Political Innovation no1: Towards Interactive Government

This is a guest cross-post by Tim Davies – originally posted on the Political Innovation site here:

The communication revolution that we’ve undergone in recent years has two big impacts:

  • It changes what’s possible. It makes creating networks between people across organisations easier; it opens new ways for communication between citizens and state; it gives everyone who wants it a platform for global communication; and it makes it possible to discover local online dialogue.
  • It changes citizen expectations of government. When I can follow news from my neighbour’s blog on my phone, why can’t I get updates on local services on the mobile-web? When I can e-mail someone across the world and be collaborating on a document in minutes, why is it so hard to have a conversation with the council down the road? And when brands and mainstream media are doing interactivity and engagement – why are government departments struggling with it so much?

Right now, government is missing out on significant cost saving and service-enhancing benefits from new forms of communication and collaboration. But the answers are not simply about introducing new technology – they are to be found in intentional culture change: in creating the will and the opportunity for interactive government.

There are three things we need to focus on:

  • Culture change. Although there are pockets of interactivity breaking out across the public sector, it’s often counter-cultural and ‘underground’. Most staff feel constrained to work with tools given to them by IT departments, and to focus on official lines more than open conversations. Creating a culture of interactivity needs leadership from the top, and values that everyone can sign up to.
  • Removing the barriers. There are literally hundreds of small daily frustrations and barriers that can get in the way of interactive government. It might be the inability of upload a photo to an online forum (interactive government has human faces…), or consent and moderation policies that cover everyone’s backs but don’t allow real voices to be heard. Instead of ignoring these barriers, we need to overcome them – to rethink them within an interactive culture that can make dialogue and change a top priority.
  • Solving tough problems. Public service is tough: it has to deal with political, democratic and social pressures that would make most social media start-ups struggle. We need to think hard about how interactive technology and interactive ways of working play out in the tough cases that the public sector deals in every day.

The Interactive Charter is a project to explore how exactly we go about making government into interactive government. It’s got three parts:

  • Creating a pledge – The ‘Interactive Charter’ will be a clear statement that any organization (or senior manager within an organization) can sign up to say something along the lines of “I want my organization to get interactivity; and I’ll commit to overcoming the barriers to interactive ways of working”. With a promise and commitment from the top removing the barriers should get a lot easierOf course to just hand down a pledge wouldn’t be very interactive, so we’re drafting it on Mixed Ink.
  • Naming the problems…and overcoming them – We’ve already made a start over on the Interactive Charter wiki, but we would love you to join in suggesting practical challenges, and practical solutions, to interactive and digital working in government.
  • Putting it into practice – We want to pilot the approach: getting top-level support, and removing the barriers to interactivity from the ground up. Could your organization be part of that?

So, if you’ve got a vision for more interactive government, you can share it by redrafting the current pledge. And if you’ve faced or solved problems around interactive government, help shape the body of knowledge around each of the barriers and their solutions on the wiki. Of course, you could also just drop in comments over on the Political Innovation blog…

About Political Innovation

We’d be very interested to hear any ideas that you have for an essay of your own – we’ll need an email and we’ll want to discuss it with you before it goes on the site. All contributions will be archived on www.politicalinnovation.org – along with details of what we’re looking for from essayists and a bunch of FAQs and a guide to how we hope the whole thing will play out.

I hope you’ll get involved in this as a commenter, participant or maybe even as an essayist. Make sure you don’t miss anything by joining our Google Group, subscribing to the blog RSS feed, getting each post emailed to you and, of course, following us on Twitter andFacebook.

  • Alan Maskey

    Pau: If people were to do all you ask, particularly in your last paragraph, would you not be taking over their lives the way email, Facebook and Twitter currently does – and yahoo, when you download or install some software?

    And, for these initiatives to be really successful, do they not need to have a centre, a leader, a hub? Just like the political parties and media. Do they not have an iinsurmountable advantage in all this?

  • Mick Fealty

    It might not be obvious, but it is Tim Davis not Paul speaking there… will try and reformat…

  • Anon

    You can read your neighbours blog because someone has invested in producing the technology and your neighbour doesn’t have legacy systems to interact with and ti’s extremely chepa for him to produce. This all costs money. Not impossible amounts of money, but significant amounts of money, because you need new software, new processes, new safeguards, interaction with legacy systems, training and lots more. Many businesses struggle with this stuff, which is why they are so many consultants about.

    The public sector could of course lead in these types of innovation. The BBC these days does quite a lot of nice stuff. But people are 1. reluctant to give the money 2. happy to moan about spending on consultants and software 3. happy to abuse the privileges granted with inane requests and the like.

    All this stuff you could do is very nice. And I’m sure there’ll be some ideas that will make the policy wonks here cry with joy. But what is need is not charters. It’s a budget. And some leeway in spending it working these things out. Aside from that its boring systems stuff.

    Once you have that, and information is freely available, you don’t bneed government for a lot fo the stuff. Interested parties can do clever things with the information. That is irc the approach followed by the US government with reccovery.com and the other website that I cannae remeber the name of.

  • Mack

    Cluetrain manifesto might be a start –

    You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures.

    Or you can join the conversation.

    I have to admit I could stomach reading the whole thing, despite the more informal tone it’s still a business-self-help book, but I think those sentences sum it up.

    It’s online free now..


  • Anon,

    I’d disagree about the primary need being money. It isn’t. It’s the will to respond to what Tim is asking for. A lot of jobsworthery is protected by this refusal to tie shoelaces without bespoke systems and reams of guidance. A lot of the processes and policies that are needed could be collaboratively authored if enough people within the public / voluntary sector were prepared to jump together.

    The cash kind of figures that an organisation that has the willingness to make this kind of leap would need are tiny in comparision with the cash that is spent on systems that are designed to stop staff from interacting in the first place.