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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Monday, March 15, 2010

Information and technology in public services? They’re only just logging-on…

By Charlotte Alldritt

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 We’ve also got private businesses such as 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.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 9:05 pm
Thursday, March 11, 2010

They don’t know the half of IT…

By Charlotte Alldritt

This morning I awoke to Chief Inspector of Constabulary Dennis O’Connor on Radio 4’s Today Programme. He said that the police are failing to tackle anti-social behaviour – a “kind of chronic illness that causes corrosive harm” . In particular, the Chief Inspector strongly criticised the police for not keep a proper record of low level crime.  He said that over half of forces are not able to keep track of patterns of repeat anti-social behaviour, which seriously undermines public confidence in the police. 

Proper use of data and information systems is critical: “This is not a load more paper work on the officers, this is about having a smart system behind some of the best police officers in the world so that they are as intelligent they can be about the circumstances they are going into. It’s about giving them the tools so they can do the kind of job we want them to do on this…”

Hearing this was like music to my ears. For nearly twelve months, I have been working on a research project to examine the role of information and technology in driving up the quality of our public services. Previously often dismissed as a side-line, obscure policy issue, the role of data and information is coming to the political fore.

Only this morning the Conservative Party published their ‘Technology Manifesto’, promising to invest in superfast broadband, promote a culture of open data to generate and estimated £6 billion for the economy, and to bring an end to massive IT procurement projects. All of this is closely tied to talk of the ‘Post Bureaucratic Age’ (or ‘PBA’) – policy-wonk speak for open, transparent and accountable government. Several of us got excited at the thought during our lively seminar on social media and PBA on Tuesday.

That seminar is part of our year-long work-stream on information and technology in public services. We’ve been talking to social entrepreneurs, digital inclusion activists, people across the tech industry and in government. We’ve welcomed the recent sea-shift in attitudes within each of the main political parties. But we’re pushing for more, so watch this space…they don’t know the half of IT.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 4:43 pm

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