Smarter public services

February 25, 2010

Imagine my surprise at opening the latest New Statesman, 22 February 2010, and finding an advertisement for ‘Big Blue’ i.e. IBM, entitled “Smarter public services for a smarter planet.” I can’t imagine why IBM are targeting left-of-centre politicians, perhaps a rare breed in the 21st century?

Included on the advertisement  from IBM is a link to a website where there is a PDF of a report entitled “IBM’s response to “Digital Britain – Online Public Services are a proxy for Digital Britain” dated March 2009, promoting amongst other things, the South West One partnership that has suffered a few problems to date, as reported by Computer Weekly and others. Having been involved in a complex public- private partnership myself they have my sympathy, but isn’t it too early to crow?

In general, however, the eight-page report is pretty sensible including the statement – “Apply the 80/20 rule: build for 80% of the customer circumstances and ignore the minority of exceptions that create disproportionate complexity and cost. Target services and educate customers to minimise the likelihood of exceptions occurring. Handle exceptions through appropriate existing off-line channels.”

It appears we are starting to learn and that electronic channels aren’t the answer for everything and will have to retain the others for those who will not or cannot use them, or for the inappropriate services.

The topic of e-government and partnerships was one covered by my academic acquaintance Paul Henman in his 2004 paper: Henman, P. (2004). “E-government and the Electronic Transformation of Modes of Rule: The Case of Partnerships.” Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics 2(2): 19-24. where he concludes that “Partnerships require a lot of organisational, relationship and technical work to establish and maintain. They require that all partners continue to extract mutual benefits from the partnership and maintain levels of trust. As such partnerships constantly need to be made and re-made.” So remember as well, it’s not all down to ICT!

Social networking news

February 1, 2010

Or should that be social networking in the news?

For a start, the January 30th edition of The Economist contains a special report on social networking.  The report is available on-line for download at
There was also a piece on the same topic in the New Statesman of 1 February 2010 by Will Straw (Where would we be without the nepotism of the political classes?)

Social media is a useful tool for media-whoring amongst  the Twittering classes but can only benefit street-level political organization when those on the receiving end of it also employ their personal skills amongst the digitally excluded (for whatever reason). As I’ve found, it can also have some use as an academic research tool, within the toolkit of traditional approaches.

I’m not aware of any of the local or national politicians I have a particular interest in using social media, and in most cases what they have to say in the conventional media is pretty trite, so where’s the likely benefit? Well, they could try putting out the sort of stories that might get me to trust them once more, such as describing how they’ve made this world a better place by being in the seat of power they occupy. Am I asking too much?


November 29, 2009

One of the columnists in the New Statesman magazine is Professor David Blanchflower, of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA and the University of Stirling, Scotland. I’m no expert in economics but since my son is a student of it, I’ve tried to grasp the fundamentals, which Professor “Danny”  Blanchflower is excellent at providing.

A recent column (9 November 2009) was entitled “Happiness is U-shaped“, which I initially didn’t associated with my own research, but after some pondering did. Prof. Blanchflower is the guru of happiness economics, which in the current climate must require a great deal of faith or optimism.

The question posed in Prof. Blanchflower’s surveys is – ” On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?” The first point for me that this is a four point scale with no middle ground for fence-sitting, the second point is that this is not much different from asking people about the service they are getting and whether they are satisfied.

More support for a simple satisfaction measure, if I’m not mistaken.