I was reading the Government’s Open Public Service whitepaper recently, and it formed a key part of a short talk I was giving at Social Business #2. The whitepaper was published in July 2011 and it ‘sets out how the Government will improve public services. By putting choice and control in the hands of individuals and neighbourhoods, public services will become more responsive to peoples’ needs.’

The white paper sets out five principles:

  • Wherever possible we will increase choice
  • Public services should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level
  • Public services should be open to a range of providers
  • We will ensure fair access to public services
  • Public services should be accountable to users and to taxpayers


The five principles and much of the language used in the white paper bears a striking similarity to the language and thinking embodied by social media. Notions of authenticity, openness, transparency, choice, diversity, decentralisation are shared between the two.


The white paper has been written during a time of great change. From a customer service perspective we are seeing a move from a transactional interaction to a more empathetic customer experience, where the experience becomes the service; at times, seemingly more important than the resolution itself.

We have seen something better, and are turning our back on a brand of customer service underpinned by Taylorism and returning to something more humane, intimate and articulate.


This is a period of disruption, where the convergence of people and social, is resulting in moments of serendipity that challenge both individual and organisational habit chains.


In 2006, Wikinomics was published. Don Tapscott writes about the ‘shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on’.

In 2010, Clay Shirky, in Cognitive Surplus writes: ‘We are increasingly becoming one another’s infrastructure’.

In 2010, Howard Rheingold in a YouTube video talks about the idea of ‘digital literacy‘.

in 2011, Lyle Fong (Lithium) in an interview with Ray Wang (Constellation Group) asks the question: ‘What happens when we treat customers as part of the company?’


This is the backdrop against which the white paper has been written. The underlying aim of the Open Public Service white paper seems to be to replace the – old, centralised approach to public service delivery  with – government services wherever you are – by – harnessing the power of new technology to transform our public services.

The white paper talks about decentralising service to the ‘lowest appropriate level’, as if this was some kind of conscious decision on the part of the Government. It is the Government that will decide which services will be decentralised, and the lowest level to which this will happen.

And yet, I can’t help thinking that the decentralisation of services is inevitable. It will take place regardless of the government’s involvement. It is not a decision to be made solely by the Government alone. It will take place because we have seen something better. It has begun.