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10 March 2021 #56

Hello friends. 👋🏽👋🏻👋🏾

This week marks a year since we closed the Public Digital office. We are really missing the serendipitous opportunities that come with being in the same space. 

We're co-hosting an 8-week programme on digital transformation in the public sector with IE Publictech Lab, part of IE University in Spain. The course will be delivered in Spanish and is aimed at those who lead digital transformation programmes in public administrations in Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain. Details in Spanish are here.

Also, we’re hiring a financial planner. Spread the word, help us find them.


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Ways of working

🔊  Monday was International Women's Day. Sit down, shut up and pass it on by Ella Fitzsimmons tells men in the tech industry to pass opportunities on to women. “Sacrifice your own privilege, your industry profile... Be brave enough to disrupt your own industry, your own culture. Put your money where your tweets are.” Written in 2015 but still relevant (though thankfully more frequently heeded). 

💰 MHCLG  is testing a more flexible funding model for the Local Digital Fund because “project momentum and continuity are key ingredients for success.” Fund teams not projects.

📊 Data scientists at Wellcome wanted to make better use of open-source tools so Hetco Design created a visual system that indicated how open and how robust a piece of software is. Here’s Hetco’s quant-qual approach to creating data visualisations. Also, it won Best use of data at the Design Week awards.
And speaking of data visualisation, here’s how to write alt text for it. Spoiler: you probably can’t convey the whole meaning. But, as Amy Cesal says “that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.”

❤️ In the past year, communities of practice (COP) have been more important than ever for many teams. ‘Alone but not apart’ etc. Interesting to read this paper about the typical lifecycle of online communities, and this post from 2017 about the 4 stages of online community development: 1. Inception 2. Establishment 3. Maturity 4. Mitosis (or death). According to the definitions of the stages, this Delivery COP went from dead to maturity during the past year. 

💤 This piece is a decent attempt to pin down what contributes to the condition known as ‘Zoom fatigue’. TL;DR, limited movement, looking at yourself all day, high cognitive load, looking into colleagues’ eyes frequently. Actionable? Turn off that camera.

State of technology

💉 Many vaccination appointment booking services are failing to meet citizen needs – cue justifiable frustration at portals crashing, servers needing a reboot etc (more on our blog soon). Worse than this, Propublica says many American systems assume users are able-bodied, literate, English-speaking, car owners who have access to devices and know how to use them. Case in point: cute Twitter thread but why is this person in New York having to help so many at-risk people by booking their vaccinations for them? 

Reminds me of this exchange about the gulf between life-changingly useful services and very-fun-to-have convenience. 

💭 Nice collection of opinions and predictions on the state of behavioural design. Torben Emmerling nails is when he says, “In 2020, I was particularly reminded of the extraordinary context-dependency of human behaviour.” Context is everything when trying to understand and predict behavioural patterns.

🇳🇴  Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS) has launched the X-Road emissions calculator project. Their hope is that X-Road will become the ‘most sustainable data exchange layer solution in the world' and that it will align its operational model with the climate and sustainable development goals. Watch this space. Full report here.

🌆 The backlash against the concept of a 'smart city' began some time ago (Who should own public data? What about my privacy? etc) and this post by City Monitor explains why a nervousness around big technology companies, as well as reduced funding following the pandemic, might mean smart cities of the future are already a thing of the past. 

🎤 In May 2020, Facebook announced the 20 members who will sit on an independent board that will make decisions relating to content moderation. Listen to Radiolab’s episode on Facebook’s Supreme Court which covers how this body came to be, what power it really has and 'how the consequences of its decisions will be nothing short of life or death.’ Episode runs in conjunction with this New Yorker feature. Meanwhile, board member Alan Rusbridger says the board will ask to see Facebook’s algorithm. Good luck with that.

Digital government

🇧🇩  7.6 million citizens in Bangladesh are now receiving welfare funds through mobile cash transactions, Government-to-Person (G2P). Great news for transparency and digital paper trails. Good for security too – bKash (Bangladesh’s biggest mobile financial service) has become the first provider in the country to get payment card industry data security standard (PCI DSS) certification. Reminded me of researching Bangladesh’s gold standard response to the pandemic for this newsletter.

🚑 The Emergency Medical Journal has published a report on the usability of electronic health record systems (EHR) in emergency departments (ED) in the UK. It takes into account 192 healthcare organisations using 25 different EHR systems. The outcome? “No UK emergency department’s electronic health record system met the internationally validated standard of acceptable usability for information technology.” The hope? Clinicians must become “an intrinsic part of the system design and implementation” to help build more usable systems that enable safe, effective and efficient patient care.

🏠 Side-stepping local government – My Old Apartment is an initiative set up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, which aims to stop illegal rent increases. Premise: send a card to your previous rental addresses stating how much rent you paid so the new occupants can calculate whether the landlord is illegally overcharging them. (Vice has the particulars of local renting laws). Simple snail mail has momentum and is already changing lives but what if there was a searchable open register? Oh wait, looks like that might be next... Got to love a paper prototype.

❓ Thea Snow explores the concept of legibility taken from James C Scott’s book Seeing like a State. She looks at 2 of her projects through Scott’s lens: governments should stop simplifying systems that are too complex and nuanced for them to comprehend and instead lean into the reality of not knowing instead of believing – as teams often do – that if we just “gather and crunch enough data or measure performance against pre-defined outcomes” we’ll have answers.

News from Public Digital

On the Public Digital blog

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