How technology can help our public services to be open and collaborative

We can accuse technology of decreasing human interaction and making us less sociable as we go about our lives. In the workplace, emails have replaced the need to talk to people face to face or on the phone, and while this is undoubtedly more efficient in many instances, there is an argument that the human contact element of our working lives is missed. It is also suggested that technology makes us more private and closed off. We sit behind our keyboards with our secure, password protected documents and software to fend off cyber attacks. However, there is much more to technology and opportunities are being missed to use it to increase openness and collaboration.

How technology can increase openness

It is evident that cyber security is vital to public services. The recent attack on the NHS showed that we all need to be vigilant and ensure that our systems are protected. However, this does not mean we need to keep everything behind an impenetrable virtual wall.

One of the primary main advantages of technology is that it can reach people in every part of the world in an instant. It is unlikely that many public services will want that kind of reach; however, it demonstrates the possibilities when it comes to being open to the public.

We are getting close to it the end of days when decisions about public services are made behind closed doors and only mentioned to those who are involved. The public is more aware of what their public services are doing and want to be kept informed about issues such as service changes, decision making and potential problems. Technology allows for this to happen.

In a world where people expect, and demand, public information services are now in a position to supply it easily and quickly. Meetings can be broadcast live if appropriate to do so, and/or filmed and uploaded for people to view at their convenience. This allows a greater level of openness because public meetings are no longer only accessible to individuals who can make themselves available when the meetings are held. Engagement events where issues can be discussed with the public can be in person, virtual or a mixture of both to allow for maximum exposure and a level of openness that would never have been possible without technology.

For those public services which are yet to embrace the full extent of what technology can offer the internet allows for meetings minutes, briefings and any other relevant information to be available 24/7 and actively promoted via word of mouth and social media.

We are living and working in a technological age, and the public expect this to be used for their benefit so they can be informed and have the information they want at their fingertips when they want it.

Technology can increase interaction, not decrease it

There is no denying that technology has reduced some face to face human interaction that need while we are in work. However, it is not true that it has decreased our interaction overall.

Collaboration is a key ingredient to any successful initiative and public services usually have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Different areas will operate in a variety of ways and by collaborating it is possible to exchange ideas and make every service more effective and efficient by learning from what others are doing well.

Speaking to an expert on the other side of the world would have been an activity reserved for the profitable companies, never enjoyed by the budget driven public services because the only way of doing it would be to go and visit. Now, with the use of technology, a conference call or video chat is as easy as talking to a colleague on another floor.

Basic technology, such as emails and conference calling/videoing make communication easy, however technology has advanced much further to allow for collaboration to take off and this is where public services need to take the leap and embrace it. Software tools have been designed to allow seamless cooperation between people who are either sat next to each other, in another office or anywhere around the world. A connection to the internet means that anyone who needs to collaborate can be working on the same document at the same time, and in real time. People no longer need to write a document and send it to someone to read and make changes just to have it sent back. Collaboration tools allow each individual to make changes and the others to see them as they happen, comment and move on. Not only does this allow for greater collaboration, but it also increases efficiency.

Within public services, there is often a reluctance to share information, or a misunderstanding about what information can and should we share, which can lead to a duplication of work. However, technology allows for a more joined up system where services can collaborate to reduce duplication for professionals as well as the people accessing those services.

Behind the scene collaboration is important, but technology also gives public services the perfect opportunity to collaborate easily with the people that matter the most — the public. As discussed above, technology allows for more openness with the public, but this does not have to be a one-way street. Technology is great as a form of communication, but it is also a very effective channel for engagement. It allows the public to get in contact with services, it can convey information about engagement events but it can also be used actively to gain an understanding of the public viewpoints. Social media is becoming more widely used by public services to obtain feedback and engage in discussions with people. Online forums, surveys, web chats are all ways that services can engage with the public, and the public can have the opportunity to collaborate with services.

From learning how to be more efficient when changing processes, to the ground level day to day work, technology provides us with the opportunities to work more closely and to collaborate with our colleagues as well as people we would never have been able to work with previous. Unfortunately, not all of these opportunities are being utilised to their full potential just yet.