A Digital Roadmap for Government

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Policy Exchange have just produced their research report “Smaller Better Faster Stronger – remaking government for the digital age” (pdf)

Whilst we are admirers of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and in particular Gov.uk  this looks like an impressive contribution to a future roadmap!

In his introduction Rohan Silva (Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister 2010-2013) neatly applies a quote of Margaret Thatcher’s to Digital development – ““The heresies of one age give way, as they always do, to the orthodoxies of the next.” Amen to that.”

We second that! On to the report itself.

“The potential to use technology, data and the internet to transform government is vast. This report looks ahead and sets out how government needs to change to make the most of the new digital age.”

Here’s a video animation they have produced:

They basically come up with 15 recommendations which they estimate could save £24 billion if implemented in full. (Our favourites are #’s1, 6, 11 and 13)!

Here they are in full (pdf):

  1. Eliminate paper for all interactions within and between government departments. Moving paper around the country is slow, expensive and a waste of valuable staff time. Taxpayers deserve better than public servants struggling with mountains of paper and data entry when they could and should be doing their jobs.
  2. Switch exclusively to digital for public services that do not need a face-to-face interaction with the public. Digital services are the only way to keep up with ever higher citizen expectations. Moreover, the average cost of a digital interaction is tens of times lower than doing the same thing on the phone or in the post. Some face-to-face contact will remain important and in these cases should be strengthened as a complement to digital services.
  3. Make electronic purchasing based on open standards the default for government departments. Government is a major purchaser but is not as nimble as it should be. A widely adopted electronic platform for government buying would lower prices and reduce bureaucracy. This would also provide the critical mass for widespread adoption of electronic invoicing, saving businesses billions of pounds a year.
  4. Require government to issue and accept secure electronic proofs for addressing, tax and the like. This is a necessary condition for fully digitising government services. It would also make it much easier to share these proofs with third parties in a way that goes with the grain of our increasingly digital lives. An open standards approach should enable individuals securely to store these proofs alongside other information in a personal data store of their choosing.
  5. Expose Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for all government services. The internet provides an opportunity to separate the different layers of public service delivery. Exposing read and write APIs would allow anyone to write apps capable of communicating with government systems, opening up a new wave of innovation as developers compete to meet user needs.
  6. Extend lean start-up methods as a preferred way of working in government. An approach based on validated learning, scientific experimentation and iterative product releases can result in better outcomes, delivered more quickly, with less risk. This will require feedback to flow all the way through the system, so in this world of continuous improvement any artificial distinctions between policy and delivery will need to end.
  7. Incorporate digital and data skills, and basic scientific literacy, into the core Civil Service competency framework. This will need to be backed up with investment in stretching, high-quality training and development. Data is in the DNA of successful modern businesses. These skills are crucial for the digital economy and government has a responsibility to invest in those that work for it.
  8. Put a double lock on policies that are not testable by default. Scrutiny of government policy too often takes place after the event and with insufficient evidence to discriminate between competing assertions. In future, any policythat does not specify ex ante how its success can be tested should require authorisation from both the Minister responsible and the departmental accounting officer.
  9. Open up all non-personal public sector data with persistent Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). Data generated by the public sector as a by-product of serving the publicbelongs to the public. Making this freely available and accessible as linked data with persistent identifiers will provide a reliable foundation both for accountability and for those looking to build businesses by adding value to public sector data.
  10.  Buy in big data analytics on a payment-by-results basis. Advanced analytics can identify both big opportunities and a long tail of smaller opportunities for smarter decision making that add up to significant savings. Government should run appropriately secured contests to find these savings, paying businesses, entrepreneurs and academics based on the results they deliver.
  11. Further increase interchange so that most senior staff have recent external experience. The private sector is by no means perfect, but government has much to learn from the way businesses are responding to rapid advances in technology, and it is important to see this first hand. Cross-fertilisation of ideas is one of the key reasons why Silicon Valley is such a powerhouse of innovation.
  12. Introduce more fixed tenure appointments for senior civil servants, starting with new appointments. To maintain momentum on transformation, government must ensure that senior people know what they need to achieve by when, have a strong incentive to master digital tools and approaches, and are clear on how success will be judged. There should be renewed expectations that people will stay in post for the duration of an appointment, but no expectation of entitlement to stay in the same post indefinitely
  13. Publish an open directory of all government officials. Open policymaking and accountability work best when it is clear who is dealing with what and how they can be reached. Unified government email addresses and staff pages would remove much of the artificial friction generated by departmental silos and staff churn, and help make joined-up, open policymaking a reality.
  14. Enrol the top 10% of staff at all grades in an explicit innovation drive. This group would have permission to spend 10% of their time designing and testing innovations to improve how things work day-to-day in their organisations. No one in any organisation has a monopoly on the best ideas, and all of us will benefit from more innovation in government.
  15. Allow more central government teams to spin out in partnership with high-tech start-ups and other partners. Like all large organisations, government inevitably struggles with radical innovation. By spinning some activities out into joint ventures with private and third sector partners, departments can both help start-ups to scale up and get access to fresh thinking that might otherwise evade them.

Well worth a read (they also have an ebook and a web version)

We’ll leave you with one of the reports authors (Chris Yiu) slightly staccato video:

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