‘I don’t know how to use a computer!’: the stories of our most dangerous public servants

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When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t even know how to take a screenshot’ I hear, ‘I am a security liability with no interest in knowing about modern ways of working.’ It’s no secret lack of computing skills, including understanding various basic practices around safety and security, are low in public sector workforces. In fact I’d argue public services nurture these low skills and send people down a spiral of de-skilling with their outdated browsers, outdated operating systems and messy IT infrastructures…which may have been procured by the senior person who doesn’t know how to take a screenshot. Snake eating tail. Just yesterday Martha Lane Fox published a piece about the lack of sophisticated debate about the internet at a UK government level and the inability of policy makers to keep up with the pace of technological change being issues of national security and one of the most pressing issues of our time. Self-effacing comments about not being able to push a couple of buttons somewhere are no joke.

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When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t use social media. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast! *chortle*’ I hear, ‘I don’t have the vaguest interest in understanding how an increasing number of citizens get information or choose to interact.’ The last person you want to let loose on your organisation’s social media is the person who *really* doesn’t want to be using social media. So this isn’t about shading those who choose not to use social media themselves. This is about having an understanding of how social media works, why they are used, what online communities look like and sound like and acknowledging the importance of social media to government for *so* many reasons. Understanding at a higher level means permission for more active or meaningful use of social media over an organisation, including a lift on bans in public services that mean staff sometimes literally can’t see the internet. Because, you know, it’s unsafe (said the public servant who has no real idea what interaction online looks like.) Snake eating tail.

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When someone in public service says, ‘My job is so boring. No one would want to read a blog written by me’ I hear, ‘I am not willing to be open, transparent and accountable.’ Issues around confidence and identity are here alongside lack of skill and institutional cultures and behaviours so this one isn’t straightforward. In my years working with public servants, conversations about working out loud and the honest reflection it requires are some of the most difficult- and emotional. The support our public servants need to change their relationships with the public is heavy and it’s not usually coming from inside- external forces are necessary (that’s you and me!)

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Leah Lockhart

Leah Lockhart

Coordinator, collaborator, guide. Exploring social good enabled by digital things.