Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Can politicians be human?

Rachel Sylvester despairs at politicians twittering while the 'country burns'. On the face of it, twittering is a laughably trivial exercise. Who cares that I dropped a banana in my toaster this morning? I don't even care that much- I got it out in the end. But for some reason that's what I twittered about an hour ago. Maybe I'm in search of an identity? Or a life? That's what Oliver James thinks. Hmmm. Not sure how I'd find that in twitter. Or Facebook. Or by writing this blog.

So should we laugh at politicians who feel the need to articulate their every move in 140 characters or less? I think not actually. The House of Commons is an incredibly isolating place and this constant electronic networking - even if it doesn't necessarily go much beyond the Westminster Village for now- helps to link politicians to the outside world. And it's good for us to have direct contact and to realise that politicians are real people after all. They do watch football, TV, look forward to spending the small amount of time they have weekends with the family, and some even have a sense of humour. If they try to get down with the yoof, well, we can just have a bit of a laugh at them.

We live in an age where politics seems more centralised and alien than ever before. Social networking is not enough in and of itself to change that. But it does provide a tool. The good it can do depends on how the tool is used. It's good that politicians- and former politicians- across the entire political spectrum, at both a national and local, are experimenting. Hopefully they can laugh at themselves when they get it wrong. And hopefully they will be given applause when they get it right. It can only be a good thing.

And now public services are to be more user responsive with public feedback published on the websites of schools, hospitals, police services, etc. I hope that is extended to public services of all kinds. There is quite a radical proposition underneath all this. Central controls and tight auditing may have to be loosened if public services can be truly responsive. Will the government face the ultimate consequences of the road down which it has begun to travel?

Let me take an example from a public service with which I am involved- the local Community College. Just say that a particular course is popular, helping people into work, and more students want to study it. In parallel, the government decides it is no longer a priority area and the Learning and Skills Council stops funding it. The course is discontinued despite the fact that users of the service value it and want to continue using it.

So a lot of this will come down to how the system works in practice- what happens when targets, slimmed down though they may be, collide with customer preference. Add resource allocation to the mix and a very complex picture emerges.

On an initial reading of Working Together it could go either way. Local delivery could be caught in the middle- squeezed between 'strategic delivery' and unleashed local expectations. None of this is in any way simple but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Back to my local College, we are extremely constrained by the central policy environment and that is far more critical to running a financially viable service than responsiveness to local signals. Will Working Together change that? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that it is not a step in the right direction. And perhaps, if user engagement takes off then it will force changes up the line. One can hope anyway.

So please keep this train of thought going and let's see where it leads. Oh, and please keep twittering- it's fun and it makes you appear more human. That's a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Can politicians be human ?

    Well thy lie, they boast, they steal, they refuse to admit failure, they're out for all they can get ... oh yes, they're human all right.