The future trajectory of society and digital technology is not only changing the way we interact with government – it is forcing us to reconsider what government is actually for and what role it should play in our daily lives.
Head of User Engagement
B.Eng Computing (Imperial College, London)
Digital strategy, user experience, information
architecture, usability, accessibility, mobile,
Outside work: cooking, rowing, fencing
Neither I, nor Reading Room, work directly with GDS.
I do not claim to have any special knowledge of their
forward plans for Gov.UK – this is my own opinions and
mental wanderings about the future.
“Information technology is changing our lives:
the way we work, the way we do business, the
way we communicate with each other, how we
spend our time. New technology offers
opportunities and choice. It can give us access to
services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It
will make our lives easier.”
Anyone hazard a guess at when this statement was made?
“We must modernise the business of government
itself - achieving joined up working between
different parts of government and providing new,
efficient and convenient ways for citizens and
businesses to communicate with government and to
We propose that 50% of dealings should be
capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100%
The Modernising Government White Paper, 1999
It’s from the original Modernising Government White Paper of 1999.
The vision they set out for why government should invest in digital is equally valid
Right lads… you heard the man, everyone get online!
2500 government websites were online by 2005
There are only 24 government departments (plus agencies)
That’s more than 100 websites per department
Then she got involved…
The combination of the financial crisis, election of the coalition and
government cuts led to a rethink on the way government does things online.
Martha Lane Fox was brought in to review the strategy – she proposed a very
different and ambitious vision…
So, what does the future of
online government look
Let’s look again at the original vision.
It showed up a serious issues for the public sector – they like to plan in
decades – digital changes constantly
“We know that we cannot picture now exactly what
information age government will look like in 2008. The
pace of technological change is fast and exhilarating.
Business will be transformed by e-commerce. Before
2008, there will be further technological breakthroughs which cannot be foreseen now. (In 1978, some
commentators might not even have predicted the
personal computer, let alone the Internet.)”
The Modernising Government White Paper, 1999
Trying to predict the future is what tonight is all about
Let’s give it a try…
The near future…
Some things that have already started and I think will catch on
COULD BE BETTER:
Quick reference guide to
government information and
Strategic communications tool
change in key audiences
Interactive applications that
help people do stuff
First lets recognise what Gov.UK is already doing well, and where
there is room for improvement (IMHO)
A different model of communications
Government strategic communication strategy is shifting from publisher to
trusted content provider
Engage with people in the places they are already congregating
Public and private sector intermediaries will provide the audience, amplify
the message and provide “value add” public services
“Government approved” becomes a trust mark
Times Educational Supplement is an example of a potential intermediary in the
1 in 3 teachers and school leaders use their forums on a regular basis.
If you want to talk to a community of teachers – Times Educational Supplement
already has that community – don’t try to compete with them, you won’t win.
Future USP for government agencies: trusted data interpreter
Government sites need to help people to make sense of ever growing
amounts of information and data – what is relevant / important?
An over-reliance on PDF publications is holding many back
In the early days of open-data – corporate sector developers were seen as
being the answer, but they will only act if there is a commercial advantage
The European Environment Agency is an example of a government agency
that recognises that data is its most important asset, and access to and
interpretation of data is a core service.
From Smart-tech to Smart-citizens
Open-data from government is powering a revolution – open-data
from citizens is the next wave
Geolocated data submission from citizens using smart-phones, tablets,
wearable tech, and embedded tech
....neighbourhood watch on steroids
SeeClickFix is a system for reporting low-level crime, civic repair requests and
In the UK – FixMyStreet provides a similar reporting interface, but the innovation
with SeeClickFix is that anyone can setup an area that they are watching – and then
be notified of any reports in their zone.
We’re all sick of seeing people’s posts about “Ian just ran 5km and felt great!”
What if we paired social updates with citizen reporting and gamified it using
And if citizens start using tech to report back personal data – what
planning and management tools would this enable?
Is Government ready for the live citizen data revolution?
For most people in most circumstances
their ideal government is invisible
I buy a flight to America, the booking system
automatically checks if my passport is still valid
and if I have a valid visa.
Finding I don’t have a visa, it completes the
application for me and the visa is automatically
added to my online passport file.
It only contacts me if there was a problem.
Is that so crazy?
Online government services could become
better by being less visible. Only bothering
citizens if they have to – if they need more
input, or if there is a problem.
As UX guru Alan Cooper once put it:
“People’s ideal interface is one where their goals are
achieved almost by magic …. No matter how
wonderful your interface is, less of it would always
Digital technology threatens and tests the
boundaries of the nation state
Big corporations pay no tax. Global government efforts to close
loopholes resulted in the corporations sending their servers into
near earth orbit where they cannot be touched.
In a continued attempt to censor the web – China imprisons 3
men who developed VPN software that allows people to bypass
the Great Fire-Wall. The source code is now in the wild and has
been downloaded by thousands of developers.
14% of the health service budget now comes from sales of
licensed narcotics and hang-over free alcohol through “Govdrop”, a third generation take on the Silk Road site that grabbed
headlines ten years ago.
Which of these is the craziest approach?
From the MI5 raid on the Guardian where they
smashed physical hard-drives to the attempts to
prevent file-sharing online through sites like Napster –
what we have seen is that old-world thinking often
struggles to control digital problems.
Conversely where digital change has been embraced it
has often had more success.
Napster was quickly replaced, but Spotify has done
more to reduce illegal file-sharing than any of the high
profile enforcement cases.
Maybe a future government-sanctioned ‘Silk Road’ isn’t
that crazy after all.
The community hive-mind
Researchers are working on
thought controlled devices
What if government had live
data on how the populous
The politics of the crowd can produce dangerous results
Sometimes government needs to listen to its citizens.
But sometimes it needs to help society to move on.
Would we have made the leaps forward in gender, race or sexual
equality that we have if the majority opinion won every time?
The future trajectory of society and digital
technology is not only changing the way we
interact with government – it is forcing us to
reconsider what government is actually for and
what role it should play in our daily lives.
There are few certainties for where we are collectively
heading. We cannot get off the wave – instead government
organisations must learn to work in a constantly changing
landscape enabled by digital transformation and an
increasingly networked world.
Further writing from me