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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 26, 2009

Accountable Capitalism and Market Citizenship

By Henry Kippin

There’s an interesting report available today from the IPPR’s Tomorrow’s Capitalism series, exploring the idea of ‘accountable capitalism’. Its authors take the financial crisis as their starting point, and argue that simply blaming the bankers is a red herring. The crisis, they contend, is evidence of systemic failure – a ‘collision of self-interests’, not the fault of one set of agents.

This starting point leads into a discussion of what should replace our failed system. The focus, they argue, should be on five pillars: responsibility; accountability; relevant information; independent adjudication; and vigilant participants. The first pillar is already a central element of the Cameron message, which has pushed the idea of ‘fiscal responsibility’, ‘civic responsibility’, and even responsibility for obesity. Accountability is high on the Labour agenda, with the PM trailing the Cabinet Office’s ‘Working Together’ document as ‘ushering a new world of accountability’. The need for relevant information and effective adjudication has also been thrown into light by recent turmoil at the FSA.

So far so essential – but also relatively uncontroversial.

The authors’ discussion of vigilance is, however, a new avenue – interesting as much for what it doesn’t say as what it does. The essay explores trustee accountability and grass-roots shareowner movements as ways of shaking people out of a ‘hardy culture of passivity’, and using Web 2.0 networking capability to ‘pressurise investors into continuous engagement’. The overarching argument is that insiders (or market participants in this case) are often more effective regulators of market processes than outsiders – with the potential to drive up structures of transparency and accountability.

This is not self-regulation, but a nod towards the idea that we are all stakeholders in the financial crisis – and thus we all share a degree of responsibility for how it should work in the future.

The question is how far we take this idea. What would a citizen focused view of the market look like? Would it imply more than simple transfer and exchange? Should we be more than consumers? Should we be demanding a company balance sheet with our take-away cappuccinos? The IPPR are pushing at an open door with regard to re-evaluating the role of values in markets; but the debate will also have wider implications – sharing elements with emerging debates over public service reform. It is a creative avenue worth following.

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