What would be your favourite public service app?

January 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm 8 comments

By Peter Baeck

After having biked over the same hole on Bethnal Green Road every morning for the last six months, I finally decided to do something about it this morning. With the risk of losing momentum if I were to wait until I got in to the office, I wanted to do something on the spot. So I downloaded the free fixmystreet application for my HTC desire, took a geo-tagged picture of the hole, and sent it to fixmystreet, who will then forward it to the local authority responsible. (Fixmystreet also has a great homepage, check it out here). Excited about this opportunity to immediately respond to an issue, I, as soon as I got in to our warm offices on Old Street, started trawling through my Android market place for other applications that would allow me to what I had done this morning, with other of the many public services, such as GP, Waste Collection, libraries etc I consume, and found…. Nothing!!

It seem to me to be quite odd that while my newspaper and bank have already developed great apps for me to engage with their services via my phone, most of the public sector providers I engage with seem to have very little interest in developing apps, (and in many cases good home pages), for me to engage with them. Apps, just as good user friendly home pages, are a great way for providers, public and private, to increase the reach of their services. Just as online banking has reduced cost for banks there will many areas where creating software solutions such as apps, can reduce the burden on the public sector, by making it easier for citizens to take action and do some or all off what a civil servant would previously have done by raising awareness about a hole in the road, or applying for a National Insurance number online (see my blog rant from 2009 about the lack of this opportunity here).

Of course, bringing public services closer to citizens is not just about putting everything on home pages or in apps, but to me there seems to be some easy wins for the public sector, both in terms of saving money and increasing quality of services, by being more ambitious about how it could interaction with citizens on the net or through apps.

I acknowledge that this blog is purely based on my own experience with (the lack off) public apps. I am getting increasingly curious about this subject, and it would be great to hear what your favourite public service app is, or even better, what your favourite not yet developed app would be.


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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alex  |  January 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm


    Most public services are monopolies. Monopolies are resistant to change and innovation. It should not be a surprise that public services are so App-resistant.

    BAA is a quasi monopoly. Their only ” App ” is to keep you in the airport as long as possible, so you spend money in the shops. When the snow comes, their business model appears complete.

    Through my life I will have to contact public services approximately 9,650 times. Each time I have to give them the same details to prove who I am.

    The most useful App would be the means to identify myself and those around me e.g. family ONCE.

    Public services have forgotten that the word serve is in their title. I am sure they wish to improve, but there does not seem to be the will, or the leadership / motivation.

    Could we be allowed some co-production, and for MumsNet and DadsNet to suggest how to improve things ?

    Which Coalition Minister is responsible for ” citizen experience ” and which members of the Opposition parties ? This ought to be a party-free zone.

  • 2. Claire McEneaney  |  January 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I’d like to see an app for booking appointments with my GP. Even an online form would be better than having to call up (within its often quite random opening times).

    At the moment I have to hang on the phone for a good 5 minutes until my call is even answered, then be told that they don’t do advance appointments (not even for routine check-ups) and then be asked to come in tomorrow, anytime between 11am and 1pm … so convenient when you work 9-5!

    An app where I could just pick a date and time to see my doctor would be less wasteful for them, and mean I could actually see my GP at a time that is convenient for me.

  • 3. Raj  |  January 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Personally, I feel disengaged from my local council. And it’s ashame because, like Peter points out, if there were more applications and platforms to get involved in the right way – then people would engage – and dare I say – with the help of applications – it could lead to co-production of our services on a bigger scale rather than pro-actively seeking to make co-production happen.

    I came across ‘My Starbucks Idea’ a few years ago (http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/)and thought at the time it would be great to have an app or platform where ideas were gathered aboutt how to improve your local services from citizens. My first idea would be that they have an app for new homeowners to register for council tax onnline so that citizens don’t have to chase the council three times on the phone and receive five letters on the same subject.

  • 4. thirup  |  January 6, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Been going through my ‘to read’ pile this morning and came across the RSA 2020 PST publication. Online or in-line: the future of information and technology in public services (Get it here http://www.2020publicservicestrust.org/news/item.asp?n=8979) it highlights some of the issues we discuss above… Claire, when i read this i thought of your comment

    ”Second Life, to online banking and blogging, it is no exaggeration to say that technology is transforming the way many of us live our lives. Whilst we can readily order pizza over the internet, buy clothes and even purchase business services online, we are often limited to standing in queues or waiting on hold to speak to public services and government.’

    • 5. Claire McEneaney  |  January 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      Exactly! It is such a shame that we have embraced technology in so many other aspects of our lives. I do all my banking online now, I buy groceries, clothes etc through the internet. Yet, as soon as I need to interact with something that is publically run, I’m back to phones and going to a physical place, even to get basic information.

      I think the sad thing is that we won’t see change until it is forced upon them. Perhaps the current environment of budget cuts will be the stimulus that our public services need to improve the user experience, and become more efficient.

  • 6. alecpatton  |  January 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Fixmystreet was developed by mySociety (http://www.mysociety.org/), and all my favourite public service apps/websites are developed by them (They Work for You, What Do they Know, and others)

  • 7. alex  |  January 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    There is a very interesting looking event in Bristol about Local Government Apps on Jan 28th and 29th. Excellent speakers and feel to it.


    Can Peter or Claire get to it ?

  • 8. thirup  |  January 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Alex. I would love to go, but have to climb a mountain of work before i can get to Bristol, so will have to wait and see. Have you read the report from the local by social online conference? It was published late last year, and there is some great stuff in there, both on apps as well as other ways of engaging with citizens online.

    If i don’t make it to Bristol, i look forward to hearing about the best apps at the conference on this blog 🙂


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