Generation Y e-government

August 22, 2012

In a recent article on IT Use for Australian Business it is revealed that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) deputy secretary Abul Rizvi had identified a “worrying” drop in the use of online government services between 2009 and 2011 and the department were investigating the use of video to deal with Generation Y. The drop in usage is identified in a report from AGIMO that is linked to (PDF, 96 pp, 3.24 Mb) but in my view this is not a surprise since the same experience was reported from Canada some while ago, and is probably only the fallback from the initial surge in trying new technologies and finding the experience less than ideal

Rather than throwing money at new technologies to resolve the issues around service, the solution is to examine the process, online and offline, and find what the problems are from the citizens’ view, and then sort out that process – be that caused by legislation (overly complex) or waste.


A digital nation

May 3, 2012

A new report from Canada examines Provincial and Territorial eGovernment Initiatives. Entitled ‘Becoming a Digital Nation: An Evaluation of Provincial and Territorial eGovernment Initiatives‘ PDF, 89 pages, 8Mb. The report notes in the Introduction that in the report, in order to” provide context for this assessment, we applied the same methodology to three other jurisdictions: California, Massachusetts, and Wales. Our study indicates that Canada’s provinces and territories are doing well in this comparison with four provinces ahead of the international jurisdictions and all the  others competitive.” Which may upset all three, although they all did pretty well compared with the Canadian average.

Interestingly the latest usage statistics are provided on page 7: “Most recent data show over half of Canadians (56.5%) use the Internet to search for government-related information, while 26.9% utilize the Internet to communicate with their governments”, which may assist those concerned about the limited UK usage! I’m please to say that Socitm’s ‘Planting the Flag’, that I played a small part in producing has been used as a part of the background material and the methodology employed in measuring the web sites is not unlike that used in Socitm’s Better Connected exercise.

Of the 13 jurisdictions studied, it’s hardly surprising that there is some difference between the most populated territories and the lesser ones. There are also issues around the number of languages with not just English and French being required in many places, but in some there are native languages to deal with.  As a summary the report states on page 48 that: “Areas of improvement focus on providing more advanced ways for citizens to give or get more information through online Contact Us forms or feedback surveys”, which I’d always argue for in the form of feedback loops.


Channel choice

April 17, 2012

A recent paper in the Government Information Quarterly 29 (2012) by Christopher C. Reddick & Michael Turner is appropriate to the UK debate. The paper is entitled ” Channel choice and public service delivery in Canada: Comparing e-government to traditional service delivery” and it looks at some of the excellent work done in recording citizen satisfaction and other metrics in a range of Canadian jurisdictions. I’m a little confused by the definition of e-government since they state on page 9 “Through a survey of citizens across Canada there was evidence that e-government has really taken hold as the dominant contact channel, with 55% of Canadian residents surveyed used the Web or email to contact government for a service or information, which rivals the phone at 51%”, which is confusing with the inclusion of email, which is little better than quick ‘white mail’. However, it then goes on to state that “the data indicates that citizens actually received the most satisfaction by receiving a service or information in a government office”, which is probably the same in the UK.

Interestingly, it then goes on to state “There appears to be a digital divide in access to e-government in Canada and it is centered on age and gender, but its cause may not be attributable to simply differences in access. The digital divide can be mitigated if there is greater citizen satisfaction with e-government”, which I can’t disagree with, although the divide in gender terms is nominally marginal in the UK.  A further conclusion is that “governments should realize that citizens use many contact channels, and often several in a single interaction or transaction with government, with some of them being better suited for certain tasks than others. However, governments should realize that citizens receive less satisfaction with the phone [and that] they must find better ways to integrate contact channels as one method to move e-government forward, ensuring that the information received through use of different channels is consistent and service responses are of equivalent quality. Then, where citizens have multiple choices to contact government, they can use the channel that best suits their needs”.

Once all the channels are being measured for satisfaction and re-tuned as a result, there will be, as stated, “a positive view of all contact channels [which] leads to a positive overall view of public services, so governments will need to continue focusing on service channel improvement to improve overall views of public service – the very model I have been promoting for some years. However, as a warning to some of those pre-occupied with benchmarking services the report concludes “collecting aggregate survey data is limited because of its inability to discern nuances in the data which can better be teased out with more direct methods of observing citizen behavior”, so be warned!



