Driven Back To The Edge

I have given up writing to my blog more than once. Sometimes for a few weeks and sometimes for a year but somehow I always end up doing another one. I get frustrated; not that I’m ever going to change world, but sometimes you wish that something would just happen. Trolls  will stop trolling (and stop calling it free speech), government will stop saying it’s transforming itself and listen for once, social media will be just that, a conversation mediated through technology and not a global force for good. I could go on but I won’t you will be pleased to hear.

Like the proverbial bus (if you have them – out here in rural Shropshire we don’t) not one for ages then two turn up at once. I came across two pieces in that last week or so that have revived my faith in the digital world and reminded my why I get so worked up about things.

The first piece is by Paul Waller and Vishanth Weerakkody:

Digital Government: overcoming the systemic failure of transformation
 Digital Transformation Through Policy Design With ICT-Enhanced Instruments

Declaration of interest here: I have worked with Paul Waller and I have a lot of time for the way he thinks about things. This paper is a refreshingly different approach. It covers a number of issues but one in particular caught my attention:
“The extensive constitutional, political and practical problems caused by this repositioning of citizens as consumers experiencing “customer services” are explored in depth by Fountain (2001) and Bekkers and Homburg (2007). More recent research shows that there can be serious consequences. First, for civic participation and democracy, as and when it leads to the creation of a mind-set in individuals (Galen et al, 2012) of being a consumer rather than a citizen: “we are seeing … an increasing body of evidence that the dominance of the Consumer identity is directly undermining the cause of encouraging political participation” (Alexander, 2014). Second, for public bodies, if a focus on the “customer” overwhelms their broader purpose in relation to public policy goals (Alexander, 2014).”

I have argued in earlier blog posts that the movement within the UK digital inclusion community towards seeing inclusion as a value added proposition, save money by being online, simply turned us into a nation of online shoppers. It didn’t make us any more inclusive in the wider sense. Casting public services in the same light simply increased the divide between those who understood the wider implications of digital and those who shopped and then told their friends what they bought. There is no guarantee that acquiring the skills to use a keyboard and order your groceries will translate into a deeper engagement with the digital world. By placing public services on a par with the Tesco delivery does not translate into civic engagement.

The Brexit debate (I use the term loosely) highlighted this being characterised by unchecked, hysterical claims and counter claims to which the most popular online response (apart from trolling) was to ask Google “What is the EU?” And “How can I get an Irish passport?” As a visiting alien observer might say: “I weep for the species”.

The second piece which caught my eye was from a Scandinavian blogger Christoffer O’ Hernaes: “You Can’t Have Financial Inclusion Without Digital Inclusion” in which he raised the issues of the 2.5 billion people worldwide who do not have access to banking, the “unbanked”. There are solutions but without digital inclusion both in a physical and practical way people are unable to access them. The piece can be found on TechCrunch and it highlights not only the issues but also the opportunities afforded by decentralisation of services and mobile identities.

So what am I saying here? Why bother to write this blog and take up your time (always assuming you have stayed with me this far). Firstly I urge you to read the two pieces I’ve talked about. Secondly, particularly if you’re engaged in delivering digital inclusion, consider how much of what you do is fit for the future in the wider scheme of things. Officially we still have 17% of people who are digitally excluded either by lack of access, lack of skills or both.  I’m not anti skills; I believe you can never underestimate the importance of skills, but skills are not the answer. I wonder what the % of digital exclusion would look like if we took into account wider engagement in the digital realm?


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