Listen to customers not big data

August 28, 2012

A report from The Register  on 22 August 2012 covers one of the Directors of the dominant telco in Australia stating that “Insights won’t come from data, they’ll come from observation”, in other words which business processes the customers complain about offer more direction than sifting about in the data. Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation [sic] at Telstra, does however not rule out big data, wanting to have his cake and eat it, but does also report that over 70% of their support calls are the result of customer expectations being incorrectly set.

Having read me quoting the mantra to listen to customers for many years, this approach will come as nothing new to readers of this blog but what it does provide is further evidence that the private sector has been doing it, so government needs to stopping flushing money down the drain on big data projects and instead ensure the mechanisms are in place to capture citizen feedback at the point of service delivery.

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Social voting

July 21, 2012

Two different stories bring together how Facebook is becoming used more in public life. The first is from the MIT Technology Review dated 12 July 2012 by David Zax and is entitled “Facebook, CNN, and the Rise of Social Voting“, the second appears on The Register of 18 July 2012 and is written by Neil McAllister and headed “Washington State to allow voter registration via Facebook“. The first piece with its subtitle of “Can technology disrupt democracy” is possibly the scariest, although it mainly concerns the development of a Facebook app by CNN that permits endorsement of candidates and issues, along with a commitment to vote, by Facebook users. The piece also names a few related applications: ElectNext, Votizen and PopVox. What is perhaps concerning in the first case is that due to the ‘now’ factor involved in social media voting might be reflecting journalistic leads from CNN.

The second piece is a much simpler use of Facebook with Washington State (not DC!) harvesting names and dates-of-birth from Facebook into their voter registration system. This will obviously require the originating user to be real and the data to be accurate. I recall attempts in the UK to register Mickey Mouse and the pet hamster on more than one occasion!

In general it does indicate a general look to social media to increase democratic input. However, if someone can’t fill out a registration form occasionally and turn up at a polling station every so often, representative democracy is dead and we need to be looking at a new way of delivering it – as Marshall Ganz has said “the chance for people to become actors and not just spectators in the drama of life”. [New Statesman, 16 July 2012, p.54].


What is ‘open government’?

April 25, 2012

A post from Andrea di Maio entitled ‘Open Government Partnership: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly’ (his capitals) as usual hits the nail right on the head. I’ve discussed ‘open data’ and ‘open government’ in a number of posts including most relevantly this one on ‘open by design’ and we still appear to be lacking clarity over what the outcomes are intended to be.

Andrea, whilst accepting that ‘open government’ is essentially a good thing, picks up a number of matters:

  • In the past, benchmarking has made some countries waste resources by e-enabling the wrong things
  • There is a risk that the debate focuses on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’
  • Top ten commitments focus upon increasing transparency – what about service delivery and sustainable efficiency

He then argues that the end goal should be a “grand challenge” supported by “transparency, accountability and engagement”, rather than the other way around. He concludes by suggesting that the session on building a business case examines “how to measure the real impact and success (or lack thereof) of open government”.

Then, Simon Sharwood in The Register  continues the topic in “Open Government Partnership talks tech-led transparency” pointing out that one government absent from the meeting is Australia and that Hilary Clinton had warned that ‘the existence of technology does not translate into openness. “Technology isn’t some kind of magic wand, ” she said. “Ultimately, it is political will that determines whether or not we hold ourselves accountable”‘ Which makes it all sound like e-government over again…, in the immortal words of Cicero “O tempora O mores”.


E-egg on government face?

August 8, 2010

Patrick Wintour reported in The Guardian (2 August 2010) on the “Coalition’s first crowdsourcing attempt fails to alter Whitehall line” and Chris Williams in The Register (3 August 2010) noted that “UK.gov smiles and nods at commentards”. Both these pieces pick up on the fact that nothing is apparently changing at Whitehall despite the coalitions stated aims to crowdsource ideas for savings.

The Guardian writer claims the receipt of 9,500 suggestions online and quotes the director of Involve as saying that “badly designed consultations like this are worse than no consultations at all”. Something I’ve long suggested along with the practice that if one consults, one must then make some changes in deference to the feedback, and do it pretty quickly and in direct response to the concerns. If one is unable to alter matters, it’s then necessary to say why.

In my experience there are various types of “consultation”. There are ones like this where it just asks for ideas and then apparently the questioning body picks the ones that most align with existing policy and praises them and the proposers. There are the other type where the questions are so tightly directed that the respondent can only directly support the policy being proposed to a greater or lesser extent. These are crowdsourcing in a representative democracy.

To ask open questions, gain open answers and change society one needs a truly deliberative democracy but will turkeys vote for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I don’t think so…


Analysis paralysis

August 26, 2009

An interesting feature on the Register. IBM are offering less-well-off (the report used the term threadbare) councils off-the-peg data analysis. John Ozimek, the author, reviewing the history of similar approaches, gets my support for his challenging comment that:

“Without exception, evaluation of ratepayer/customer satisfaction was carried out on the basis of how far these schemes met internally set targets, as opposed to actual customer needs. The danger, therefore, of the IBM initiative is that it will provide the Public Sector with a formidable array of tools that will enable them to grapple with their client base more efficiently – but unless this is accomplished by a change in overall culture, they will not do so more effectively.”

Also, I suspect that in the time-honoured fashion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, IBM will be expecting to sell a shed load of disk space to store all this data upon!

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Good complaint handling

April 19, 2009

A report in the Register claims that the  Dept of Work and Pensions isn’t working but the noticeable point is the good practice that the DWP is referred to by the Ombudsman, which is the ‘Principles of Good Complaint Handling’ on the Ombudsmans own site.

Among the points in the principles are:

• Including complaint management as an integral part of service design.

• Focusing on the outcomes for the complainant and the public body.

• Dealing with complainants promptly and sensitively, bearing in mind their individual circumstances.

• Listening to complainants to understand the complaint and the outcome they are seeking.

• Responding flexibly, including co-ordinating responses with any other bodies involved in the same complaint, where appropriate.

• Publishing service standards for handling complaints.

• Providing honest, evidence-based explanations and giving reasons for decisions.

• Keeping full and accurate records.

• Ensuring that decisions are proportionate, appropriate and fair.

• Acting fairly towards staff complained about as well as towards complainants.

• Acknowledging mistakes and apologising where appropriate.

• Providing prompt, appropriate and proportionate remedies.

• Using all feedback and the lessons learnt from complaints to improve service design and delivery.

• Having systems in place to record, analyse and report on the learning from complaints.

• Regularly reviewing the lessons to be learnt from complaints.

• Where appropriate, telling the complainant about the lessons learnt and changes made to services, guidance or policy.

These Principles are not a checklist to be applied mechanically. Public bodies should use their judgment in applying them to produce reasonable, fair and proportionate results in all the circumstances of the case. The Ombudsman will adopt a similar approach when considering the standard of complaint handling by public bodies in her jurisdiction.


Web 2, yoof and snouts in the trough

March 5, 2009

A Register piece warns of the danger of chucking money at Web 2.0 and youth with mobiles and not thinking about your audience first.

I wonder what metrics the DCSF is employing in evaluating the success or otherwise of this expenditure of taxpayers money? Answers on the back of a £50 note to the Great e-mancipator, please!

Let this be a warning!