I’ve just met with Rory Geoghagen, who recently set up ‘Viscero’ - an enterprise dedicated to using online technologies to improve public services. Viscero is focussed on two main aspects of the criminal justice system at the moment – mapping witness appeals to help connect witnesses and the police, and online victim case updates (the equivalent of a parcel tracker for victims of crime). This new venture shows how the internet can be used to generate better outcomes for public services at lower cost.
Viscero is just one of many applications and organisations starting to spring up in the public sector. We’ve got social enterprises such as MySociety, FixMyStreet, and theyworkforyou.com. We’ve also got private businesses such as iwantgreatcare.com that are entering the fledging market for information on public service quality.
But it’s not easy. People trying to utilise online technologies – whether social networking tools, data mapping, or just published information on the web – are up against some serious barriers in public services. Confusion over data sharing legislation and traditional causes of risk aversion are just the tip of the iceberg. The age of open data and ‘post-bureaucratic’ government is held back by the kind of ingrained cultural practices exposed (for example) by the MPs expenses scandal last May and Basildon and Thurrock hospital in November 2009.
Our report – Online or In-line, the future of information technology in public services – examines why many public sector organisations are operating in the dark, behind closed doors. Perhaps too many metaphors…but the point is this: we need public services to open up to online technologies as a genuine way of delivering the Holy Grail – more for less. As I suggested last week, we also need government and public service providers to turn on the light through better, more widespread use of data. Then they need to open the door to public scrutiny.
As both the expenses scandal and Basildon and Thurrock hospital example showed, public scrutiny is a powerful instrument of accountability and refocusing on quality and standards. All the main political parties are starting to wake up to this, but – as our report will show – they need to go further, and fast.
Online or In-line, the future of information technology in public services is published on Friday 19th March. Check out video clips from two of the authors on the 2020 PST home page.