#localgov – customers vs active citizens

To some people this may seem like a pointless semantic issue around the use of the words “customer” and “citizen” but I think it is actually quite an important issue.

Some basic points first around definitions:

  • Customer = A person that buys or obtains goods or services from another.
  • Active Citizen = a citizen who takes an active role in the community.

Thinking about the future (something I’m doing quite frequently at the moment) I’ve been considering the language we use when talking about how we need to re-imagine and reposition local public services.

I posted previously on the role of content, stories, networks, relationships and trust however in all of this the outcomes we need to foster and encourage are that of active citizens and not more customers…

In an ideal situation we would want people to identify a local issue, connect with others in their community, other networks and seek to solve the problem directly. If that requires funding then they should be connected to funding sources, local public services businesses etc to help move it forward.

Only in the end if the issue can’t be solved should the local authority be contacted for help and assistance and when you contact them, the experience needs to be excellent and delightful.

But if we think customers first then we will maintain the view that everyone in the community is a default customer and we will not see the opportunities to transform and empower local people and communities to help themselves.

This is and will be a major challenge for people in terms of thinking differently as people have spent a good number of years hearing many people say we should be customer centric, customer focused and customer driven, which if you are still providing services is naturally the right thing to do…but the question is whether you are actually still delivering services in order to put customers first?

So the challenge for local public service providers is that we need to have two levels of thinking and two levels of transformation.

One thing for me that hasn’t happened often enough and doesn’t seem to be the focus of much conversation that I’m connected to right now is the overall framework that local public services sit within.

The issue with the majority of thinking right now is that it appears to be about doing better within the current local services framework which we know isn’t fit for purpose in the coming years – so we simply end up doing what we know will fail better as opposed to doing things completely differently.

So what is happening about what a new framework might need to look like and what is needs to enable. The two levels of thinking that needs to go on within local public services right now in my opinion are:

  • A strategic level – What is the strategic framework and how can we start to shape it (policy, infrastructure, environment, political etc) which local public services reside and how does that empower, encourage and provoke active citizens.
  • An Operational level – For service providers at what ever level, how do you design, provide and deliver services with and for users (customers)

Most thinking is naturally in the second level as this is where most people are and where most people feel able to affect change. So this isn’t wrong but it does mean that we need to ensure that the first level of thinking is happening and those people who can and are able to influence and shape it are connected and networked together.

As I’ve said before none of this is going to be easy and it shouldn’t be easy…but people do need to recognise their own responsibility in helping to shape the above levels and as organisations we need to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.







I’ve read with interest the articles/blog posts (listed at the bottom of this post) about the interesting move by Takeo City in Japan, who have made the bold decision to move their entire council website to facebook.

On face value it would be easy to argue that this is a very bold move and one which will signal a new revolution in how councils around the world decide the future fate of their corporate websites…..


You could argue that they have taken the easier and slightly more riskier approach and put faith in Mark Zuckerberg who is now in some strange way their website provider? What service level do they have with him, what happens when facebook change their terms and conditions and it becomes somewhere people avoid…what about google plus…twitter, linkedin….amazon even…


You could argue that they lack ambition, strategy and execution to resolve the issues that they state are the reasons behind the move…

Takeo officials said move to Facebook is due to the difficulties to share information in the existing website while the city page on Facebook provides citizens with engagement options through it’s “like” buttons, comments, messaging and chat.

”For this reason, there was some opposition as it would limit access to city information for some citizens. But since we were considering the shift, Facebook changed its rules to make pages viewable to anybody, and from that point on it was a go.”

Now I’m not a huge fan of big corporate Content Management Platforms, but I am aware that with very little money and some good tactical choices you could easily build in engagement directly into a corporate platform….after all the UK Government is doing this in some of its sites already…..AlphaGov, Number 10 etc

Another reason cited was that the Mayor wasn’t keen on receiving comments on the main website from people who use anonymous names and handles. This is an interesting point of view and one for which i do sympathise but you could consider facebook connect, open ID, which could achieve similar outcomes. Is this reason enough to move your entire website across to facebook….

An interesting side benefit which I’ve yet to read is that I’m sure it is far easier for the council to manage a facebook page than a traditional council website…the cost is free, the platform is social, it is easy to publish, the residents are “likely” to be online and they don’t have to deal with ICT colleagues (just kidding 🙂 ), they can avoid the “press release” home page, they have a mobile version as well as apps etc which present there data….I can see that the decision for some people was probably easier than it should have been.

