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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A recipe for transformation

By Lauren Cumming

1 cup new opportunities created by evolving technology, 1 cup long-term demand crisis driven by ageing population, ½ cup sense of urgency created by current fiscal crisis… This morning 2020 PST launched 2020 Vision: A far-sighted approach to transforming public services. The report draws on the work of the Commission to date which has developed a positive, long-term vision for the future of public services and analysed the shifts in culture, power and finance that need to take place to achieve that vision. 2020 Vision goes a step further by examining the implications of the Commission’s vision for setting the priorities for public action, redesigning services to create more public value and ensuring accountability. The report then discusses the barriers impeding transformation and steps that can be taken to increase the chances of success.

Working on this project has been very challenging. In many ways, it is not difficult to point to the shortcomings in our public services, or say things like, “Can’t they just ________ (provide good services everywhere, put that online, train people better)?” Even understanding the factors within the system that block change is relatively straightforward. But to find the right levers to unlock resistance to change – well, if it were easy someone would have done it before me. This report does not pretend to have all the answers – transforming public services is too complicated for one report to cover all the ground. I think the biggest contribution of 2020 Vision is to propose a framework for thinking about how to make change, by asking:

  • What is our vision for the future? Where are we trying to go?
  • What conditions need to be in place for that to happen?
  • What are the barriers to those conditions?
  • What are the actions that we could take, in the short, medium and long term, in society and at various levels of government, to remove those barriers and create the conditions needed for change?

As this morning’s discussion made clear, the time for transformation is now. A new coalition government and the fiscal crisis are creating the necessary momentum for major change. As respondent Stephen Dorrell argued, this is not just about deciding how much the public are willing to pay, this is about creating public services that meet the needs of citizens today. These are questions we should be asking ourselves even if we had all the money in the world to spend on public services. Now is the moment to take some risks, be innovative and transform public services so they can meet the challenges ahead.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Four obstacles in the face of the final frontier

By Charlotte Alldritt

The sheer breadth and complexity of information and technology policy became all too clear at 2020PST’s roundtable yesterday morning.  Leading officials and activists met to discuss the next stage of open government and online self-services.  This brought us into the territory of – amongst other things – the Coalition’s ‘new politics’ of transparency and accountability; cost efficiencies and cuts; social and digital inequalities and the prospect for more personalised, responsive, citizen-focussed public services. 

 Many, many important points were raised, but four in particular stood out for me:

  •  Culture in government, Whitehall and public services - lack of awareness/understanding of the power of online ‘self services’ to deliver high quality for less is the primary barrier.  There is often a presumption that many public services can only be provided face-to-face and alternatives are ‘too cheap’ to deliver quality outcomes and too risky to implement.  Similar arguments apply with regards to open data.  Determined leadership is vital, but the business case for online service delivery and open government needs to be made.  Only then can we expect to see ingrained cultural attitudes and practices begin to change.
  • Provider capture and vested interests – often there are strong incentives acting against the diversion of citizens to lower cost channels.  While models of funding which ‘follow the user’ can help to support choice and competition in public service delivery (in theory generating cost savings and increased quality), they encourage default face-to-face interaction when alternative channels might be more appropriate and cost efficient.
  • Scale – the issue of scale often brings to mind the age-old debates of local vs central procurement of IT systems, software and shared services (for example) and delivery/administration (e.g. housing benefit).  But it also demands we consider the level at which we are trying to engage users and achieve certain outcomes.  For instance, are we trying to enable communities – whether for a locality or other common cause – to work together more effectively via social networking?  Or transform national public service institutions and systems?  Do we need to employ different tactics and strategy to achieve both of these aims? 
  • Public voice – how can the public voice demanding online access to information and services be rallied to push government and providers?  How do we ensure (and reassure the public) that it is as easy and secure to log on to public services as it is to access internet banking? 

Much is already happening in response to many of these four points.  The progress of data.gov.uk and the Coalition’s commitment to publishing  data online is a good start.  But the withdrawal of funding Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s web science institute is a major blow.  More than ever – at a time of cuts and cost savings – technology should not be thought about as an expensive ‘bolt-on’ in the hope of making bad services slightly better.  Not least because in practice this (by lack of coherent integration and design) often makes matters worse.  Instead, it’s about using existing and emerging (typically low-cost) communication technologies to enable citizens to work with public services in a way which enables better outcomes at lower cost. 

