Sousveillance, Social Networking and Revolt - bring about the reform of public service delivery

There is a spate of workshops and conferences this autumn on how to use IT to improve service delivery and lower cost. Most are too low level to be effective, whether to convince those who hold budgets, or to make much difference if they were. Meanwhile the widening gulf between reported performance and that perceived by recipients indicates the problems that arise from uncritical belief in “the power of information“.  

Confidence is crumbling in the accuracy of what is recorded in centralised databases or reported in performance measurement systems designed to justify the bonuses of those in charge.

The time has come to strip out all the layers of obfuscation and revert to the basic disciplines of systems engineering and information management in support of democratic accountability.

What needs to happen has been often reported and in April EURIM produced a four page summary of Good Procurement Practice linking back, with a hierarchy of refences to dozens of reports and thousands of pages of recommendations and guidance.    

But what will cause those responsible to change their behaviour?

Not workshops, conferences and reports – unless these are focussed on how to respond rapidly and efficiently to a rising tide of political and public opinion before it leads to a new generation of snake-oil.

EURIM is working on a programme to brief the next generation of politicians, the parliamentary candidates who, when elected, will have the ultimate responsibility for scrutinising performance.

There are a variety of messages and later this week EURIM is due to agree a one by A4 crib sheet covering the key messages. 

But what will really bring about constructive change at prices we are willing to pay?  

Those wishing to bring about genuine improvement in service delivery need to look to the structured use of “sousveillance” to encourage direct feedback from recipients to those with direct operational responsibility, coupled to the equally stuctured use of social networking to mobilise collective pressure where necessary.

I say “structured” because the responses to the 2009 Oxford Internet Institute survey support the growing view that on-line political debate is unrepresentative of public concerns. More-over, the lack of security and confidentiality means on-line polls are far too easy to rig.

We have moved into the “dark night of the Internet” – when no-one trusts what they are told in an solicited e-mail inviting them to apply for a benefit, tax refund, cheaper way to pay their gas bill, collect their winnings from the Microsoft lottery or give their views on xyz.

This morning I looked back at my 2001 essay on the next 50 years of business computing and what I said about the impending collapse of trust and the creation of end-over-end security mechanisms in response. I wonder how long it will really take to rebuild trust – as generations of encryption-based trust systems are developed and broken?

It will all depend on who drives and how.

Hence also the importance of the EURIM group on Information Governance, especially that on Security by Design.