Has public service ethos changed with the advance of technology, online services and the ‘Digital by Default’ agenda? This question lay at the heart of a local digital panel debate comprising senior central and local government representatives. The motion debated was: ‘This house believes that the ethos of public service will be destroyed by the digital agenda’.
Declining trust in institutions, the economic crash and globalisation have contributed to a profound change in the public service ethos of Government, according to Julian Bowrey, Deputy Director Digital and Corporate Communication, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), who spoke in favour of the motion.
One of the ways that the change has manifested itself, said Bowery, is in the transparency that blogs, social media and other digital services bring to the public arena, providing a microscope with which to examine Government. He explained that previously Government was ‘built on a degree of anonymity’ particularly for civil servants. “Now people know what I’m doing – previously I’d advise Ministers and they would be saying these things.”
“Blogs, social media and other digital services bring transparency to the public arena”
A question from the other side of the debate asked, “Should we be a barrier to people wanting to [perform an online transaction] on a Sunday night or on the train on their way to work?” The question was raised by Councillor Peter Fleming, leader of Sevenoaks District Council and Chairman of LGA’s Improvement & Innovation Board, who spoke against the motion.
He added: “Local government has a role in allowing people to move with the times. Digital will be part of a mix to allow us to continue to deliver vital services and helping [citizens] to help themselves. It’s no more than a tool and it won’t destroy public service.”
Cllr Fleming said that digital services in some cases allow government organisations to step back from processes it traditionally ‘served’ to the public, for example, in Wikipedia-style online collaboration, and through co-design, crowdsourcing and online services, such as, website Streetlife which allows neighbours to connect locally.
Government can work with the public to increase local online collaboration
How to manage the new demand in local government created by digital was raised as an area which needed consideration, combined with a look at how public expectations could be both effectively met and managed.
Highlighting that digital needed to be part of the mix of accessing services came out in the debate. Dave Briggs, Digital Capability Manager at Department of Health, said: “Digital is not a panacea, it’s part of the solution. Properly done, digital transformation processes will result in a solution for all groups [and] be customer centric – it doesn’t mean everyone uses digital.”
More from the local digital panel debate (Jan 2015)
Government Digital Strategy, December 2013 – includes the Digital by Default