Returning to local: The future of digital government?

Brexit and other phenomena around the world have to some people paved the way for bigger and more traumatic changes in societies.   Whilst there is a number of possibilities post these phenomena it seems that there is also challenges that need to be addressed.   Some of these in my view require returning rather than advancing.

 

The case of digital government is one of these phenomena.   Initially hailed as a revolution, not evolution (using Martha Lane Fox’s words in her manifesto to the British Government Cabinet in 2010), digital government has gone in the direction of centralisation of technology platforms via agile methods and practices.  The gov.uk site is now impressive to many (not to me I am afraid, see later).  Lots of information and services can be found. Personally I have been able to do my self-assessment online, report changes in my child benefit situation and get advice.

 

With more services being available, more government departments are being encouraged to use the common platforms available. Benefits of standardisation also bring cost efficiencies and simplicity when it comes to design and deliver new information or online transactions. One could even talk about empowering the citizen.  You can also find job opportunities and apply online.

All it takes is for you to get familiarised with gov.uk, go over certain security measures, remember your username and password and provide an email address.  As simple as it sounds though, gov.uk is designed for the ‘lay’, ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ user.  As if we did not experience difficulties.

You could ask any person who suffers from mental health conditions and who has been unemployed for some time about their experience of going to a job centre and using gov.uk.   Some would say this is a great experience.  But a majority (at least of people I have talked with) would say there are mixed blessings.

 

I am talking about the people which found they were not literate enough to use a computer let alone learn to surf through the web when their brains were not at their best.  For some, luckily a job advisor or a good teacher, a volunteer or just a friend had to help not only with the navigation with preparing them to deal with anxieties and worries about finding the right job, dealing with interviews and then coping with the first few days of getting back to ‘normal’.

 

Sadly these advocates were ‘local’ to user’s locality.  Their funding has been squeezed and now they are having to justify their existence or that of their organisation on the grounds that they help address mental health issues, not job issues.   As if these two issues were not connected.

 

We need to reclaim the local, those making up for the pain that centralisation and funding politics cause in people with mental health problems.   They are the ones picking up the pieces, helping to weave again the broken social fabric of users, consoling them when the job they got is too much to bear physically and emotionally.

We need to weave new local connections with employers, some of which I am sure are willing to help addressing progression towards a new job.

We need to trust our future not only in what technologies can offer but on what we can do to help each other.

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