An efficient way to get a National Insurance Number please!!

August 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm 4 comments

By Peter Baeck

Wikipedia, Linux, Blogs and YouTube are just a few successful examples of online communities, where the enthusiasm and the passion of the users is what shapes the community drives it forward and help it to expand.But how can this idea of open online communities be transformed from not just being about uploading music videos, blogging about your favorite football team or updating an online encyclopedia, to the more complex challenge of improving service and efficiency in the public sector?

There are already online communities such as where users, can report on potholes not being fixed, garbage piling up etc. or  where users can get online information on disease symptoms and possible treatments as well as share knowledge and experience on medication, disease, patient rights etc in the various forums. For every pothole located and diagnose made online these networks undoubtedly improve the efficiency of the parts of the public sector they evolve around as well as they help reduce costs in these.

Successful as they are, one can wonder why the idea of user driven networks is not more widespread within the public sector it self. The homepages mentioned above are developed by independent users in order to improve efficiency and service in areas in which the developers hold an interest, not by the government agencies that benefit from their existence. What would the public sector look like, if it was a widespread practice in all government agencies to create open communities where users and providers could share knowledge, suggest and debate alternative ways of delivering services from the individual agencies etc. Would it mean that I, a Danish student who just moved to London, could suggest to the HM Revenue & Customs a number of ways in which they could they improve their service, so I wouldn’t have to wait in a phone queue for half an hour to book an appointment with them for a national insurance (NI) number interview. (Why not just implement an online booking system, and save theirs and my time?). In an HM Revenue & Customs community I could discuss with other people who recently moved to London how they got a NI number, what they needed it for, and in cooperation with them discuss and develop new and bright ideas for the HM Revenue & Customs to use in their services, for the benefits of both users and providers.


Entry filed under: Government Departments, Innovation Policy. Tags: .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Claire McEneaney  |  August 13, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Peter – I think this is a great idea. It would be fantastic if this was applied across the board for public services – such as being able to book hospital appointments online at a time that suits each patient, rather than wasting millions due to people missing their allocated slot.

    I think there is definitely a big missed opportunity here – how could we get the word out to government?

  • 2. Matthew Horne  |  August 13, 2009 at 8:21 pm


    this is as an important point but most services do not want their service users to talk to each other, support each other and organise themselves to lobby for improvement. I wouldn’t trust services or government to run these open online communities – keep them in citizens’ space on online not government space – but we have to make services listen and respond.

    • 3. thirup  |  August 14, 2009 at 9:40 am


      I see your point, and maybe the challenge is to create an infrastructure that enables the free flow of ideas and opinions between the online communities and government space. At the same time i think that public policy should help facilitate an environemnt in which these independent online public sector related communities can grow.

  • 4. Matthew Horne  |  August 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I AGREE. I think this means, driving traffic from government sites especially the transactional sites (passport, driving licence, tax returns) which have huge traffic towards these civic communitites online. Links and ads are no good.

    And the public sector could advertise on these sites to create a business model for them



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