Yesterday [Rob Miller] joined a large group of people whose idea of the best way to spend a beautiful sunny Saturday was to gather together in London’s City Hall and discuss ideas for ways that London can get the most out of the opportunities that ‘smart city’ developments offer.
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does it remember too much and so see too many reasons why anything new is bound to fail?
While there are some great pockets of work taking place to deliver better public services, the UK government’s overall attempts at technology-enabled, or “e-government” or “digital”, reform appear to be struggling to achieve and sustain the benefits promised at the pace and scale originally foreseen. And not for the first time – this has been a repeating cycle of optimism and disillusionment since the mid-1990s. So why is this?
I took a week off doing this last week – the shame! – so apologies for that*. A good crop this time round though. Enjoy!
- Tom Steinberg asks Why even bother with a user centred, digital government? and it’s a very interesting question. We spend a lot of time wondering what such a thing might look like, but without understanding why you’re doing it life can get very tricky. Tom’s answer is based around achieving compassion, fairness, the value of government itself, respect and transparency. Matt Jukes has posted his response to the question as well, in typically thoughtful style, adding empowerment to the list.
- An update on Government as a Platform (GaaP) progress at GDS gives a chance to discuss some of this stuff, including the opening up of the Notify service to local government, and the additonal capability for Notify to allow for inbound text messaging and the sending out of postal letters. Now, I wrote about GaaP a little while ago, and having just reread it, I’m not entirely happy about it (bit too tech-focused). The general issue I have with this area of work is that it seems to have leapt straight into the tech capabilities part, without thinking through the platform operating model bit first. The more specific issue with the way this is being done is in the re-writing of what are pretty common, commodity components. These things already exist! Why does local government need another way to send people emails, text messages or (FFS!) letters? Surely it would have been quicker, easier and cheaper to curate a suite of existing, well supported, easily configurable and interoperable components that could be used lego block style to build out services? Maybe there’s something here I’m just not getting.
- ‘Digital Transformation’ Is a Misnomer – is a great articulation about the problems of language and how they impede progress. I’ve a post in the process of percolation on this topic at the moment, however it’s worth saying that people’s understanding of terms is based as much on their own experience as it is commonly accepted definitions. In other words (ha!) no single expression is ever going to work as a shorthand that everybody gets first time. This whole thing is made harder by the efforts of vendor marketing departments who like to badge whatever they do with whatever the fashionable term is at the time. My approach is to choose the right language for your organisation and stick with it, and rather than focus on specific definitions, work on using them as symbols to represent the thing you’re trying to get across. Otherwise you are doomed to never get past the first slide of the deck you’re writing for that important meeting.
- If I could tell you 3 things – notes from a brief career in the public service – really nice reflective piece from Leisa Reichelt. All three of her things come from being user focused in one’s work, which is telling. It’s very easy to talk the talk on user needs but actually doing it is hard and requires constant vigiliance.
- GDS Isn’t Working – Part 5 (No Vision, No Ambition) – an excoriating post from Alan Mather, continuing his series analysing government transformation efforts of the last few years. It’s not perfect – I can’t help but get the feeling that Alan needs to let the Gateway go… – but it’s a great challenge to not just the current central government strategy but also for anybody working on this stuff in their own organisations.
As always, these have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.
* although nobody complained…
Not sure anything in tech world can match politics right now for interestingness, but here goes…
- Tandridge Council are recruiting a Technology Implementation Manager. Details here.
- What a digital organisation looks like – smart stuff from Janet Hughes. Answer = responsive, open and efficient.
- We need a Minister for Digital Government – according to Dan Thornton at the Institute for Government. Quite a bit of commentary has been around the limitation of the word ‘digital’ – though that’s largely semantics – and I would argue that even if you (wrongly) take digital to mean just tech, there’s still enough that needs fixing to make it worthwhile.
- “Which third are you?” – asks James Governor from Redmonk. The thirds being change agents, persuadables or heel diggers. All about your attitude to change. Every organisation has every type, and you need them all onside – or at least enough of them – to make stuff happen.
- Coté shares some slides from a workshop he ran in the States on how Government can go cloud native. Also see this post for further ruminations.
These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.
My friend and colleague Jason Caplin pointed out today that the LSE have open up the lectures for their undergraduate course on British government and how it all works.
It’s a fantastic resource, and great that they have shared this openly, as it’s something that would be of use to anyone working in and around government.
However, the formatting isn’t all that great and it doesn’t work brilliantly on mobile. Plus, there’s no ability for learners to ask questions, leave comments or discuss the topics.
So, I very quickly threw together a WordPress site to rehouse the videos, using a nice simple responsive theme and layout. I also enabled comments, so there’s a bit of a social element there as well.
I’d be really interested to know from folk if this has been a worthwhile endeavour, and if you make use of the site. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement.
The site is at http://britgov.learninglabs.org.uk/
A quick pointer to an interesting project in central government in the UK.
It’s looking at redefining the technology used by civil servants to get their jobs done.
There are a number of interesting issues around this agenda. The experience people have at home with software – particularly web based applications like Facebook, Amazon and so on – means that the systems they use at work are increasingly clunky and depressing.
As Stefan Czerniawski says in his blog post:
Traditional software is big and complicated, packed with features which most people don’t use most of the time. That has two consequences. The first is that they need training and support to be useful, the second is that it is difficult and expensive to change them. Modern software tends to be lighter, more focused, more flexible and more social. That makes it much easier to match the tool to the job.
It will be good to see what recommendations emerge from this project in the future.