But I’m at risk of sounding too tech-evangelical.  What is needed is to build the evidence base and let the argument speak largely (and loudly) for itself.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

A vision for 2020 information and technology: Part 2 – Criminal Justice

By Charlotte Alldritt

The year is 2020.  Over the past decade, simple online technologies have transformed the way we access data and information, hold public services to account and engage with government.  Transparency is the watchword of the day.  The ultimate prize? Renewed political legitimacy and public services finally fit for purpose.  In the second installment in this series, I look at how technology and information can inform the public about the real risks of crime they face  in their local area, and allow active dialogue between citizens and their criminal justice service. 

David Johnson is an elderly resident in a large town in the South West.  David has lived here for many years, but he has recently found it more difficult to get out and about to nearby shops and community facilities for fear of being victim to anti-social behaviour.  Unfortunately, low-level crime is increasing in David’s part of town and he is spending more and more time confined to his home. 

Crime Mapping has been around for over a decade, but now data from a range of sources can be mashed up 

David’s family have persuaded him to relocate closer to them.  One of the first steps in the search for a new home is to look up comparative crime rates in the local area. By accessing the local authority webpage, the Johnson family is linked to a local crime mapping site.  This site integrates data on reported crime, appeals to witnesses (building on the pioneering work of Viscero), criminal sentences and A&E data (which captures injuries caused through (typically violent) crime – as shown in BBC’s ‘The Truth About Crime’ in 2009).  It also hosts a forum for residents on anti-social behaviour (ASB).  The web forum allows citizens to talk to each other and to their Neighbourhood Policing Team about how safe they feel in their local area, ideas for how to tackle low-level crime and what measures they feel are working to tackle ASB.  This local crime mapping website is linked to the national CrimeMapper service, and features similar easy-to-read graphs showing detailed crime rates over time at street level.  This kind of information is reassuring to David and his family, who are able to search for properties within a safe area close to the shops and community activity centres.

Active dialogue between residents and their Neighbourhood Policing team without breaching citizen anonymity

The Neighbourhood Policing Team is active in cross-checking local residents’ concerns with reported anti-social behaviour.  They are keen to build a complete picture of where local residents feel most at risk of crime, why and how they might improve the situation.  This commitment encourages citizens to report ASB online using the Report It system (accessible via the same, single local authority website).  This system can be accessed and updated by the Neighbourhood Policing team and local police force so that patterns of repeat ASB can be identified and steps taken to protect victims.

In developing these systems for better information and active dialogue between citizens and police service, concerns about anonymity were taken very seriously.  The online residents’ forum on ASB is allows users to choose whether or not to share their identity.  All data is protected as stipulated by the Data Protection Act.  In order to avoid false or inadequate reports, there is an online video guide on the website that describes what constitutes anti-social behaviour, what kind of evidence must be gathered and presented, and what information on witness protection available.

Citizens can hold their local police service to account better through a simple online comparative performance tool

Finally, the local authority portal links to a single, national police service comparison website.  This has a dashboard for relative performance of all police forces across the country and, by enabling users to post their feedback and engage in discussion with HMIC, it builds on the beta version, MyPolice launched in March 2010.  Technology and information are helping to inform citizens, strengthens their relationship with the criminal justice system and gives them a greater sense of ownership within their local communities.  Once again, technology and information serve to enhance transparency, accountability and the quality of our public services.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A vision for 2020 information and technology: Part 1 – Education

By Charlotte Alldritt

The year is 2020.  Over the past decade, simple online technologies have transformed the way we access data and information, hold public services to account and engage with government.  Transparency is the watchword of the day.  The ultimate prize? Renewed political legitimacy and public services finally fit for purpose.  In the first of this series on the part technology and information have to play, I explore the potential for education. 

Susan is a mother of twins, living in London. Her children, James and Marsha, will be starting primary school next year. Each child has different learning and care requirements, with Marsha requiring extra support as she has special educational needs (SEN).

Online data to inform choice

Accessing the local authority webpage, Susan is directed to a GIS system and carries out a search for local primary schools based on her postcode. She personalises the search to showcase primaries with special needs facilities and tutorials. Susan is then able to access up-to-date information about every local school, including parent reviews on the facilities, teaching quality, ethos and atmosphere. Using an open database (with an accessible user interface linked to the local authority website), Susan can also compare data through a single comparative website – from Ofsted, the NHS, local authorities and other integrated service providers – to check for quality.  This would be the alpha version of Tim Berners-Lee’s data.gov.uk.  Digital Public has some other great examples – see pictured below.)

