Hearing loop?

June 16, 2012

A new report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) examines Central government’s communication and engagement with local government  (PDF, 44 pages, 500 Kb) and concludes that central government needs to have better engagement with local government, particularly when further services are devolved. On page 4 the paper issues a warning “We have said to Parliament that we will expand gradually our programme of value-for-money examinations to consider local government more explicitly”, so a much-needed panoptic view of local government should eventually happen. As the report states on page 6 “insufficient engagement with fire and rescue authorities was one factor that led to a major project to replace control rooms being cancelled in 2010. The project did not have the support of the majority of the end-users essential to its success, which wasted a minimum of £469 million”, similar events should not recur!

As has been stated on this blog, and is stated on page 7 of the report “government departments focus on particular policies, whereas with over 1,300 statutory duties local government has wider responsibility across policies that affect their communities”, politicians and staff in central government frequently forget the scale of local government and hence the need to deal in a different manner than they would in their own departments and also on page 7 that “work across government has demonstrated that not consulting delivery partners early brings a high risk of waste and optimism bias that can result in programme failure”. In fact it has and does result in failure and waste!

In terms of recommendations, many would be solved by central government having better intranets or a good intranet – do they even have such a thing. If one is to share institutional data across the greatest volume of people what better means is there? Another proposal is for the DCLG to work closer with other government departments when dealing with local government, which is a pretty sound idea – it worked pretty well for the Local CIO Council.

In the list of local authorities on page 12, the study manages to ignore the small but democratically important town and parish councils, which are largely elected and have an important role in representing communities. They also have to be consulted by higher tier authorities on matters such as planning. It does, however, manager to emphasise that districts are not subservient to counties, similarly this applies to town and parish councils.

The effect of staff changes in central government are highlighted and I for one recall the nuisance value that the regular changes of government  and departmental CIO have had on communication when one incumbent hade gone to the trouble of establishing a communication channel through the Local CIO Council and others saw it as a lesser priority! The frequent ‘game play’ of senior civil servants and relocation of them to other jobs is similarly unhelpful for continuity!

A key example in the report is on page 19 as “the prospective change to Council Tax Benefit in April 2013 [case study]. Practical issues that were considered to require greater clarity included coherence between Council Tax Benefit and Universal Credit, time to effect changes to IT and business process, and managing the overall impact on existing benefit recipients.” Again, this has been mentioned on this blog before and no doubt we will see the results of any communication, or otherwise, when the changes occur!

This report is short and concise enough for it to be compulsory reading for Ministers and Department heads in government. I hope it is effective in changing their ways, and potentially could save a small fortune along with a lot of embarrassment in the future. However, if government departments are failing in consultation with the tiers of governance nearest the citizen, how does consultation with the citizen stand up to review? Well done to the NAO on this occasion, an ever bigger task awaits!


Community development

September 16, 2010

One of the organizations influential in my thoughts about e-government since I started thinking about it around 1998 has been the Community Development Foundation, an offshoot of what is currently the Department for Communities & Local Government, so how long they have to live in the financial climate I’m not sure? At the time I read and found useful “New Connections: joined-up access to public services” by Kay Holman, which they published in 1999 when I was doing an MA and I quote it again in my dissertation.

However, although they are not what one would describe as an ICT or e-government policy organization, they have produced some sensible reports around empowering local communities, and thus the application of ICT. A new publication from them “Town halls in a post-bureaucratic* age” by Thomas Neumark continues this trend as a 20 page PDF.

This is not another cry for social media or e-democracy but a rational proposal for public involvement through the representative system. It lists the what successful culture change consists of and warns of the points for failure, and essentially that is it. This is applicable to any change in public service delivery inside or outside government, by electronic means or other.

Ignore these “lessons from practice” at your peril!

* I’ve picked up on the term post-bureaucratic in another recent post!

Don’t count on empowerment

June 17, 2009

My academic colleagues in the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort (along with those from Southampton University) have been busy producing a report entitled “Empowering local communities to influence local decision making – A systematic review of the evidence” for the DCLG.

At 216 pages its another hefty read but one key finding on page 80 is that:


“The links between e-participation and community empowerment are surprisingly weak. Despite a growing interest in electronic forms of participation and, indeed, electronic democracy, the ways in which the wide range of devices actually empower individuals or communities, and the extent to which they have a direct influence on decision making, is often ignored. Although there is a large literature on the topic of e-participation and e-democracy, the actual evidence base on which to understand this topic is quite limited.”

Which I would also argue extends to much of the material on anything with an “e-” in fron to it, hence the reason for my own research and also the reason why I challenge much of the current hype about Web 2.0 and social media. Have a play by all means but don’t expect the other 98% of the population to buy into it!









NI14 Guidance released

July 9, 2008

The long awaited guidance to the National Performance Indicator 14 (avoidable contact) has been released onto the Improvement & Development Agency’s web site (64 page PDF).

Depending upon how you view these things it was a good day or bad one, since it also coincided with the new White Paper from the DCLG (157 pages {PDF, 1809 Kb), which also has things to say about civic engagement, making information available and other matters.

Importantly for this research, the first document states on page 13 that ‘we are exploiting and approach that will help us to…design services that reflect the needs of customers not arbitrary targets or performance measures.’ Which rather amuses me when we are actually talking about an indicator apparently designed to measure ‘failure demand’ but rebranded for Ministerial purposes to avoid the word ‘failure’ and also John Seddon’s interest in the concept! Especially when ‘failure demand’ is not considered something to be measured but to be ‘designed out’ of processes…

Unfortunately, whilst the ultimate aim is laudable, we are likely to be creating an entire industry of NI14 measurers in the process. The company rol which produces GovMetric gets a good mention in the guidance since they’re developing their package to support NI14, which may be an easy way of getting both dissatisfaction data and NI14, at a cost, but if you do it manually there is still a significant outlay in obtaining statistically significant data.

‘Que sera, sera’ as Doris Day sang or ‘O que sera’ as they apparently say in Portugal – whatever will be, will be!


June 5, 2008

Yesterday I was at an ESD-Toolkit TLC meeting (Electronic Service Delivery Toolkit Toolkit Learning Community) apart from the healthy debate over NI14 (thank you Bob and others), there was also some chance to discuss customer satisfaction and insight. Tony Hinkley dropped a name that I was unto unaware of – Robert Johnston of Warwick Business School – so I will now spend the next month reading his uncollected works – shed loads of stuff on satisfaction, complaints, service excellence etc, so I will try and summarise some on here – but there is a lot of it! Many thanks Tony (and Bob for writing it all).

The other big news this week was the launch by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) of the eGovernment Interest Group. There is also a forum there. Lots of potential to debate the Web 2.0 and the future!