Friday, 15 June 2012

Neighbours not trusted here Last October I wrote a post around a research finding that one in five people are unhappy for any of their neighbours to receive any of their post. Royal Mail have followed up on the research by applying for all its postmen and women to be able to leave large items of mail with a neighbour if the addressee is not at home. R4’s PM programme covered it last night and I even got a few words in meself, on Radio London’s drivetime. There has been a trial in six parts of the country (results here), in which a little over six per cent of items were delivered to neighbours after first time failure, and most people seem happy with it. It seems wholly sensible so long as there is an opt-out. Back in the autumn I had naively wondered about digital technology - QR codes perhaps - being used in this situation, so that a postman or woman could quickly and discreetly check when unable to deliver a parcel, whether the recipient had agreed that a neighbour might be asked to take it in. The social as well as the economic benefits are fairly obvious. What’s more, I can envisage a degree of sophistication coming into the system after a while. You could have parcel-specific options: ‘YES for that bunting you ordered for the street party’; ‘NO for the bomb-making chemicals or the illustrated magazine of sexual contortions’. Wait, you could even have neighbour-specific options – and not just particular houses but particular residents: ‘YES to number 16 if young Eleanor answers, but not the old man if he’s been drinking’. Oh, and watch out for the dog. But no, the trial just used boring old stickers, perhaps with good reason: you don’t want to be developing some fancy software platform if the idea’s going to flop or be thrown out by the regulator: ‘Customers who wished to opt out contacted Royal Mail online or by telephone to request a sticker to place on their door. This allowed Royal Mail to record the number of requests. There is no guarantee that all stickers were used…’ There’s nothing in the report to say what happened if you weren’t in when your sticker was delivered. I’d be livid, wouldn’t you? So anyway what’s interesting is that participants in the trial could choose to place a sticker on their door which in effect declares that they don’t trust their neighbours. What fun: bring back ethnography, if there’s a job walking round neighbourhoods counting the stickers, I’ll take it. During the thirteen week trial, we are told, Royal Mail received 4,425 opt-out requests. This amounted to 0.59% of households in the trial areas. (You can almost hear them muttering ‘And we know where you live’). From the conversations I have had and heard about today, what has struck me is the apparently high proportion of people who don’t like the idea of neighbours touching their mail. The practice is already widespread of course...

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