Futurology at UKGC14?


I’m writing this just a few days before UKGovCamp 2014, which is on Saturday 25th January 2014. If you’re going and haven’t already read UKGovcamp14: be prepared, do take a look, as it’s the practical info for attendees (including ARRIVE EARLYBRING COFFEE).


I’ve used ‘Futurology’ in the title of this post, which Finlo Rohrer summarised rather well in his 2010 BBC News Magazine article:

Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next

Living in the Future, written by Geoffrey Hoyle in 1972

Now, I don’t pretend to know what’s going to happen in the future, but I do try to keep an eye on the latest trends and innovations to see how they could be applied in the workplace.

Last week I started a thread on the #UKGC14 discussion board to see if it’s worth having a session on what public services might look like in 2020, or 2030. I also blogged about it.

I’m interested personally (as a geek), for my day job (Hampshire Hub, research and intelligence in localgov), and also wearing my BlueLightCamp / British APCO hats.

A couple of people have replied so far, including Jonathan Flowers, who shared several useful links: – Capita’s Four Futures for Local Government,  LGiU’s Future Town Hall, and Jonathan’s own extended contribution Councils in 2043 – the Next Thousand Words. Sadly, Jonathan can’t make it to UKGovCamp this year – we’ll miss him.


Sam Markey also suggested some scenarios to help think about the way things might develop:

economic – return to growth, stagnation/decline, or a new more sustainable direction;
political – collapse of mainstream representative democracy, continued half-hearted participation, or rise of popular new mainstream political movement (The Occupy Party led by Russell Brand MP?);
technological – ubiquitous networking, persistent governance through Internet of Things, or disintegration of the Internet into multiple fragmented systems in response to state surveillance.

Future tech

I like Sam’s suggestion, and for the remainder of this post I’m going to list some of the technologies which might play a part in the future workplace (or already do in some cases). Apologies in advance as I’ve thrown this together and it’s a mixture of links, facts and wild speculation.

This is only a subset of what’s happening, and I’ll have missed loads – please feel free to chip in with other stuff or correct me where I’ve got it wrong. I hope to follow-up with a ‘proper’ post after UKGC14.

In 1981, reading the news on your computer was itself, news.

3D printing and scanning

Big implications for transport and distribution (see printed- house video example), maintenance engineers (print your own parts when needed, instead of holding stock), also visitor attractions like museums and discovery centres for educational visits / tourists (print your own copy of an artifact). I blogged some more about 3D in the second part of this post.

QR codes

An advert by Lancashire County Council featuring a nice use of a QR code
An advert by Lancashire County Council featuring a nice use of a QR code

QR codes (and automated image recognition) or equivalent – to automatically recognise items (which may be visually very similar) – useful for maintenance engineers, field workers.

There’s been low take-up so far, but there are some great examples out there – see Lambeth example for planning applications. I reckon smartphones will begin to recognise QR codes automatically – so you won’t have to consciously load an app – which would really encourage take-up.

Many QR Code generators are free – a good example is QR Code Generator from the ZXing Project and Terence Eden’s blog is brimming with good advice on all things QR. Also an interesting post by Andy Mabbett: Talking about GLAM, Wikipedia and QRpedia in Amsterdam and Hamburg

Augmented reality

Great examples out there like the Layar App – enabling the user to ‘see’ additional information about physical objects. Experian also has the Mosaic UK app, which is pretty neat for showing common characteristics around a location).

There’s loads of potential for engineering and road maintenance projects like in this example video from Bentley Systems.

Intelligent document stores

Document stores (will) make it easy to create, record, gather, store different types of content and tag / categorise them (both automatically and manually). Evernote is one example I’ve used (e.g. take a photo, which is geolocated, stored and tagged automatically in the cloud; search text stored within the image, via a map, via tag etc).

Wearable technology

Loads happening on this at the moment e.g.: ‘Smart Contact Lenses Will Give You Superhuman Vision’. Also Google Glass and others like Memoto/Narrative Clip (lifeblogging camera with geolocation and searchable timeline).

I’m one of nearly three thousand people who backed Memoto as a Kickstarter project over a year ago. I was hoping to have it in time for UKGovCamp, but unfortunately it won’t be delivered in time.

Like lots of wearable technology, there’s lots of opportunities for good, but the implications for personal privacy are a little daunting. Hopefully I’ll have it in time for BlueLightCamp which should be in May/June this year (and will most probably be held in Hampshire).

I’m sure it won’t be very long before we lose the term ‘wearable technology’ as so many materials will be available that we’ll just have ‘intelligent clothing’ that can adapt to different circumstances. I read somewhere recently that there are already intelligent contact lenses – that was bound to happen, as not everyone likes wearing Glasses, Google or otherwise.

Machine to Machine

M2M and the Internet of Things: Smart sensors could greatly help with assisted living, monitoring and managing traffic flow, monitoring water levels in case of flooding, road surface temperatures for whether to grit etc – see the ZDNet article. Also a look at what Google is up to: Google Doesn’t Care About Your Thermostat. It Wants to Organize the Internet of Things.

