Insight in place

July 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure where ‘customer insight’ fits into the new governments thinking, along with many other matters, but they seem to have taken a shine to Total Place, especially for the potential to save money. So, when a new publication pops out from the CLG, the Local Government Delivery Council and the IDeA it’s worth an investigation.

The twenty page publication entitled “Customer insight: through a Total Place lens” looks at some of the Total Place pilots and examines how they have employed customer insight. Personally I think ‘customer insight’ is an overplayed concept from marketing, that along with the term ‘customer’ for our citizens should be binned, with all that other neo-liberal NPM jargon! However, I believe we do need to know what our citizens want, expect and deserve and this does not require the semi-mystical ‘customer insight’.

In contrast, Total Place, with its focus on destroying silos cannot be a bad thing! I also believe that Local Information Systems may have their place in identifying the real communities that politics can’t.

The first thing that leaped out to me from the report was the costs of service delivery (Tameside’s) being used on page 7, where we have £1.34 for telephone, which is rather different to the £3.21 figure in Socitm’s Better Connected 2010. Similar contrasts occurred over the other channels.  I’ve discussed these before and suspect that whilst we can’t agree these, we should stop using them, particularly when there will be massive variations across services. Whilst we consider the drive to the web we should also consider another Insight from Socitm, where the web take-up service indicates two out of three visits to council web sites are simply for information finding purposes – this to me indicates the importance of making sure that information is clear, accessible and available and that the web is less about service delivery.

Isn’t the lesson from Total Place is that we should work with other public services to gain insight to our citizens and communities and to stop replication of each other’s work? Let’s have one shared insight.

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A week in politics…

March 28, 2010

A week in politics can be a long time and the once commencing 22nd March 2010 was no exception! Tuesday saw the PM’s speech about the semantic web and Mygov. Wednesday brought the budget with the cuts to jobs and spending afforded by the various efficiency savings. Thursday brought the Total Place report being published by the Treasury. Friday produced the updated Smarter Government report, announcing the demise of NI14, which came from the CLG.

So, apart from coming from different bits of Whitehall, what can we glean in common from these four? Not very much? Perhaps that’s a clue? Whilst the CLG have had to drop NI14 when it had barely started, the most hotly challenged and debated performance indicator on record, Total Place demonstrates that efficiencies, in this time and place, are less about channel shift and more about channel focus, along with being more about understanding citizen behaviour than recording how bad government services are at not doing what they expected.

What about the DGPSU (the Digital Public Services Unit!)? How will this differ from the previous incarnations (including Office of the E-Envoy and the E-Government Unit)? The E-Government Unit became the largest unit within the Cabinet Office. Will the DGPSU follow suite? Will this aid or contest the Government ICT Strategy’s aim to centralise at least a good chunk of government IT management?

I suspect we will have to wait and see, but at least this time I gather there is a local government presence there at the moment – let’s see if anyone listens…


Cultural shift

March 25, 2010

In this blog I haven’t tended to agree with Ben Page, the Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. I am now going to make an exception!

In the Municipal Journal of 18 March 2010* he contributes to the Soapbox column, as he has in the past, with a piece largely on council communications and the financial cuts.  In response to politicians sating that they are going to get more online to save costs, he picks up some key points including:

  • the fact that citizens are more interested in service information than performance information
  • that a number will continue to rely on printed material for sometime
  • information is unlikely to empower anyone apart from the small minority already engaged

He concludes by stating that “A cultural shift in the relationship between service users and public services is required. Don’t expect dramatic changes in awareness and attitudes in the next five years.”

My own academic research supports that and indicates that one way forward is implementing the “Citizen Engagement System” and actively employing the feedback at a service and political level to regain trust from the public. Even using such a mechanism, it will take time, since recommendations will have to be seen to be being carried out.

This is also reflected on page 45 of the new (launched 25th March 2010) Total Place report where it considers what a successful procurement system would look like:

“Local services geared towards meeting the needs and demands of service users and citizens – structuring services to meet those needs through engaging them in service design and monitoring of performance and working across service silos to focus on the outcomes for the person rather than the individual services they receive.”

So I may not be far from the truth, after all!

* To those without a paper copy I apologise – the content of MJ is frequently reproduced on http://www.localgov.co.uk but at a later date!