2019 predictions - So What for public sector digital?

I learnt a trick a while ago to help decide what’s important.

Stand in the future and look back to where you are now. Don’t be distracted - keep an eye on the things that matter.

We can change the future. We are protagonists not academic observers watching things unfold.

The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.

  • Is this a certainty or still just a prediction? Will digital help or hinder?

Here’s an important report from November 2018. You may have missed it with all the hullabaloo about Brexit.

This is from the statement on the Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Here’s his view on the Universal Credit System - having carried out extensive user engagement - mystery shopping if you will - with the people that have no choice but to try to use it. He spells out people’s experiences very clearly.

“......many poorer and more vulnerable household are effectively offline and without digital skills. According to 2017 Ofcom figures, only 47% of those on low income use broadband internet at home. Only 42% of those who are unemployed and 43% of those on low income do their banking online. According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, 21% of the UK population do not have five basic digital skills and 16% of the population is not able to fill out an online application form. Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle. According to a 2017 Citizens Advice survey, 52% of its clients in ‘full service’ Universal Credit areas found the online application process difficult. According to DWP’s own survey from June 2018, only 54% of all claimants were able to apply online independently, without assistance. As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process.”

  • If there was a two thirds failure rate in any other area of technology or design it would be deemed catastrophic. Just because we personally don’t use these systems and nobody can see them - it is still negligent.

Is anyone learning any lessons from this? Does anyone think that putting this right should be our top priority as public sector technologists?

How about this as a simple outcomes based approach to check if something we are doing in Public Sector Digital is ethical?

Are we moving people - particularly women and children - up or down Maslow’s pyramid of needs?

If increasing numbers of people are dropping off the bottom of the pyramid - they do not have their basic needs met - this is inhumane. I care as much about other people’s children as my own.

Personally I do not have a blind faith that digital by default will deliver for the public sector. I am a scientist and I love technology that works. The evidence to date is clear that giving people no choice coupled with poorly designed solutions is a dangerous strategy. What is even worse is being disrespectful, not listening to people’s experiences and putting it down to ‘user error’.

Leadership means facing facts, keeping your head up, speaking up and maybe being unpopular.

It would be good talk - to reflect on what is going wrong and why.