A new role for Government: bullying the well-off

James Crabtree and Noah Curthoys from the Work Foundation’s iSociety research project have written a report about e-government targets.

They think the current goal of getting 100% of government services online by 2005 is silly and they’ve found some funny examples from the official literature to back up their assertion ndash; the seed potato classification scheme and burial at sea to name two.

Their analysis is on the money. Indiscriminately shovelling services onto the net is reductive and wasteful. It’s the e-gov equivalent of a really dumb marketing plan that attempts to sell everything to everyone – without bothering to segment the market, identify hot prospects or promote profitable top sellers.

I guess their most provocative proposal is that government should consider compelling some of their customers – the most well-off and ‘e-literate’ – to use online channels. They say that this group is less likely to use the web than the access figures suggest so poor and un-wired service users are effectively subsidising the lazy middle classes.

The press release doesn’t say where you can get the report but presumably it’ll be here. Click ‘more’ for the press release:

2005 Government Online Goal Must Be “Downgraded”

Government review must make boosting uptake top priority – Report – Encouraging more citizens to use online services and so speed-up public sector reform should be made the unequivocal top priority by British Government in its forthcoming review of e-Government, by downgrading the target of putting all public services online by 2005 if necessary, argues a new report from The Work Foundation’s iSociety Research project released today, July 17th 2003.

The Report – SmartGov: Renewing Electronic Government for Improved Service Delivery, by Noah Curthoys and James Crabtree, sponsored by Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers – commends many existing e-Government projects, highlights much needed examples of success, and is optimistic about the potential of e-Government. It suggests that new technology must be at the heart of attempts to reform the public sector, and can deliver both measurable improvements to public sector outputs and “a philosophy for the reinvention of the state”.

While the report acknowledges that the Government is committed to improving usage of e-Government services, it advocates a major change of emphasis, and examines methods to achieve this. Absolute top priority must be given to exceeding existing targets for usage, underpinned by improved customer segmentation, better marketing, the introduction of compulsion for certain e-enabled user groups, and the introduction of new targets to promote more radical re-organisation of public sector bodies around new technologies.

Report co-author Noah Curthoys said: “The E-Envoy has hinted he is about to unveil a “dramatic shake-up” of e-Government. We are calling on Government to redouble their efforts to put increasing usage at the heart of this review, and to back this up with increased resources to meet their targets and new strategies to get people using e-Government”.

The report suggests that new tactics, which concentrate on changed ways of working, are required to ensure e-Government achieves “a run of spectacular public success”, to highlight existing achievement, reverse perceptions of failure, and reinvigorate public confidence in reform. The 100% target could make matters worse.

Co-author James Crabtree said: “Some of the services Government has to put online to meet its 100% target – from burial at sea to potato seed classification – begin to look a little peculiar when barely 3% of those eligible are filing their tax returns online. The Government wants to give people choice in how they use public services, but in a dogfight between choice and use, use has to be the clear victor. The focus must shift to channel migration strategies and deeper segmentation of e-literate users.”

SmartGov gives a full analysis of the past, present, and future of e-Government. It highlights five contradictions at the heart of e-Government:

Usage Segments: those most likely to use public services are also the least likely to use, or be comfortable using, the Internet.

Channel Habits: the more complicated an interaction with the state, the less the average citizen wants to do it on the Internet. Telephones, rather than the web, remain the overwhelming favourite ways to communicate with the state.

Delivery Levels: Local Government provides most public services, but has least money and ability to provide e-Government. Greater decentralisation of funding and initiative is a priority.

Understand the cost: e-Government is not always about “spending to save”, and doesn?t always save public money in the short-term.

Problem Visibility. e-Government makes the public sector appear worse rather than better because projects often result in a dip in performance as problems are worked out. In effect things sometimes get worse before they get better, and initially expose flaws in public sector practice.

The report concludes by suggesting five over-riding principles to introduce smarter e-Government, or SmartGov:

Organisational change, not electronic change. The purpose is to reform, not just re-wire. Putting services online must come hand in hand with organisational restructuring to deliver on the promise of e-Government.

E-Government is joined-up government. There is no distinction between the two, and to succeed at one, government has to include the other.

Popular services, targeted use. E-Government needs to be used, meaning improved market segmentation, increased incentives, and compulsion for some user groups.

Re-brand, but Drop the ‘E’. E-Government must not be ghettoised, and should be rebranded to make it part and parcel of wider attempts to introduce public services reform.

Build up to Success. E-Government needs to be achieved piece by piece, not as a ‘big-bang’.


Note to Editors

The Work Foundation?s iSociety project is an independent investigation of the impact of Information and Communication Technology in the UK. Run within the Work Foundation?s research department, and with generous support from Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers, iSociety continues to identify ‘deep impact’ changes brought about by the widespread diffusion of the ICT into our lives.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the world’s largest professional services firm, assists government and public sector organisations in the UK and internationally, combining its scale with independence of thought, experience and a focus on their clients’ issues and needs. To find out more please e-mail: government.practice@uk.pwc.com.

Douglas Alexander, Cabinet Office Minister of State, said on 16 January 2003: “Our e-transformation policy aims to meet the needs of the citizen… by developing new, creative, easy to use sites that are designed, end to end, around those needs.”

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, discussed e-Government at last years e-summit – http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page1734.asp

By the end of 2003, the Inland Revenue predicts that 250,000 people will file self-assessment tax returns electronically out of a total of 8 million possible

The E-Envoy said in November 2002, that increasing use was now a top priority for Government. He has recently hinted that “a dramatic shake-up” of the Government?s strategy will be announced shortly. (http://www.networknews.co.uk/News/1140867)‎

Latest Cabinet Office figures show that 63% of all public services are now online.

The Authors are available for interview. Further press enquiries, contact Adam Wurf at The Work Foundation Tel: 020 7004 7224/7225 or 07812 450 398 Email: mforna@theworkfoundation.com, or James Crabtree Tel 07932 690 746

A research project supported by:

web: www.theworkfoundation.com/research/isociety online journal: www.theisociety.net

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