Citizen Engagement Digital Policy United States

What’s in a name?

Watching Jon Alexander’s recent interview on Citizen2015 brought to mind an epiphany moment I had a couple of years ago at a conference for government, military and private-sector organizations that provide logistics services to the military.

It came during a presentation about the massive disaster relief operation the US military conducted following hurricane Katrina given by Army General Russel L. Honoré, commander of the operation. He was talking about the critical importance that logistics play in any military operation and how a small logistical failure can doom an entire mission. He then turned around and, gazing directly at the audience, pointedly said – and I’m paraphrasing here: “You need to think of us not as customers but as patients – patients who, without your care, without your lifelines, would die.” It struck me how, just by using a different word, one’s perspective of something can change so dramatically. To me, “patient” connotes urgency, constancy, commitment, uncompromising quality and compassion – not words one would normally associate with “customer” or “end-user.”

In the United States, it is common practice for government personnel to refer to the public they serve as “taxpayers.”  This characterization is interesting in that it connotes respect – a recognition that the operation of the government is funded by its citizens. Yet, to Jon Alexander’s point, it has little to do with the notion of citizens participating in the government. If anything, it has the opposite connotation – an arm’s length relationship.

The challenge is how to change the government’s view of the public from taxpayers or consumers to citizens – or partners. It’s far more than a name change; it’s a cultural change that needs to come about across our government organizations and leaders. Some would argue that we are talking about a sea change in culture.

Here in United States, particularly at the Federal government level, the concept of the citizen as a consumer of services, by and large, appears to remain well entrenched. Historically, the majority of Federal eGovernment investments have been for the provision of services to the “taxpayer.” Another area of significant investment has been in open government and transparency – which has been largely driven by President Obama and grassroots movements like the Sunshine Foundation.

It is at the state and local government levels where we are starting to see the transformation of the citizen from consumer to participant. One example: Maryland’s Montgomery County’s engageMontgomery – a crowd-sourcing platform that serves as a virtual town hall where citizens can submit and discuss ideas that can potentially be implemented in the future.

Initiatives such as this, small as they are today, are key: Not only do they deliver value but they also raise citizens’ expectations– which, in turn, become the catalysts of change. Or as law professor Michael Tigar once said: “All revolutions are impossible until they happen, then they become inevitable.”

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Thought Leader Interviews: Washington DC

During late June we’ll be undertaking a series of video interviews with thought leaders in digital government and citizen participation in Washington DC.

Commencing June 22 the Citizen 2015 team will be in town and we’ll be interviewing government leaders, politicians, representatives from policy think-tanks, academics and journalists.

If you feel you have strongly held opinions on how government service needs to better reflect the needs of citizens please contact us. Or if you would like to recommend someone please drop us a note.  Just complete the form below.

We’ll be conducting interviews from Monday, June 22 to Friday June 26.

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Citizen Engagement Digital Policy

Citizen Engagement and the Austerity Crunch

I caught up with David Moody, the Global Practice Leader of Government and Public Sector at Verint Systems – earlier this week.

David was in London meeting one of Verint’s global integration partners – which gave me the opportunity to get some perspective on the impact that austerity is having on government drives to embrace digital government.

In the video, below, David outlines how government often falls well behind the commercial sector in allowing citizens to get access to the information or services they need via digital processes. Citizen engagement initiatives are often stalling because government bodies are trying to put in place tactical cures when strategic solutions are needed.

I interviewed David against the back-drop of London’s City Hall – home of the Greater London Authority.


Citizen Engagement Digital Government

From Consumerism to Citizenship

Jon Alexander founded the New Citizenship Project after working for a decade in the advertising and marketing industry. His agenda is to find ways to apply the skills of marketing for genuinely positive social and environmental ends.

I had heard about Jon’s crusade to encourage business and government alike to think less about consumers and more about citizens. I was keen to get his perspectives on how government service could be improved by a more citizen focused perspective.

According to Jon, the discipline of thinking about citizens makes organisations much better at innovating new services that are, by their very nature, more collaborative and more fit for purpose. The consumer era was characterized by feeding services to willing recipients. The citizen era is much more about active participation where both sides of service provision have skin in the game.

