Digital and media literacy is key for public services 2.0

My declaration (author “osimod”, title “second version”) has a specific priority on skills and education, which is missing in others. I also wrote here on the topic. In my opinion, public services 2.0 can happen only with educated citizens and civil servants. Why?

On the supply side, you need educated people to create web-based services: technically savy, but also entrepreneurial with strong communication skills. In other words, a blend of soft skills which comes from a strong education basis. Only people with this mix of skills will be able to generate and benefit from collective action. To put it bluntly, web developers are in a position to generate services and influence policy much more than normal citizens. On the other hand, people with these skills are now able to gain influence, regardless of their financial capacity.

But the importance of education is even higher on the demand side. Conversation and collaboration require strong analytical and communication skills: this is close to what the EU defines as “media literacy“. Using public services 2.0 requires more sophisticated critical skills, in particular for managing trust and reputation. Understanding if the comments on your hospital posted by users on PatientOpinion requires good analytical skills in order to understand if the information is relevant for you, if it is genuine or driven by personal interests. Using Twitter to look for suggestions and tips on childcare requires the capacity to formulate clear questions and to select the information received. Looking at the different visualisation provided for example by Maplight requires sophisticated analytical capacity.

This is true not only for individual citizens, but for private and public organisations as well. Civil servants need to be equipped with the skills to use web-based application in a creative way for solving daily problems. Familiarity with web2.0 tools and culture is necessary.

In other words, the lack of digital and media literacy poses serious risks of:

– more divide: only skilled people will be able to co-produce and to efficiently use these services. Citizens and organisations lacking digital and media literacy will effectively become second-class citizens.

– populism: open discussion on governments can easily turn destructive or based on prejudice. While transparency opens the way to better accountability, there is a permanent risk that information is used for opportunistic and populistic reasons. This can be avoided only by a well educated population.

– less efficient services: public services 2.0 rely on users in order to self-regulate the services and filter the content. A good critical mass of users is needed for this self-regulation to work effectively.

While this calls for increased investment in training on web 2.0, it is clear that the required skills are not mainly technological, but refer to general education. Without a good, universal education, providing critical skills and civic sense, public services 2.0 are unlikely to have a positive impact. However, much of this learning happens by-doing: therefore the continuous emergence of new projects and services is in itself already providing a learning experience.

In conclusion, education and training are a fundamental requirement for public services 2.0 to have a positive impact in terms of quality of services and social cohesion, and should be part of the manifesto.

3 Responses

  1. I do, of course, agree with David that education and training are vital. My concern, however, is with making the manifesto as impactful as possible. We want to be clear, focussed and provocative, and while increasing digital literacy is important, I am not sure to what extent including it is really going to stir things up. Lets see what things look like as we converge on a final version (and then lets vote on it!).

  2. Paul, it’s actually good to finally have some disagreement! It means we go to substantial issues

  3. I think Paul is right in concernig himself with the manifesto shaking up things a little, insofar as possible…

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