just when you thought it was safe...

By Susie Lockwood

I love it when a piece of writing brilliantly captures an idea or observation that, when you read it, feels both obvious and revelatory. It’s a kind of joining the dots moment I suppose, and I experienced it most recently when reading this comment piece by Simon Jenkins on the Guardian website.

I’d definitely recommend reading it but, in a nutshell, Simon Jenkins suggests that far from isolating us into pale faced-creatures lit by the glow of an LCD screen, the digital world is bringing us out into the real world again by providing a customised map to where we want to be and who we want to see.

It’s a perspective that I haven’t really considered before, at least not in such neat terms, but it rings true. How many of us feel more able to take advantage of the offline world thanks to the internet? And we’re far more equipped to create this offline world according to what’s important and interesting to us because of the internet.

While Simon Jenkins highlights the revenue-earning potential of using the web to point people towards events, there are implications and opportunities for the public sector in this theory too.

Online is generally speaking the preferred medium for public sector communication and with good reason, the most obvious being its cost-effectiveness. But do we have the mindset of using our online endeavours to bring us closer to people offline?

To make the contact we have in the real world more relevant, more targeted, more meaningful? If people are experiencing the world in a more deliberate – rather than accidental – way it makes me think there will be demand to which we can respond and learn and gain from.

The possibilities are many: making services that are offline by necessity, such as recycling, more accessible and successful; holding targeted meetings with the right people at the right places; increasing visibility and ‘touchability’ of policymakers; and using online insight to help determine offline priorities by issue or location. All of these could contribute to the improvement of services and increased satisfaction, which is what it’s all about after all.

If 2012 is set to be the year when the mobile web will really start to dominate (or so I read – and so I believe) then the integration of the online and offline for individuals will become even more seamless and mobile web users will flit between one and the other with ease, or an expected ease.

Can public sector organisations keep up and capitalise?

Susie Lockwood is Media Officer at Norfolk County Council

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