Tag Archives: greycells

Open Policy Making promises engagement as well as digital innovation

A couple of posts on the Open Policy Making blog this week provide insights into how digital technologies, network thinking, and new ways for government to operate may change the way we receive services, engage as citizens – and maybe develop our own community-level innovations.

We learn that civil servants are exploring the future with specialists in in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, sensors, applied programming interfaces, autonomous machines, and platforms.

Will this just lead to more top-down initiatives which will be tough for our elected representatives to understand and guide – let alone anyone else? Hopefully not, from the tone of the posts. Maybe it will help with joined-up communities for citizens too.

William Barker, Head of Technology Strategy and Digital Futures at the Department for Communities and Local Government, wrote yesterday:

Top down thinking and decision making no longer delivers the range of services that communities want. Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
DCLG’s “Grey Cells” Open Policy Making Initiative working with the Transformation Network has been joining-up the “grey cells” of user experience, innovation, new thinking and service transformation – using a people and places centred approach to explore how digital technology and approaches can make a positive difference.

As William explains, the Grey Cells model is focusing initially on digital inclusion, Better Services, Elders as Assets and Digitising Government.

As I wrote here, with more details of the model:

I think that the Grey Cells blueprint could provide us with a much-needed framework to connect policy and programmes with the reality of what’s happening on the ground – whether through local programmes, or people’s choices as consumers to acquire a new phone, tablet or (less and less) a computer.

Today Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data & Government Innovation in Cabinet Office, writes about how ideas like nudge, digital, wellbeing, social action, open data, social finance, user-centred design have moved in five to ten years from the fringes of how government could develop in the future to become more mainstream, and asks, what will be the new norm by 2020–25?

Paul links to this video from the Government Digital Service explaining the idea of Government as Platform:

However, development could be enabling at community level too:

Platforms are about providing a (digital) framework within which others abide by rules, using data and a payment and regulatory ecosystem to unleash invention at scale. Could this notion not be applied to the wider face-to-face operation of government? Think of developments where innovative services like Casserole Club would be able to provide its amazing service in not just a handful of local authorities, but have the opportunity to develop at scale as needed by users UK wide. Consider how NationBuilder has developed a platform to organise social campaigns, and if the same organising principles were built in to the fabric of government what this could mean for democracy – particularly among a generation that expect to collaborate and create content. This brings with it an opportunity to redefine the role of government, and even create a different relationship between state and public.

There’s more about a new operating model for government, and reference to a workshop with NESTA and the Open Policy Team where they’ll be talking with specialists in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence etc.

It is encouraging to get windows into latest government thinking from the Open Policy Making blog and other sources, including prototyping in the Policy Lab

What particularly interests me – together with Drew Mackie, and other colleagues – is how to help support similar open and creative thinking at community level about the impact of digital and the change it brings. We are experimenting with games and simulations evolved over the past 15 years, and well as explorations like our recent one into Ageing Well and Living Well in the Digital Age.

I’ll write more shortly about a workshop we are developing that aims to bring the Grey Cells model down to community level, with a scenario like this one.

We all need to understand a bit more about the implications of the terms and processes that Paul describes – and to do that we need creative, social spaces in communities to complement those in Policy Labs.

At last we have a shared framework for deep thinking about digital engagement

Any party or coalition that comes to power after the May election will have have to re-address the two main aspects of the government-social digital landscape.

One the one hand they’ll need to continue to use tech in transforming and improving services (and saving money), driven from the top. On the other they’ll have to continue to support ways to help more people get online to use the services, as well shopping, working, learning, socialising and doing all the other good stuff the Internet enables.

The landscape can be pretty confusing, with score of different programmes, agencies and organisations in the innovation, transformation and digital inclusion businesses.

Fortunately a small group in the Department of Communities and Local Government, led by William Barker, have done a great job of surveying and mapping, and come up with a draft blueprint that begins to show who’s who, who is doing what, and how they relate. Click to enlarge, or see the original here.

Grey Cells model

On the left side of the diagram is stuff that government has to get right, including access, affordability, usability, and standards – and on the right are the activities government wishes to support … and hopes other people will get right. These include health and well-being, community participation, quality of life, supporting learning, and economic and working choices.

Each of the “Grey Cells” has links to back up documents, and William explains on the Public Service Transformation Network blog how they developed the framework.

As I wrote earlier, the Grey Cells work evolved from an initial focus on digital connectivity for older people, and you’ll find in my post links to a really impressive database of local case studies and good practice, a resource pack, as well as results from a number of events. It’s a model of how other cells could be filled out from the policy-makers perspective.

I think that the Grey Cells blueprint could provide us with a much-needed framework to connect policy and programmes with the reality of what’s happening on the ground – whether through local programmes, or people’s choices as consumers to acquire a new phone, tablet or (less and less) a computer.

I’ll post more about different aspects of the framework. Among the major challenges, as I see them, are:

  • How to populate the right side of the blueprint with day-to-day stories, conversation and connections that complement the official reports and programmes. Unless everyone involved can talk about the issues and opportunities, little will change. There are some stories  and practical ideas there already, and I hope to help, with others, through the Ageing Better exploration. Earlier posts here.
  • How to enable people in public services to connect and collaborate online with anyone else. Civil servants can meet face to face, some can blog and maybe tweet, but many sites are blocked to their desktops and using anything as simple as Google docs or Quip.com seems extremely difficult. They are digitally excluded.
  • How to make progress when many of the organisations don’t understand or use current digital tools – as John Popham says here – and there are additional cultural challenges.
  • And most importantly, how to enable personalised engagement. None of this works unless people, individually, decide to start to use digital tools and services, and connect with others.  Maybe a minimum personal technology assessment kit would help.

The good news is that we now have a framework within which to address the challenges, and come up with some ideas for moving forward. I just hope no politician decides to “weaponise” the digital divide in election campaigns. It’s more complicated than that, as Grey Cells shows us.

Update post on Grey Cells from William Barker at Open Policy Making