Digitising the Job Centre Plus

From Loughborough University via the Department of Work & Pensions comes a report regarding what that government department might need to consider when applying e-government to the Job Centre Plus channel, which “provides services that support people of working age from welfare into work, and helps employers to fill their vacancies”.

The report entitled “RR 679 Literature review to inform the future digitisation of Jobcentre Plus service delivery” by Grahame Whitfield, Kim Perren, David Stuart and Michael Norris is an excellent piece of work towards applying e-government to the range of government service users, over and above those it focuses on. The conclusions include examining digital exclusion due to availability, cost and competence to which the researchers conclude “the evidence strongly suggests that public services should embrace the notion that they cannot – indeed should not – try to do everything themselves. Making data available to external organisations could result in the production of a wide range of innovative applications, services and resources that would be unlikely to be developed in-house. These could augment any provision Jobcentre Plus makes itself.”

The researchers also advise  that “a key means of ensuring successful delivery is for public services to have a clear understanding of how their online and digital communications link with other means of contact (telephone follow-up, letter, face-to-face meeting) and of how these linkages are explained and managed.”

Importantly the report acknowledges that “if government services prioritize digital channels as a mode of engaging in dialogue with users about their services, the voices of the digitally excluded may not be heard.” The report also raises public concerns about data security but accepts that this requires government involvement.

In respect to my own research this document accepts that “the international evidence in respect of e-Government and ‘leading edge’ organisations strongly suggests that if online public services are to be successful, this kind of cultural shift – to having a detailed and ongoing understanding of the needs and preference of customers at the heart of the way in which services are planned and delivered – is essential.” It also encourages the access to data by external stakeholders and developers (as mentioned above), which contrasts the contrasts around security – a solution to which is required.

One final conclusion is the need for government to accept the need for service development to be in a “perpetual beta” state, in other words one of continual development. This reflects my own proposal for employing user feedback to improve and develop the end-to-end service.

Again, some ten years or more on from when e-government started, this report is better late than never! Implementation will be another matter.

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