Digital visions

I spend a fair bit of time talking to local councils and the like about taking a strategic approach to digital stuff, although usually it is mostly around engagement, and a bit of communications.

It’s important – simply to know what you want to achieve and why. As soon as you have those things figure out then it’s easy to choose the right tools and channels to help you get there.

Taking a strategic approach though doesn’t necessarily mean you need a bit of paper, with ‘strategy’ written on it. Sometimes just having thought about the issues is all you need to do. A quick look on Twitter or Facebook and it’s pretty straightforward to spot those that haven’t even done that!

However, there are times when a bit more of an in depth look at all things digital are required. After all, the bits of an organisation like a local council that are affected by the internet go way beyond just the communications team.

There’s customer services and all the transactional stuff – what commonly gets referred to as channel shift these days. There’s the democratic element, and the policy development process. The way big projects are managed and communicated can be transformed by the web. Every service delivery team could make use of digital channels to deliver that service, or part of it, or at least communications around it.

Given all of this, and the vital strategic role a council plays within a local area, having a digital vision is pretty important. There are several big agendas connected to technology which need to be considered.

What elements are required?

  • channel shift
  • digital engagement
  • mobile
  • publishing / content strategy
  • digital inclusion and broadband roll out
  • open data

I think these are probably best presented as some form of ven diagram, and there is bound to be plenty of overlap in there.

I’ve always like the phrase that ushered in the Government Digital Service – that of ‘digital by default’. The notion not that digital is the only option – but that it is always an option. Quite often when I have been called in to help out with digital side of a project or campaign, it’s been a bit of an add on. Being digital by default means building the online element from the get go – making it an integral part of a service or project.

It also means getting away from one of the flaws of the e-government era – that (necessary) rush to get government services online – which was to do the wrong thing righter. In other words, not rethinking how a service should be delivered in a networked society but just taking a process and sticking it into an online form.

We’re just taking on a project to deliver a comprehensive high level digital strategy for a county council. I’m delighted – it’s the sort of meaty, wide ranging envisioning work which is pretty scarce these days. It also offers a chance to think about what a truly digital local council might look like, and how it might work.

Part of the project will involve running a crowdsourcing exercise on good practice and what the future may hold for local government digital – rather like the effort I made back in 2009 which focused on websites. That’ll launch in a few weeks. In the meantime I’d love to hear from anyone who has been having digital visions in the comments, or by email.

4 thoughts on “Digital visions”

  1. I have been having digital visions for far too long. The first step is to admit that you have a problem…

    I think this is a great post and agree with almost all of it. The one thing I would question is equating ‘all the transactional stuff’ with ‘channel shift’. There is a close connection, but there is a lot more to the transactional stuff than channel shift, and indeed a lot more to channel shift than transactional stuff. Maybe I am biased (definitely I am biased), but I still see too much thinking and doing which understates the difference between informing and transacting.

    I would argue that it’s important to look at transactional services in their own right, for exactly the reason you give, that it should be about transforming services, not just automating them. Done well, that will certainly make channel shift a lot easier, but labelling the whole thing channel shift risks creating the perception that it’s about persuasion (or compulsion) and is something that users of the service have to do, rather than being in part a consequence of getting the underlying service right, and so something that is inescapably the responsibility of providers of the service. Digital by default is the consequence of getting that right.

    • Yes, you’re completely right and indeed, following a meeting with out client yesterday, we’ve added in a key theme which is around user-centered service design. In other words, when services are reviewed and revised it needs to have the user right at the front, with the ‘digital by default’ element there too – not necessarily just because it’s cheaper for the council but because it’s easier (and better) for the users.

      The slight issue is that user centered service design probably doesn’t belong in a digital strategy, but it seems the only way to get the concept signed off at a senior level – and the digital by default element does at least provide a peg to hang it off.

      • Absolutely right to be pragmatic about that, but if you want to create a justification, it could be that a consequence of adopting digital by default as a principle is that service design is inherently part of a digital strategy – though that’s not to say, of course, that that’s the only approach to service design or the only reason why it matters.

  2. I agree with almost everything you say, however it’s important to remember in any discussion involving inclusion and engagement that many citizens actually don’t want any sort of contact with their Council.

    Any digital vision or strategy should cater for this group.

    “Digital by Default” should really be “Digital By Choice”. Digital services should be so easy to use that they’re not the default channel, they’re the channel of choice.

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