In the Netherlands, approximately 2.5M people struggle to use technology in their daily life and are unable to use online governmental services independently. People with low digital literacy are increasingly feeling left behind by the digitalisation of society. Even though this group is very diverse, what they have in common is getting stuck at some point when they are in a digital environment, e.g. when filling in digital forms.
The Dutch government wants to provide more effective and appropriate help by designing more accessible online services and offering different types of support. To support this, STBY was commissioned to do qualitative research to better understand the experiences of people with limited digital skills. The ethnographic methods used in the project enabled the researchers to get a holistic understanding of participants’ experiences of going through this emotional and difficult journey. This personal approach enabled participants to share the ‘obstacles’...
Canadian Digital Service, Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada
Government websites and online services are often built with limited input from the people they serve. This approach limits their ability to respond to ever changing needs and contexts. This case study describes a government digital team built from the ground up to embrace ethnographic methods to make government services more resilient.
The case study begins by tracing the organisation’s origins and relationship to other research-driven parts of its government. Then it shows how the organisation’s structure evolved as more projects included ethnography. It describes various approaches to locating skilled researchers within bureaucratic confines, as well as what responsibilities researchers took on as the organisation grew. It then summarises researchers’ experiences with matrixed, functional and hybrid organisation schemes.
The case study concludes explaining how embracing ethnographic approaches...
Segurança Social (Portugal’s Social Security System) offers multiple service channels to the people. However, they were not perceived as a whole because the assistance was not standard, depending on the channel or person answering – leading to cumulative problems that could take months to resolve.
We faced the complex nature of a big governmental organization. Our research made us more aware of people’s general reluctance towards public institutions as they tend to expect poor quality service. We used the information from field research to create four prototypes that would bring tangible results to citizens and impact the institution’s culture in the long term.
Segurança Social has always been about resilience: the organization itself and the people it serves. Despite its flaws and fragilities, it’s the social system that allows many to thrive. That’s why we envisioned the system’s sustainability, rooted in the workers’ resilience and processes.
Keywords: Public Services, Digital...
by ANDREW RICHARD SCHROCK
Article 2 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives
The windows were dirty when I arrived on the fifteenth floor of City Hall. I had been hired as the Los Angeles’ Innovation Team’s in-house social communication researcher. My official title was “Design and Data Research Fellow,” although my badge read “intern,” which after 6 years in a PhD program was an unusual change. After a few weeks I got tired of looking through the grime, and trudged upstairs to the shared kitchen to locate a bottle of spray and a few paper towels. The only way to reach each side of the windows was to lean out, because they opened outward. I’m afraid of heights, so dangling halfway out the windows fifteen floors was enough to give me butterflies. Still, the cleaning plan was up to me.
My work considers how people use technologies to improve civic life. I’m especially interested in how individuals become involved in institutional change through and around data. You hear this argument a...
by CARL DISALVO, Georgia Institute of Technology
This post introduces the series "Data, Design, and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives" edited by Carl DiSalvo.
With all of the civic hackathons, civic tech meetups, and civic innovation teams bustling around the world, you’d think we'd have the challenges of government and civil society figured out—or at least be well on our way toward a more open and participatory, resourceful public sphere. Certainly the rhetoric around data, design, and civics suggests as much. But, of course, that’s not the case. The significant ethnographic and design research efforts in contemporary civics are showing us that government and civil society remain fraught arenas and that information and communication technology, along with the ubiquitous “data,” have exacerbated the challenges government, citizenship, and political action.
In the rush to find solutions, what we find instead are more problems. But perhaps it is through these problems, through these messy conditions and patchwork...