Time for a bit of lateral thinking
It seems appropriate given that yesterday was budget
day to ponder on a missed opportunity or two. There was considerable
emphasis in the budget
on green taxes. Inefficient cars are to cost more and will cost more to run.
Fuel will become more expensive. Once again the government appears to be using
a stick to elicit some longer term environmental benefit. Why then is there no
consideration of other forms of working? There are many alternatives to daily
car journeys and one of those is not to leave home at all.
I've yet to see any statement that directly makes the
link between affordable, high-speed broadband, the ability to work from home
and the savings available from that - and not just financial but in terms of
Plastic bags took a knock. We need to use less. Here's
another example of where we get in our cars, load them up with plastic bags and
drive them home. Again, no attempt is made to look at a bigger picture of what
alternatives exist to physically going to the supermarket. Shopping locally
works for some. Personally, I've long been a convert to online shopping. It's
convenient but it can also be a way of reducing waste and of optimising car
usage (I'd rather one van drove the shopping to five houses than five cars all
make the same journey). Online grocer Ocado
now gives you a discount for selecting an already booked delivery slot in your
There's a clear pattern emerging. When it comes to the
environment we lack vision. Yes, our computers have a negative environmental
impact too but given that many of us now have them, shouldn't we be looking at
more innovative ways to use them?
The same goes for consultation. Good online engagement
is certainly more common than it used to be but we are still missing the
opportunities to link up government online. Again, one problem is a lack of
lateral thinking. I've heard Tom Steinberg ask a
couple of times now why, at the end of one online process (let's say, applying
for a drivers license), you don't get offered other government-related things
to do - such as get involved in a consultation. It's a very good question.
A few years ago I was on an eGovernment panel in Wellington. I listened as the State Services Commission's eGovernment
person explained why online wasn't always appropriate. Work and Income (the social
security service), for example, couldn't use it as most of their clients weren't
online. OK, it's hard to fault that argument so far. After all, we know only
too well that digital disenfranchisement is magnified by low socio-economic status.
But let's try anyway! Instead of ruling an entire group out of the online world
because they are presumed to be too poor and under-educated, why not put some
computers in to these offices and create some awareness? Alongside that, work
with a community educator to provide some on-site training to people coming in
who might want to learn.
Internet adoption is about discovering our personal
motivations and without access or information literacy that will never happen.
This is a classic example of the limited thinking and lack of vision that still
befalls eDemocracy - too linear and risk averse when what's needed is lateral
and innovative. Nothing much changes and it's still imperative that those of us
with the vision to connect the dots beyond the immediately obvious keep
delivering the message that it is possible.
Director, eDemocracy Programme