Even the doubters will be won, shepherded towards the new age like an army of cockroaches marching to the tune of Stephen Fry’s tweets. Just ask this little guy.
At the end of last year, 18 government departments published their own digital strategies. These strategy papers repeatedly echo the government’s vision for ‘digital by default’ – digital services provided by government must be simple enough to use, so that people choose to use them.
The ambition is to get people turning to their laptops and smartphones, rather than to telephones and face-to-face services, for government services.
Here are some examples of how this will work:
– HMRC is introducing a digital service which will enable over 30 million PAYE taxpayers to report changes to their tax codes, rather than making a phone call or writing
– DEFRA is creating a platform which will be used by farmers to apply for and receive payments
– The Home Office’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) will use an “Update Service” to remove the need for repeated paper applications for criminal records checks – employers will instead use an instant on-line status check
– The Foreign Office is digitalising its crisis response handling system with a new registration tool for British nationals in difficulties overseas
Championing these digital strategies, predicted to save £1.2bn over the next three years, is easy money for governments in times of austerity. But their capacity to deliver savings in the short-term will be tempered by the proportion of people who remain offline (currently 18% in the UK).
The seemingly stubborn offliners are also likely to share demographic characteristics – older people with less money. This means that when government departments seek to attune digital deliverance in line with service use, their methods will not be wholly democratic.
Reducing the number of citizens who are offline then, is fundamental to these projects at their earliest stages – the significant cost and efficiency benefits they promise will only be realised when the most reluctant of users are engaged in them.
A digital crisis response system for UK nationals abroad, for example, would only have a structural impact on a consulate or embassy if those individuals were signed up and known users. That goal is a long way off, but the ambition with which government departments have taken up the ‘digital by default’ position is impressive.