Government Web 2.0 in Canada

December 4, 2011

My thanks to Mike Kujawski at Governing People for reporting on Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 in the Canadian Government. The guidelines themselves are available, as he points out, on the government website (published 18 November 2011). The UK government published its guidelines some time ago, the US ones are available here along with a range of others, and a further database courtesy of Chris Boudreaux.

One of my colleagues noted that the guidelines are almost a website in themselves, being rather substantial. Whilst I can understand the need for guidelines, much of the guidance within them already exists, as the Canadian ones demonstrate by the links provided to ethical ones and many other government policies as their context becomes appropriate. Will anybody seriously read such a dry and very lengthy web page, without even following the links?

One of the main difficulties in my view is where the responsibility for the maintenance of social media lies. Often media relations people lack the ‘nous’ to use them efficiently, sometimes the web or IT staff take a too dry or technical approach for them to be employed successfully. Some government bodies have transferred the web to a front-facing customer service, which if not sufficiently linked to the media staff or public relations, could also create issues. Similarly staff need to be reminded that comments on Facebook and elsewhere may land them in hot water with their employers, and may even cost them their job, as the recent Apple employee case emphasises!


Customer service guidance

June 26, 2011

Having frequently and publicly stated that we should make more of the experiences of our Canadian and Australian counterparts, rather than the UK government fetishization of the US model, I am reporting on the fact that some weeks ago President Obama signed an executive order, “Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service”, which was unfortunately lost in the mass of other budgetary issues the US government was dealing with. This was followed on June 13 by guidance from the US Office of Management & Budget (OMB) entitled Implementing Executive Order 13571 on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service (6 pages, 2.37 Mb!).

This is the reason why I am for promoting Canadian practice. The Canadians went through a recession some years ago and as a result they looked at government services in-depth and how they might improve them. As a result they developed guidance and a sample was in one of my blog posts in January 2008. In June 2011 the White House issues its own. These are some of the key demands -

“Establish mechanisms to solicit customer feedback on government services and use such feedback regularly to make service improvements, such as:

Collect ongoing, timely, actionable customer feedback to identify early warning signals of customer service issues; and conduct customer satisfaction surveys and report the results publicly to provide transparency and accountability.

Improve the customer experience by adopting proven customer service best practices and coordinating across service channels (including on-line, phone, in person, and mail services), such as:

Develop a process for evaluating the entire customer experience, ensuring consistency across service channels; coordinate with other agencies serving the same customers, identifying opportunities for using common forms and application materials and processes; analyze customer preferences for interactions and redirect resources from less preferred and more costly channels (such as printed materials) to preferred, less costly, and more widely accessible channels (such as Internet and mobile services), where appropriate and applicable; and ensure access and usability for people with disabilities and hard-to-reach and disadvantaged customer populations.”

I have often heard it said in central government that local government is frequently more advanced than central government. I think that these six pages demonstrate that local government (including in the USA) is further advanced in serving the citizen than central government.  So why do we keep looking west, when locally or north-west may better provide solutions? In fact Lisa Nelson who is responsible for Research and Strategic Partnerships within Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the American GSA has pointed the W3C e-Government Interest Group towards a new Deloitte report for the Canadian government “Innovation in government – Conversations with Canada’s public service leaders“. The report spells out what are essentially cultural changes to the way government behaves, not unlike the recently published Socitm strategy for UK public services – “Planting the flag“.


Improved thinking

March 8, 2011

The new report from the Institute for Government entitled System error: fixing the flaws in government IT is a welcome approach to a long known issue, that of government IT project management. What is also welcome is that the report points to Canada and Australia, rather than the USA for best practice. I’ve frequently promoted the Canadian model on this blog, along with the occasional Australian example, but for far too long we have been taking our guide from the USA, the Canadian model has also had the benefit of being formed in an ‘age of austerity’.

Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer at the Cabinet Officer is one of those involved in this production, along with former Government CIO John Suffolk. Ian was reported by Computer Weekly welcoming the report at the launch event.

The word that reverberates through the report is ‘agile’, but also we are finally being expected to consult the user. The nature of agile is that it encourages ‘commoditisation’ of applications, and if the government were to follow the suggested Australian route of ‘opt-out’, there is more chance of not re-inventing wheels.

There appears to be a lot of buy-in across central government to the report, so perhaps we should wait and see what happens. However, I gather the ‘skunkworks‘ is in operation, so the fruits of their labours may soon be evident!


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