Part 6: Making digital part of our DNA

Reflections from our audits: Our future needs - is the public sector ready?

Social media. 6.1
Information and communications technology (ICT) is a growing component of public sector expenditure. In central government, it has increased by about $43 million since 2009/10 when annual ICT spending was $980 million. During the past 25 years, ICT has become integral to how we work, enjoy leisure activities, and receive services.

Connecting. Accurate, relevant data underpins the good use of digital services and communication. One way or another, many public resources will be committed to responding to the challenges of our future. Therefore, having the right kind of data available is important. Robust information can be useful for identifying improvements or adverse consequences as a result of changes in society and in government policy. Also, it can help support accountable and transparent decision-making.

Public expectations about communication and service are changing

Partly because of advances in ICT, people who use public services expect them to be delivered more quickly, more cheaply, and more conveniently. ICT can help public service providers to meet these expectations and it has become essential for delivering many of these services, such as collecting taxes, paying benefits, and recording land titles.

In our private lives, New Zealanders are making widespread use of social media to connect with people – friends and acquaintances, their friends and acquaintances, and complete strangers, nationally and internationally. Collectively, many of us are using social media to share our news, opinions, interests, and images with a wider audience than we can otherwise reach. The potential to connect with people has also led many public entities to actively consider whether to use social media to communicate with the public.

As the public sector builds the robustness and use of information, it will also need to build its practices in the management of private and sensitive data and explore related public expectations – some of which are changing as we all interact more with technology.

We need to be prepared to experiment with social media

Social media has the potential to change the way that public services are delivered to New Zealanders, not just connecting and communicating with people, but actively involving and even empowering them.

In our report, Learning from public entities' use of social media, we shared what eight entities (seven public entities and one non-governmental organisation) had learned from using social media in different ways.

The public sector is moving cautiously but positively to embrace social media. Public entities will get the most value from social media when they are clear about the purpose and the appropriateness of their involvement and have staff using the technology wisely.

New ways of engaging

During several of the "Our future needs" projects, we progressively published our findings online and in new electronic formats to make the results available more quickly and to increase the transparency of our work. In some instances, we updated them when we got new information.

We published our work on Using the United Nations' Madrid indicators to better understand our ageing population and on Learning from public entities' use of social media as a series of blogs. We used blogs to set out information about selected Madrid indicators and the insight they gave and to discuss examples of how public entities use social media.

We are also using blogs as a way for our staff to discuss interesting, perplexing, and pleasing aspects of our work, with the aim of enriching the value of that work and engaging meaningfully with our audiences.

In response to public entities telling us that it can be difficult to find out about the ideas and experiences of others, we contacted 190 public entities and asked for their success stories. Many city, district, and regional councils, government departments, and Crown entities of all sizes responded.

On our website, we shared 47 stories as an online catalogue of ideas so that stories could be searched by type of agency and type of initiative.

Most of the stories have common elements, such as collaboration and sharing services, capable and engaged staff, and fostering an organisational focus on effectiveness and efficiency. There are also stories about improving corporate or back-office functions, and directly improving services. All highlight the common aim of delivering better services to the public.

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