But what about transactions, what about insight and analytic’s, what about customer experience and brand reputation…after all every page is still under the Facebook logo…but maybe that doesn’t matter anymore…

One of the interesting aspects of this move is that Takeo have started a discussion about why council websites need to exist and what role they should serve…Andrea Di Maio of Gartner states:

…..The point is that it is possible to get rid of the web site, and even more of those government portals that aim at providing a life event view of services and information to citizens and enterprises and almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.

Think about it.

  • Citizens who are occasional, infrequent users of a government website or portal, will most likely search for what they need: whether on an external search engine (more likely) or on the web site itself, they are not looking for a fancy, consistent interface that takes them through the “logical” steps, but just for effective search results.
  • Citizens who are more regular users, as they have periodic administrative obligations or have the right to periodic benefits, may either use intermediaries or expect those interactions to be modeled around what they see as the “logical” steps (e.g. integrated with their on-line banking access as well as their social networking connections) rather than what government believes are the logical steps.
  • Small business are likely to behave like the citizens above, while larger businesses want to run applications that do integrate with web services provided by the relevant authorities they interact with, so they are not likely to be interested in the web sites either.
  • Last but not least, anything that smells “participation” or “engagement” needs to take place on a mainstream social media platform, possibly on the citizens’ own virtual turf (i.e. their groups, their blogs, their Facebook pages) rather than on the governments’ one.

Now in part I kind of agree with the spirit of what Andrea says but the Takeo example for me is not the answer and nor is removing local government websites altogether….

We do need to rethink what local government websites do and how they are built from the bottom up to allow for much more interaction, openness and transparency.

I’d like to think that the data and content can sit anywhere but is managed from a single place….moving to facebook should not be a permanent option but “renting” or simply “having an enhanced presence” certainly seems sensible.

Related posts:

How to tell if your organisation is ready for change!

The following is speculation and i can not at this stage back any of this up. However i do fundamentally believe in what i am about to post.

In the current economic climate there are huge pressures to reduce costs and to increase value and this often leads organisations to either announce “radical” changes or even large scale “transformation” programmes. You can see it in all aspects of society and government and it features quite heavily in all political manifestos to some degree.

However how can you really tell if an organisation is really up for “radical” change or “transformation”? There a few ways in which you can do this but i want to suggest a simple measure.

If an organisation is seriously considering the use of Social Software to improve ALL aspects of their business then i believe that they are serious about “radical transformation”

Now i don’t mean organisations who on face value seem like they are doing stuff but when you scratch the surface all you see is one person working very hard to make it work (Long live these people by the way). But i suspect that if they left then the desire to continue would also leave with them.

The reason i say this is because to fully embrace the adoption of social software means that you are prepared to fundamentally review your business strategy, business structure, engagement strategy, communications strategy, knowledge management strategy, workforce development strategy and your ICT strategy. It will mean a fundamental review of your organisations current thinking. This is the radical transformation that will be required to fully embrace and adopt social software platforms.

The organisations who are prepared to do this, in my opinion will be the ones who succeed and not just succeed but build sustainable relationships with staff and customers.

Ok so a simple test maybe but one i believe will give a measure at least as to how ambitious and transformational a particular organisation wants to be.

Effective Social Media & Web 2.0 Strategies for Local Authorities on April 30th, 2009.

Yesterday (30th April) i attended as a delegate the PSF event “Effective Social media and Web 2.0 strategies” at Old Trafford, Manchester.

The event was really good and i always seem to gain insights at PSF events and meet good people trying to get stuff done and others who have made some really good progress.

The great thing about the event was that they captured the twitter conversations, slides, photos etc on a website “live” throughout the day.

The website “PSF Buzz” is an excellent model and one which other conference organisers could and should start doing as well as a way of sharing the collective knowledge of the day and the insights people have as the day develops.

I recommend checking the site out and participating where you can in future conversations via twitter or via blogs.

You could also check out the vox pops that were done during the day.

Looking at twitter search for #psfbuzz – you need not worry about taking comprehensive notes as the conversations provide great views from the  many different perspectives and are enough to remind those who were there and to stimulate those who weren’t.

Well done to the speakers and the organisers for a good day.

The Social, Mobile Web: An Entourage In Your Pocket

Very interesting stuff about future of social media and convergence with mobile web.

It is something that you can imagine but yet find it hard to really picture how it would feel to have that “community” in your pocket.

The power and potential as Jeremiah suggests is limitless.

The thought is that everyone will feel just a bit more secure and confident knowing they can instantly access their community.

The Social, Mobile Web: An Entourage In Your Pocket – Jeremiah Owyang.