pages of political information, which is important but not something you are interested in when wanting to report a pothole or pay school meals. Contrast that with the huge list of expectations put on a local authority website and in particular the homepage.

Perhaps what we need to do in local government is to separate our websites or main navigation options and provide one which is clearly about the organisation and the political aspects, decision making, democracy, participation etc. The other would focus only on transactional services for audience types. I’m not sure how this would work in practice, but it could help drive take-up if people could easily find and use these services.

We were now on a bit of a roll and it was the turn of Robin Christopherson, Head of Accessibility Services, AbilityNet. Now i’m not sure what to say about this bit, because it was so visually powerful watching Robin, who is vision impaired, demonstrate websites and some web 2.0 functionality using the Jaws screen reader.  If you get a chance to speak to Robin i would recommend it. In the spirit of what Robin demonstrated i have managed to locate some videos on youtube that go some way to demonstrating Robins simple but powerful points. We ALL need to take accessibility more seriously.

Caroline talks about her experience of using a computer – abilitynet

A screen reader user on equal access to the web – abilitynet

Web Accessibility – through the “eyes” of a screen reader – designforusers

Web Accessibility – a world denied – abilitynet

Up next next was Vicky Sargent – Socitm

Vicky spoke about the work that socitm have done in measuring take-up and satisfaction of local authority websites. Interesting stuff and one comment in particular again struck a chord. This is my summary – the web channel should be managed by the head of customer services to ensure that all channels are managed and co-ordinated together. Customer Service Centres can provide opportunities to feed the website design and to support the overall strategy to reduce avoidable contact.

Mid morning arrived and tea/coffee was very much in demand.

On to the first of the breakout groups, i decided to choose the workshop “Delivering value through web 2.0 technology and Communities of Practice (CoP)“, mainly because i met Steve Dale, who leads on the CoP for the IDeA and he was running the workshop.

Steve gave an introduction to what CoP was and that it was free for people to register providing they were in the public sector. After all we already pay for it through the top sliced funding to the IDea anyway – Steve also highlighted some key components of a what makes a “community”

  • People
  • Domain of interest
  • Place to meet
  • Someone to Facilitate (i believe not all communities require this aspect, but it does help to keep things going)

The best thing for me to do here is to say go and check it out – IDea Community of Practice

This session was then repeated but i decided to prepare for my session. So i sat down with Jeremy and we chatted about what we both might say later.

After lunch it was my turn, my session was entitled “Implementing Social Networking”, the interesting aspect to this was that the organisers decided to record the speakers so that they could be accessed by all after the event. More to come on this once i find out if i can share the login details via this blog.

My presentation is below and the video clip of Phil Norrey Chief Executive of Devon County Council talking about our use and progress is available below as well

Implementing Social Networking

Phil Norrey, Chief Executive Devon County Council – Video clip

On a personal note, i really enjoyed the session, i hope that the people who attended managed to gain some insights and learning from what we are doing, it is hard to try and pitch a presentation which can be broad enough for anyone in the public sector as well as being specific enough for those in local government to take stuff away. I hope i succeeded.

The last session of the day contained 2 sets of speakers, first up was Stephen Dodson, National Director DC10Plus.

I was a bit late to this session due to conversations about the presentation i did.

a few keys points i made a note of.

lost opportunity to provide a connected digital provision when set top boxes were not installed with a 2 way connection

pay your car tax online cost 38million pounds?? still it is probably one of the best online services around, we recently did this ourselves and i must admit, it was excellent and the tax disc arrived in the post 2 days later… I wonder whether the expectation is so high because before it was soooo painful and time consuming!!

The last bit which was interesting was a 3 c’s concept – connectivity, capability and content. ok i suppose but where would community fit with this.

The last session was a panel made up of Willie Paul – Scottish Government, Jeremy GouldMinistry of Justice and Henry Scowcroft – Cancer Research UK

Willie was up first and was explaining what “new” means and how this fits with “new” web 2.0 technology stuff.

Jeremy did a traditional speaker role and had no slides and talked about people, community and participation and not about technology, web 2.0 and solutions. This was a great contrast to most of the day and one which i thought summed up how for most people, there seems to be a seduction by new technologies for new technologies sake. What Jeremy was saying was focus on the people and the problems and use what is appropriate. Try these new tools for yourself before you tell other people to use them, know what it means to blog, twitter, flickr etc.

Henry talked about the Cancer research science blog they have set up. It is great to see such positive use of blogging tools and one which for me seems to play an important role for those who have questions around cancer. I can’t recommend this blog enough, go and visit it and see how it helps and complements their work and other websites.

As part of the closing remarks it was mentioned that Kable the event organisers will set up a Community of Practice, where the discussions started at teh event can continue. why don’t you sign up and contribute as well…