New Report: Future Shock Avoidance

From the highest level of decision-making to the front line of service delivery, we cannot just assume we know the nature of people’s problems and what solutions would be best for them. Steve Hilton in “More Human”

When we launched the Citizen20Series website in May 2015 we commenced a series of interviews with people in government, and in business. We have interviewed citizen activists, academics, politicians, consultants and civil servants. Many of the interviews have been featured on the website citizen20series.com

In most of the conversations we’ve had we’ve been trying to answer one particular question: how should government do a better job at engaging with citizens?

Some of the people we interviewed questioned the logic of this. For example, Dr Donald Norris, Professor and Head of the Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, questioned whether citizens really wanted better relationships with government. They might want to get some simple information or transact in some way. And technology has helped to make the process of information provision and transaction rather easier. But, in Dr Norris’ view, the grand vision for digital government hasn’t really materialized.

To an extent this failure to deliver can be explained by history. Until fairly recently, politicians and civil servants defined the nature of the relationship between government and citizen. Taxes are collected and public services are provided. Therefore, citizen focused services have not really been the policy focus. And, perhaps, digital government never really addressed citizen needs anyway.

But this simple idea of service payer and service provider is changing. Several factors are playing a part in undermining the historically simple contract between citizen and government. And, inevitably, this will mean that the relationship will change. In fact it’s already happening – shockingly fast.

Read the full report. 

Citizen Participation and Tech

This article was first published on Citizen2015.com

One of the most prolific writers and researchers on the subject of technology and citizen participation is Tiago Peixoto at the World Bank.

Tiago focuses on democratic participation and the effect that technology can have on better participation in elections or consultation exercises. But he also makes the point very effectively – especially in this presentation – that once citizens are encouraged to participate (in any way) they tend to keep doing it. And if the technologists can point at good outcomes then civil servants will be more likely to keep investing.

For example, he uses the example of Fix My Street to show how citizens who use the service (created by MySociety, not a government department) and get a result (such as a fixed hole in a road) tend to have a greater likelihood of participating in other ways.

Similarly, anecdotal evidence suggests that the very high turnout in the recent Scottish referendum was fuelled in no small part by a vast amount of social media chatter – especially within younger age-groups.  Similarly, the turnout in the recent UK general election – tipped to be knife-edge in terms of outcome – resulted in much greater social media dialog and an increase in turnout compared to the last general election in 2010.

Therefore one type of participation can fuel another. And democracy doesn’t start and stop with elections – rather elections are just one part of the citizen to government participation continuum.

Tiago suggests that part of the reason for poor participation and engagement with technology based solutions can be explained by a focus on technology itself rather than clearly articulated outcomes. Often technology based participation efforts have no obvious goals, are badly designed and do nothing to ‘deepen democracy’.

However, there are lots of very clear outcomes that can be aspired to. For example, he points to reductions in tax evasion or reduced infant mortality rates as the types of outcome that civil servants can set themselves.

In short, some citizen participation projects are clearly better than others. The good ones clearly do good things for the citizens that use them. The effect of these good things is more engagement and deepened democracy.

Citizen 2015 is a great example of how we build rich, research-led assets for client companies that result in engaged communities focused on subjects of common interest. This article is one of dozens more that we write for an international client base.  

Smart and Sustainable: Future Cities

Jeff Peel, MD of Quadriga Consulting, was recently interviewed by Bruce Rogers of Forbes about Future Cities.

Here’s an excerpt…

Bruce: Jeff, do you get the impression that everyone is jumping on the ‘smart cities’ idea? 

It certainly seems to be flavor of the month.  Part of the reason seems to be that many technology companies have been focusing on the idea of smart cities.  It has become a very convenient way to sell big ticket solutions to city and regional authorities.  But I think the message is getting through that smart city initiatives need to be about more than creating a few apps or creating some type of city information portal or congestion charging system.  Smart cities aren’t just about technology.  In fact the smartest cities are the ones that are beginning to focus on how they sustain themselves for the future.  That will take much more than simply a web site and a few apps.  It’s about considering how cities will cope in terms of being attractive places in which to live – and in a way that’s affordable for city authorities.  The process of thinking about these things in concert has to start sooner rather than later.