Reflections on what might have been
On Friday Martha Lane-Fox Tweeted: “RT NewStatesman xmas issue: @Marthalanefox has agreed to be our celebrity subscriber of the week : HELP, not feeling v funny or inspired!”
Along with I have no idea how many others I put forward my suggestions: access to the knowledge society as a fundamental right not as a privilege and the imperative of including the most excluded as a principle of social justice and pragmatic sense. It’s easy for me. I’m not subject to a deadline, nor am I in the public eye and having to watch everything I say I just felt that the inspiration for what needed to be said was all around the digital inclusion champion.
In a time when the Neteratti have been debating the future of content accessed through pay walls the notion of an egalitarian knowledge society has seemed a long way away. I’ve never quite understood why it is that the proponents of a knowledge economy do not call for a knowledge society. There appears to be a deep seated belief that the knowledge economy can operate on the same model as the industrial economy and that the laws of scarcity and value will still apply. The truth is that individuals have the ability to add value to knowledge and it is from there that collaboration derives it economic and social power.
It’s very rare that I agree with Andrea Dimaio who writes a regular blog for Gartner on government. I have, on occasions, let off steam in response to some of the things he says but it’s just a rage against the storm. Last week he wrote about the short comings of President Obama’s Open Government Directive on transparency in government and highlighted that the citizen backchannel was missing from the plan. In his piece “US Open Government Directive is Disappointing” he points out that the mechanism for agencies to listen to citizens is not only missing from the plan, it’s positively discouraged. How can government services learn if they aren’t listening?
Early in December I did a presentation to a Local Strategic Partnership on Digital Inclusion and its impact on the delivery of services to people who experience both social and digital exclusion. After the presentation I helped facilitate a short workshop so that participants could put forward points of view and a broad consensus of ideas could be taken forward and developed into potential project ideas. Everything was so disconnected. It was the same place, with the same clients and, broadly speaking, shared objectives; to improve lives and life chances, but there was no communication. This isn’t unusual, it happens and even when communications are in place it’s at such a strategic level that it still doesn’t join up the operational opportunities that could make a difference. This is not to say that it’s not happening somewhere, it just isn’t happening everywhere.
The context here is the biggest users of public sector provided services whether they’re provided direct or whether they’re commissioned from private sector companies, not for profits or voluntary sector providers. These are individuals experiencing long term worklessness, victims of domestic violence, children at risk, people not in education, employment or training, homeless individuals, addicts, ex-offenders, single parents under eighteen and older people, people with disabilities, adults with learning difficulties, adults using mental health services and let’s not forget carers – young and old. I’m not talking about people who write to Members of Parliament or people who are concerned about street lights not working I’m probably not even talking about people who are likely to vote. I’m talking about a huge group of people who use public sector services more than any of us reading this blog.
Let us be clear. It’s not as if people in this group have the same choices. They cannot choose, they have to take what they are given. As the biggest users of public services they are also the greatest cost to the public sector both in terms of the amount of resource they need and in terms of their capacity to contribute; let alone the question of social equity or the value that people who are excluded might bring if they were included. So, it is in everybody’s interest to enable people in this group, to build capacity amongst the members of this group and to improve their lives and their life chances; which is what digital inclusion is supposed to help to do.
These groups of individuals experiencing difficulties are not, as some might think, disempowered. They have very potent personal networks which help them to survive and to meet many of their needs. These networks also help them to deal with officialdom, organise benefits and solve day to day problems of child care, debt, care and so on. Not all of them, not every individual or family but many of them. The network of friends and trusted agents is powerful and provides a lifeline. That’s why friends and trusted agents are the first layer of care around the individual. Then there are the neighbourhood groups, the voluntary organisations, the national charities and then the statutory bodies. They all form a care wrap around those individuals and families who experience the greatest levels of deprivation and the greatest levels of difficulty in our society.
All of these people have a story to tell. Stories about the way they experience the services that they receive and the ways in which they access those stories. This leads to what I call the holy trinity of service design. The local partnerships who commission services, the third sector who deliver some of those services and have the knowledge of the communities in which they work and finally, empowered communities who have the confidence and the channels to tell their stories.
Paul Webster from NAVCA highlighted this after the DDI09 conference stating that carers and trusted agents were a route to engagement and also a pathway to digital inclusion – YES. By enabling the individual and listening to their story we can improve the services we deliver and let individuals find their way to add value to the knowledge in society. As Leadbeater would say, we can do with and not do to.
This brings me back to something else Martha Lane-Fox said earlier this week
“@cyberdoyle i think govt shld be worrying abt making sure everyone has internet skills + access to proper quality 2mb 1st + superfast 2nd”
I have to say, I disagreed. Next Generation Access should not be predicated on a universal service offering and an individual’s right to participate in the knowledge society. The two things are not related, well, at least they shouldn’t be. The right of the individual to participate should be fundamental; the infrastructure to support that participation should be incidental. With that thought I think that the digital inclusion champion will have lots to tell the readers of the New Statesman and I look forward to reading the result.
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