Open Data

Lots to say about open data (another time) as I’m working on a data sharing / local information project which aims to create a common evidence-base for decision-making, with all data open by default.

By 2020 I’d expect national and local core reference data to be routinely available, with local data sets published to a common standard throughout the country. A few other data-related assumptions (or hopes):

  • Standard tools will be readily available to access data, together with applications that use the data.
  • Data that needs to be held securely will be held behind Firewalls (but in linked form).
  • Data will no longer be held in proprietary formats (thereby removing the ‘lock-in’ sometimes experienced with incumbent vendors)
  • All systems will be capable of producing open data as a natural byproduct of normal operations (thanks to a standard clause in all new procurements).
  • All data that can be published will routinely be made available as linked open data – lots of good examples already, including the DCLG’s Open Data Communities
  • Open data published by other organisations will provide context for organisations’ own data. Local Government e-Standards Body (LeGSB) doing great work on this
  • My earlier thoughts in Slideshare presentation for the Future of Open Data in the Public Sector event
  • Deloitte presentation on exploiting open data is worth a read
  • Public will increasingly ‘own’ and curate their own data (but it won’t be open data)
  • Organisations will rely on their own open data – see McKinsey report ‘Unlocking Innovation and Performance with liquid information
  • we’ll have completely forgotten the term ‘big data’, as it’s all just data (that said Big Data – massive, complex subject, itself worthy of a UKGC14 session)

The Future is social

There are signs that the decision-making landscape is changing radically, with new generations of leaders (political, community, and management) with very different expectations. Skype surgeries, Hangouts and online polls are becoming quite common and there will be much, much more of that sort of thing in future.

Business social networking is at last becoming commonplace and examples – both good and bad – are emerging.  Organisations agonise beforehand, and then are pleasantly surprised that the world doesn’t end when the social networking taps are turned on. By 2020 everyone will have forgotten what all the fuss was about.

Holographic technology

Holograms are already being used to provide standard ‘meet and greet’ services – see the BBC article Brent Council’s virtual receptioninst.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see holograms attending meetings in the future – it could make virtual meetings much more like physical meetings and – perhaps – one day, a customer service rep could ‘visit’ a member of the public in their own home for a ‘face-to-face’ meeting without any travel being involved

Strength in numbers

  • Open policy-making see the Civil Service beta
  • Staff confident and competent to act as brand ambassadors using a variety of social / digital tools.

  • Work contracts may be radically different: e.g. fewer salaried staff, and to include on-demand, perhaps as a “one-click” service, with payment done in the background.

  • Inductions will routinely include digital / social networking (guidance), as will personal development plans for all employees (including top management)

  • Councillors will be adept at using technology – it will no longer a differentiator

A GDS for Local Government?

Yes, of course.

At some point in the next few years the local equivalent of GOV.UK will handle all common transactions (report a…, request a… , where’s my nearest… etc). I can’t believe it won’t happen. Recent blogs about this include: an excellent and detailed post by Richard Copley, and responses by Carl Haggerty,  Simon Wakeman, and Jason Williams.

I’m one of many who blogged about it a couple of years ago. I don’t manage a localgov web site and don’t have detailed enough knowledge of the issues to make much of a contribution to the debate. I support the efficiency and consistency it would inevitably bring, but still worry that these are local services, and homogenous may not always be best.

Collaborative environments

Many of us already collaborate on projects together in real-time using tech like Google Drive as an enabler. Ironically, it’s not that common within the public sector workplace yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we are:

  • sharing objects, screens and other material in real-time

  • using integrated video / audio chat with recording and broadcast capability

  • sharing code and designs (Github good example for software development)

 Decision-making – time travel!

  • Evidence-based decision making (of course)

  • Factors (and supporting data) influencing decisions routinely captured at a point in time

  • Ability to “rewind time” to go back to the point at which a decision was taken and revisit assumptions – see the Guardian’s ‘Reading the Riots’ tool for an example of the concept:

  • Decisions linked with each other within the organisation, and also external agencies as they affect a particular place

  • Ability to add in other factors / the benefit of hindsight and ‘replay’

  • Extrapolation / forecasting based on a wide variety of factors (enabled through exploiting big data)

  • Tools to assess / forecast the likely impact of decisions on areas outside own responsibility – the “knock-on effect” or “real cost”

That’s it!

That’s it – I’ve run out of steam for this post. And I didn’t even get to mention a load of stuff I’d intended to. If I get a chance, I’ll write another post mentioning some of this lot:

  • What happens when the technology fails?!
  • Gamification
  • Apps
  • Power & wisdom of the crowd
  • Viral change & new media
  • Anticipatory computing
  • Smart virtual personal assistants (SVPAs)
  • Software as a service and personal cloud services
  • Micro location
  • Digital currencies
  • Quantified self

Picture Credits

  1. 2011: Living in the Future by Geoffrey Hoyle picture from James Mattisson’s blog
  2. Screenshot from The Guardian’s Reading the Riots interactive timeline
  3. Figurehead: By Twice25 & Rinina25 (Nostra foto) via Wikimedia Commons




By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism


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