The 12 July 2010, with a bit of a fanfare at 10 Downing Street, saw the launch of ‘Manifesto for a Networked Nation’, the current output of Martha Lane-Fox’s Race Online 2012.
Initial thoughts are that although the pdf is only 2Mb, the maps on its central pages may make many a printer unhappy, as may the variety of colours and sizes of fonts affect anybody lacking a taste for concrete poetry. I’m also concerned that a document claiming support for accessibility and inclusivity (sections 9.1 and 9.2) dares use such a mix colour and seriffed fonts as to be almost psychedelic. On top of the visual abuse, I could also challenge some of the English language abuse within the text, but I’m off to a bad start already…
OK, my sympathies are with the intent of the report and getting more people online. However, whilst getting them to use government services online may save government some money and buying goods may save the user some money, along with demonstrating the skills they’ve developed, what are the benefits?
The Internet has massive benefits as a medium of communications, I rarely get a pen out and write a letter these day, when a quick email suffices. Information (of all sorts, including the bad, sad and dangerous to know) is at my fingertips. However, I would anticipate that it’s still may not be everybody’s garden of earthly delight and some will always need a mediated guide through some of its hazards. The dangers of phishing, viruses and incorrect information are probably far too advanced for many potential users, as can be seen by the numbers caught out in the assorted scams that plague netizens.
I would also question at a time of cuts, redundancies and uncertainty how MLF expects local authorities, charities and others to now launch out and support a government initiative when they are struggling with maintaining services? OK, we believe from Socitm research that 80% of councils restrict their employees’ access to the Internet but someone needs to convince them this is not risking the other pieces of government guidance such as child protection and access to the government secure intranet (the document has frequent mentions of the DWP – home of Government Connect!)
Now for another moan. In large print the report on page 14 states, talking about the Internet, that “it was an Oxford graduate who created this significant invention”. I presume this refers to Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web, whilst I was always under the impression that we could blame the Internet on Vint Cerf, a graduate of Stanford. I wonder if the information was sourced upon some of the dodgy data on the Internet?
To broaden the thinking and possibly add some robustness to the debate, I’d like to present a couple of quotations –
In an interview Oscar A. Ornati, Professor of Manpower Management at New York University (quoted in Deming 1986, p.198) states that:
“We have forgotten that the function of government is more equity oriented than efficiency oriented. The notion that we must be “efficient” in the same way in both sectors is fallacious. For government, efficiency must be subsumed to equity. If we do not keep equity in the forefront of the public sector, we will destroy our society. It is unfortunate that we tend to lavish so much praise on management specialists who laud the techniques of private sector management in the public sector.”
Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis, M.I.T. Press.
In a joint Parliamentary and industry report, EURIM (2008, p.2) confirms this:
“It is too crude an approach to seek savings simply by replacing face-to-face services with Internet access to services that might engage more time-poor citizens. Many of those in most need (at least 20% of the overall population and a majority of the elderly) are physically unable to use a conventional screen and keyboard, even if they wished to.”
EURIM (2008) “How to Achieve Citizen-Centric Service Delivery: Let the People Speak.” EURIM Transformational Government Dialogues 8, http://www.eurim.org.uk/activities/dialogues/TGD_IntegratedReport.pdf.