Sunday, June 05, 2016

Digital Government: Transforming Public Services, Regulation, and Citizenship

Last month I attended a talk by Mr Angus Taylor MP, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation on digital transformation at Australian Parliament House, Canberra. Mr Taylor mentioned his monograph "The Promise of Digital Government: Transforming Public Services, Regulation, and Citizenship" (Menzies Research Centre, 1 April 2016). This is modest in size, at 78 pages, but ambitious in aim: to transform not only the way services are delivered, but also how we think about Government. This is from the point of view of a conservative politician, emphasizing contest-ability for the delivery of government services, with maximum private sector involvement. However, while Mr Taylor's political opponents might use different rhetoric to describe their aims, I suspect they would agree with many of the aims and methods.
The difficulty with digital government comes at the level of implementation: are governments, whichever their political views, willing to invest in personnel with the skills needed to implement digital government? Are they willing to accept the political cost of implementation, such as where the use of on-line service delivery results in the closure of shop-front services in marginal electorates?
To give one example, schools currently run on a pre-digital model. Recent initiatives, such as a reduction in class size, have increased the cost of education, without any discernible improvement in outcomes (and may have actually reduced the quality of education) An alternative would be to "flip" the education system, particularly at the upper end. Students would be provided with on-line resources and highly qualified on-line teachers, to supplement their face-to-face education. Also the student's parents would be provided with information on the children's learning. However, one implication of this would be more students per teacher (as each teacher would cost much more due to their higher qualifications). There would also be a requirement for parents to take an active part in their children's education (with parents being given tasks to compete and tracked as to performance). The political reality that parents just want school as a form of government funded child minding might then become apparent.

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