Dunedin Digital Strategy: Content needs process; upscale Capability; add Catalyst

Posted on July 16, 2010

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Here’s my submission on the Dunedin Digital Strategy.

I applaud the development of this document, its direction and all the initiatives described.

I do, however, have two areas of concern: Content; and Capability, and suggest a new project area: Catalyst.

Content

The strategy describes worthwhile projects to increase DCC content on the web.  Unfortunately, this is not enough, and it is not given enough weight.   The project of “online digital services” (5) is one of few areas relegated to priority 2.  The focus is on online payments and forms.  Although “social networking” is mentioned, it is not integrated into the strategy. The word “Process” is crucially missing from the project goal: “Increased transparency of Council information available to the community”.

eDemocracy can be seen to fall into three overlapping areas

–          eServices

–          eVoting

–          eParticipation

The latter is my focus here.  eParticipation brings the potential for a broader and more active participation.   This goes beyond online forms to engagement on the citizens’ terms.

There is a strong imperative for a focus on eDemocracy.   The DCC 2009 Residents Opinion Survey showed an increase in dissatisfaction in most areas of Council activity.  Amongst areas of worst performance is public consultation (only 27% satisfied).  The most frequent unprompted comments in the survey are that “Council doesn’t listen to public”, “Council needs more openness” and a “Lack of communication”.   The fact that Council has, in fact, consulted on several occasions, suggests that the public are calling for a different sort of consultation.  eDemocracy is based on relationships.

The potential is for two areas of benefit:

–          Participation

–          Transparency.

Williamson’s (2009) Digital Citizens report found that 70% of people found it easier to participate in civic activities using digital means.  Interestingly and importantly “age is not a barrier”, Williamson found that people aged 55-64 years are the most likely to chose online means to contact an MP (his study is of UK parliament).

To give an idea of the potential scale of engagement, approximately 50,000 of Dunedin residents use Facebook (more than voted in the 2007 local body elections).   Unfortunately the answer is not as simple as a page on Facebook, staffed by someone from marketing.

The opportunity is for Council to use social networking and collaboration tools to change how it engages with the community.   Web2.0 has changed the way business is being done.  The internet has provided the means to turn consumers of content into creators of content.    The Dunedin Digital Strategy needs to explore the implications of this for policy development, for example.  Imagine a policy development process that saw residents able to initiate the drafting of a policy on an area of concern.  Policy staff could facilitate and provide guidance, for residents and Councillors working as peers to develop the policy.  Eventually, of course, formal ratification would be needed, but the policy would have a basis of real participation.

I am not suggesting that the Digital Strategy adopt such a position immediately, but rather that the Strategy ensures that these implications of the digital age for Council are given serious consideration.  The Goal of “Online Digital Services” (Goal 5) needs to be expanded to include consideration of terms such as collaborative governance, open source government, or emergent collaboration.   Goleman (2009) describes “radical transparency” by which he means that all decision making is carried out publicly (cf accountability which he describes a process of verifying quality after a decision is made).

This transparency could also be applied to Council processes in a strong statement of “nothing to hide”.  What would be the implications of all (elected representative and staff) expense claims being entirely open and online?

Searls described the “cluetrain manifesto”  – essentially that markets are conversations – the end goal of brand communications is no longer to convince the customer, but to build relationships.  Crucial to this and vital to the Council is that in order for the consumer to be able to believe in good intentions, the company must first believe in its own good intentions.  Hence this eDemocracy initiative is not a project solely for the BIS team; it is far reaching to all areas of Council activity.

Recommendation: Goal 5 have an advisory group tasked with overseeing the transition to a fully e-Democratic Council.

Recommendation: Goal 5 should be top priority

Recommendation: Wording around “Online Digital Services” (Goal 5) be altered to include process.  Hence “Increased transparency of Council information and processes available to the community”.

Capability

The development of IT literacy across the community as espoused under the Capability theme is a worthy goal. The strategy has overlooked, however, a major aspect of the development of IT as strength for Dunedin: the IT professional – and in particular the young IT professional.

The limiting factor in Dunedin IT is people.   This is not going to be addressed by general upskilling of the population.  Instead we need to examine the career paths of people in the IT industry.  This industry is diverse, many; if not most IT professionals do not work for IT firms.  The work is diverse, from coding software to maintaining complex hardware structures.  These people are the ones who play far above their weight in adding value to the city (productivity, new business BERL).

But what do we know about them?  Not much I’m afraid.  What is holding them back? Are they getting enough professional development? Why are they here? Why are they not?

Recommendation: Undertake a skills needs analysis of IT in Dunedin

Recommendation: Undertake a project to better understand the working experience of Dunedin IT professionals

Recommendation: Support for IT internships programme.

Catalyst

It is sometimes said that there are no IT projects, only business ones, enabled by IT.  This strategy mostly considers IT projects.  The great potential of computing is to enable other things.  Unfortunately, the use of IT to enable other strategies in the Council (and beyond) is almost entirely lacking from the Digital Strategy.

The list of potential questions is possibly endless:

–          How might IT improve perceptions of effectiveness of sewerage systems?

–          Could IT improve wellbeing of elderly?

–          Could the IT help improve city accessibility?

–          How might sustainability be facilitated by IT resources?

–          Could IT help in rejuvenation of South Dunedin retail area?

I would not expect to see answers to all, or indeed any, of these questions in the strategy.  What I would expect to see is consideration of a project to develop a Council structure that could provide such answers in a robust and timely manner.

Recommendation: Add a fifth theme – Catalyst.

Thank you,

Samuel Mann

Goleman, D. (2009). Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything: Broadway Business.

Williamson, A. (2010). Digital citizens and democratic participation: An analysis of how citizens participate online and connect with MPs and Parliament London: Hansard Society.

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Posted in: Dunedin