“There’s a big trend to talk about customers or consumers in government. That, in itself, is dangerous. When you think of people as consumers there’s only really one interaction they can have – which is to ‘buy’ from you. If you think of people as citizens and you start using that language then you start coming up with different ideas.  If you think about citizens you want to work with you start to think differently about how you develop services. By working with people you can involve them in designing and developing the service.”

In the video, below, Jon first outlines how citizenship differs from consumerism. In the second half of the discussion he provides advice to government leaders as to how to transition from one world to another.


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Conservatives Win: Where Next Digital Government?

The Conservatives have landed a surprise win in the UK general election. Big losers, apart from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, are the opinion polling firms such as YouGov, that had predicted a so-called hung parliament. Right up to the day of polling, the pollsters, many of whom use Internet panels to test the public mood, had been predicting a result “too close to call”.

However, in the event, the Conservatives have won an overall majority – a result that few commentators or pollsters had predicted.

Meanwhile the BBC’s exit poll, that asked voters, as they left the polling stations, how they had voted, proved much more accurate. The exit poll indicated a huge drop in public support for the Liberal Democrats. The reaction of Liberal Democrat peer, Paddy Ashdown, was to offer to “eat his hat” if the exit poll was accurate. It proved to be highly accurate.

Indeed the exit poll understated the extent of Conservative gains. The Conservatives have, in fact, won an overall majority rather than merely the biggest number of seats predicted by the exit poll.

The Consequences for digital government policy will be more of the same – but without the involvement of the Liberal Democrats as coalition partners.  The Conservatives have indicated in their manifesto that they want more IT procurement to be channeled through the so-called G-Cloud: the procurement framework that allows even relatively small ISVs and service providers to get their solutions to departments and local authorities relatively easily with limited tendering fuss. The previous target was 25% of procurement. The new target will be around 1/3 of all procurement.

The Government Digital Service has also been creating so-called Government-as-a-Platform initiatives – reusable component technologies that can be used across departments and already pass muster in terms of user experience and security. Expect more of these types of initiatives.

However, as indicated in a previous post, there remains much work to be done in terms of addressing technology delivery for headline policy and transformational change initiatives. Leader of the pack in this regard is Universal Credit. The system roll-out remains problematic, to say the least. The incoming government has its work cut out.

Citizen Engagement

Internet of Things and Citizen Engagement

According to IDC Government Insights, the analyst firm, government agencies with targets to increase citizen engagement will be spending a significant percentage of their budgets on so-called 3rd platform technologies or Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020.

This will require a redefinition of citizen experience.

Digital Government

Countdown to GE2015

The UK public will go to the polls on Thursday, May 7. Opinion polls show that the likelihood of a ‘hung parliament’ is high – with no one political party having an overall majority.

The outgoing government required the Conservative Party (led by David Cameron) and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats to put together a coalition. It proved to be remarkably stable over the last five years. However, the likelihood – this time round – is of a more fragmented coalition.


Coming soon…our thought leader interview series

We’re planning our first series of interviews with thought leaders in digital government over the coming months.

Citizen 2015 will build a rich body of information, opinion and debate around the process of citizen to government engagement. Therefore, we want to engage ourselves. We want the opinion of the people who are thinking about how government needs to change and adapt to better suit the needs of citizens.

Our project will focus on the following major themes.

  • Citizen engagement with government
  • The role of citizens in an increasingly digital world
  • Digital government
  • Smarter government
  • Big data and government
  • Government and the cloud
  • Digital consultation with citizens and business
  • Smarter cities

If you would like to take part in our interview program please contact us. Our initial interview series will commence in London (May 12-14). We’ll be conducting interviews in Washington DC and Boston in late June.

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Citizen 2015: We’re Live!

We’re at the early stages of putting together this new site. We want it to be one of the most important information portals focused on digital government.

Citizen 2015 will feature regular updates on issues relating to citizen to government engagement, and government service provision. It will feature video interviews with thought leaders, regular blog posts from the editorial team and guest writers. We also plan to publish white papers focused on issues that are relevant for technology decision-makers in government.

Citizen 2015 will build a significant body of information and thought leadership on issues surrounding digital government. If you like to play a part in the process please contact us.