At the recent FutureGov Forum Victoria, Paul O’Connor, Sector Director, Technology (Auditor-General’s Department) offered some interesting insights into “citizen engagement” in an online world.
He warned that agencies were finding it difficult to put a human face to citizen engagement and public sector service delivery.
There was a real danger that agencies could be dealing with “avatars”, or the alter-egos of people seeking social services like employment benefits, healthcare, or other community services.
During a candid presentation, O’Connor asked the audience: “What exactly do citizen-centric services mean? And how do we know that a person on the other side is a real citizen, and not just an avatar?”
Interestingly, his comments elicited considerable comment from the audience, and a nice buzz. These comments seemed to touch a raw nerve about citizen engagement, open government and online service delivery.
Open government many not necessarily be good government, noted O’Connor. “Does opening up government really mean that government governs in the public interest?
“The expectation is that public servants will stay switched on at all times. We are living on the smell of an oil rag, without fully appreciating the implications of open government or citizen engagement,” he observed.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office monitors the ICT performance of 550 client agencies. According to O’Connor, defining citizen-focused government can be confusing. There are often misleading perceptions about what governments can and cannot do. Add to this high-profile ICT spending on citizen engagement programmes — often running into millions of dollars — with no immediate benefits for citizens.
O’Connor cautioned that sometimes departments did not know what was going on in other departments. Financial auditing and performance management rated highly when seeking to reconcile ICT spend with citizen engagement and service delivery.
These days, a modern relationship is defined by “two people and an iPhone” remarked O’Connor. He added that agencies needed to stop being fixated on technology, and to start focusing on the outcomes.
O’Connor’s observations were unusual for a public forum — which is often guided by set presentation pieces and PR-led hype — and came as a refreshing antidote to “government-speak.”
Perhaps, we need more plain-talk rather than jargon about the changing role of government in a modern, connected, and information-savvy world.
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