Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A virtual Visitor to #mps09 "My" Public Services 2009

On 26th November I 'virtually' attended the MyPublicServices conference which was organised by the people behind Patient Opinion. I say 'virtually' because I attended not in person but as a visitor via the Conference Twitter chat. I followed the conversation on Twitter and visited the hyperlinks posted by attendees - and joined in where I thought appropriate.

I followed the conference on the Twitter hashtag #mps09. By including this 6-character term in each tweet, it allowed each tweeter to follow the same conversation. TweetDocs are available that record up to 500 tweets on the day at TweetDoc_3 and TweetDoc_4.

The Conference - My observations on the discussion.

The premise of MyPublicServices was to bring together those who are building stuff on the web to improve public services. It was about re-thinking what we mean by "public services". It was about improving on what already exists and inspiring the creation of what doesn't.

"My" public services is currently a bit of a misnomer. The occasions when people refer to "my" and "mine" when talking about public services are very rare. Public services are "the Council's", "the Government's", "the NHS's" or somebody else's. The idea of people being the owners of public services has certainly not caught on in common possessive language let alone in public imagination. But through the course of the day at #mps09 then people dared to think that perhaps it might be possible for people to move on from being the passive recipients of public services, to engaged beneficiaries that could not only choose which services they wished to use, but shape and re-shape them - and actually become the co-creators of new improved services.

Conference participants explained how web technologies and social media could help communicate with and mobilise the experience, knowledge and expertise of the public to create services that would be better and more fit for purpose. This was not a technology issue but a communication issue!

Progress would be slow because of the very 'new-ness' of collaborative web tools. Service providers do not understand where we are with the world wide web. The analogy of the very first iron bridge ever constructed in the UK using yesterday's technology (i.e. wooden style joints) because traditional engineers did not understand the new technology, was used to symbolise the current situation.

Participants gave examples of how frustration - and anger - with the limitations of some existing services had been the prompt that inspired change. The speaker from Channel 4's 4iP initiative coined the phrase of "making trouble in the public interest!" The passion of campaigners for better services has to be channelled into creating innovative solutions to problems. Government and service commissioners need to cultivate that innovation and be prepared to invest in it. This involves risk taking and will involve making mistakes and learning the lessons from these.

Government also needs to adopt the role of nurturing this new web and community enterprise. This is especially the case in the provision of governmental information. Delegates called for Government to "do less" i.e. produce fewer websites itself, and instead make information available for others to use in ways that reach wider audiences, promote participation and allow others to run services. Calling upon Government to do less and "un-invent" its traditional top-down role was a much harder task than inventing new things!

The MyPublicServices Conference is one in a series of events held in 2009 that marks the evolution of Digital Britain as a concept that just might collectively become MY digital Britain! 

Congratulations to the organisers of and participants at #mps09

Other useful links:

MPS: The Evolution of Something... by MyPolice
Social Reporter Interviews at #mps09 by David Wilcox
Can the Internet Transform Public Services? by Julie Walker
myPublicServices by The Dextrous Web
Social Media 'could transform public services' by BBC Technology
Bridge to the Future by Public Strategist
Gift Economies by Amy Sample Ward

Please feel free to post other useful links about the event in the comments below.

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