Public Sector Co-Pilots

In navigating towards a ‘public service internet’ it can be tempting to have the vision of a better future, obscured by a dystopian miasma of gloom. The collision of data and AI certainly present us all with some hefty challenges, but we’re still in the game, and there is a great opportunity for public sector bodies to act as our co-pilots en route to the final destination of a functional public service internet for all.

Organisations like the BBC, have a key role in helping consumers to safely navigate the airspace of their own personal data. This activity should be centred clearly around the establishment of the individual as lead pilot of their own destiny; as creator, owner, and protector of their own data. We’ve been really pleased to have been doing some thinking and doing with the BBC and others to help make this future more certain, but there’s always more that can be done.

Everybody needs a little help
Publicly funded agencies, acting in support of the common good, would be trusted by many to perform the critical role of ‘data buddy’. Designed in the right way, and with the correct, compelling route to market, the personas of the ‘data buddy’ might even shape themselves to dynamically respond to audiences. One stop ‘drop in’ products can sit alongside imaginatively realised content formats, video and products designed for longitudinal use. The key message for us all as users and generators of data, is that the world has changed and is certain to continue to change. Users can look to public bodies for the reassurance and support they need for the long haul.

Empowerment and opportunity
The invitation from public organisations to better understand and engage with our personal data, is best framed in terms of empowerment and opportunity, than in catastrophe and doom. The issues for many of us around the ‘affordances of data’ are in fact the issues that affect us and the lives of the people that we care about personally. Understanding (more) and acting (effectively) to respond, relies on a baseline of personal data literacy, and to have a lasting impact and reach we need to frame the stories and activities in terms that engage most people. This engagement is best framed within the language and mechanisms that already speak to us as consumers, using all of the tools, platforms and techniques of traditional and new media.

Data and identity matter
If data is the blood in our new digital bodies, then identity is the brain of the organism. The verisimilitude of our ‘real’ identities, formed from our ‘unreal’ virtual, digital selves is now less certain. Whereas we might once have supposed that our digital identities, were less complete (and completely) a representation of our ‘self’, we now must face the fact that our digital selves, may be a more truthful representation of who we really are. Access to and ownership of these identities is critical, and public bodies can and should act as advocates and protectors of that ownership, being maintained in the hands of the individuals themselves. The impact of a programme of well realised data literacy initiatives, can be significant on the digital health and well-being of the UK population. Establishing the right approach now to capitalising upon our collective data, is as important to the the long term happiness and survival of the citizens as climate change. It’s also just as important to the long term survival of the BBC and other public sector organisations.
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