Education

Power to verify personal data and information

Once Susan has applied online for her children’s primary school places, she is able to access the data held by the local authority about her and her children before it is transferred to their new schools. Using a Unique Identification Number and a password for each child, she will be able to make changes to data and information held on her children. For privacy purposes, only trained and security-cleared professionals will be able to crosscheck this information.  With Susan’s consent they may also refer to her family’s GP records (also accessible to Susan online and possibly via a third party – e.g. Microsoft’s HealthVault) if needed.

Cost-effective public services responsive to citizens’ needs

While none of the technology Susan is using is very new, Susan is now able to access a wealth of information that helps her to choose the best for her and her family.  In the wake of spending cuts after the 2009 recession, taxpayers could no longer afford to fund poor quality public services.  Armed with data and information, service users and professionals can assess whether they getting or delivering quality public services.  Susan can share this information with fellow parents online, talk to her peers, local leaders, MPs and officials via formal and informal feedback sites (similar to, for example, Kings Cross Local Environment or diabetessupport.co.uk.  She knows that her voice can make a difference.  Government and providers know they have to respond. 

Technology is integral, not an add-on

By now the internet is not a technology, but a way of being – it is part of the fabric of our lives; we communicate, socialise, create culture, buy/sell, read, watch, write online.  And it’s on our terms, at our convenience – any time of the day or night.  ‘Self-service’ online public services seemed like science fiction to some in the first decade of the millennium.  By 2020, the pace of technological change (and with it, the vast majority of public attitudes and behaviours) has forced governments and providers to catch up and open up.  Not only has this allowed for more accessible, personalised public services.  It is renewing a sense of active citizenship and political legitimacy – the decline of which was reaching crisis point only ten years earlier.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guest blog by Sir Andrew Foster Chair of the Commission on 2020 Public Services

By Ashish Prashar

“This evening the Commission on 2020 Public Services – of which I am Chair – launches its Interim Report: ‘Beyond Beveridge: principles for 2020 public services’.  The report is the culmination of a long period of discussion, deliberation and, ultimately, agreement.  We are a diverse commission, representing many political, professional and personal backgrounds.  That we have come together with a common voice is surely significant.

This interim agreement at a moment of crisis for public services is what makes the recommendations of our Commission worth considering.  All 20 Commissioners agree that narrow critiques inevitably find their way to narrow solutions.  So our critique is broad; and our vision for the future is positive and coherent.  Short-term solutions to the debt crisis dominate the press.  So our report looks to the longer term – arguing that short-term decision making must be underpinned by deliberate and strategic principle.

Ultimately, the Commission is about finding a way to develop public services that do better by the people who most rely on them.  We believe in public services as things we all benefit from.  But outcomes are failing some citizens.  The structural basis of our system – designed by William Beveridge in his 1942 report – is no longer adequate for the new world we live in.

Today’s report sets out the Commission’s interim findings.  We lay out a positive vision for public services, and some building blocks to get us there.  Our own next steps involve grounding these principles in the real lives of citizens and those who work in public services.  We will present our final recommendations in summer this year.”

Together with its interim report, the 2020 Public Services Trust is publishing an essay by Professor Howard Glennerster entitled Financing the United Kingdom’s Welfare States and a report prepared by Ipsos MORI called What do people want, need and expect from public services. Professor Glennerster’s essay reveals the extent of the hole in our public finances and advocates partnership approaches between the state and citizens to fund public services. The report by Ipsos MORI uses the most up to date quantitative and qualitative research to explore the public’s priorities and anxieties and suggests how the relationship between citizens and their services might change in the future. These papers have enriched the Commission’s understanding of the context in which it operates – from the perspective of citizens, and with the country’s delicate fiscal situation in mind.

Two major new reports follow these publications.  Online or In-Line: The Future of Information Technology in the Public Services is a report exploring both the opportunities technology can create for public service reform as well as the associated risks, coming out this Friday. On March 23rd, check our website for Delivering a Localist Future: a route-map for change which assesses the practical barriers to achieving the frequently debated, often promised and never delivered localism, and suggests ways to overcome those challenges.

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