Government Doesn’t Do Cool

Today, we started off with Helen Margetts from Oxford, who is co-author of The Tools of Government in the Digital Age, a sequel/update/follow-up to the well-known The Tools of Government by Christopher Hood (who is Margetts’ co-author on the Digital Age book). She summarised the toolkit/toolshed approach (and NATO: “nodality, authority, treasure, organisation”), which was very helpful – in the past, I have been working with Peter Grant’s idea of the regulatory toolkit in broadcasting, so getting a well-known political scientist talking us through the broader concepts is invaluable.

The work that Margetts has been doing involves some interesting tools, including experiments on how people find information (and where they go). For example, experiment participants were asked to find an answer to a question that could be answered in full from a government information site, but only half of them used such a site, and one in seven used direct.gov.uk (citizensinformation.ie has a similar layout and look and feel – I used it every day professionally in TCDSU and USI but it’s quite a heap of text and a crowded front page; Helen mentioned the very funny Directionlessgov site, which compares direct.gov.uk and Google results!)). People Google, use Wikipedia, and (in particular) go to the private sector (e.g. monster.com for employment information/CV building/etc. Indeed, a related statistic (that 46% in the UK have used Government sites, as compared with 79% who bought online and 90% who looked for goods and services online) does indicate the work that is left to do.

Other things touched on in the presentation included the changes in government tool-selection due to IT and digital technologies (chapter 9 of the book), and indeed the positive and negative elements, including circumvention. We also discussed the difficulties of ‘bringing the citizen into the front office’, and web 2.0-type technologies (the headline to the post came from that discussion!)

Government on the InternetI enjoyed reading the paper (Governing From The Centre? Comparing the Nodality of Digital Government) on measuring nodality – Helen added that it was important because traditionally this has been a difficult element to measure. A further source, and the source of many of the facts and stats of the presentation, was the work commissioned by the National Audit Office, Government on the Internet. This recently-published work is great, and I haven’t had a chance to digest all the research data that’s on the site. Essential reading for web designers and public policy analysts everywhere.

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