Systems analysis at the ‘front end’ of service design can help us to better understand complex social problems and identify opportunities to respond more effectively and profoundly. Equally, systems thinking provides tools and mindsets to understand the power structures and ‘system immune responses’ which so often kill new solutions before they get off the ground.
At the DH digital champions summit on Tuesday, during the afternoon open space session, an interesting discussion broke out. One among many, I’m sure!
Anyway, what was being discussed was the sheer unusability of government systems and processes. Only, not the ones that the public uses, but the ones that civil servants use.
I’ve worked in enough local councils, quangos and central government departments to know that the vast majority of IT systems in use are pretty dreadful. Clunky, and rarely fit for purpose, they seem to exist just to make life more difficult for those using them.
Likewise those processes yet to be digitised. How hard is it to bring in a temporary member of staff to get a job done? Sometimes the paperwork is so over the top, it’s quicker to do whatever it is yourself rather than get the extra body in.
It’s absurd and clearly must be a factor in the difficulty in getting stuff done within government.
The Red Tape Challenge is a crowdsourced effort within government to get rid of the burden of bureaucracy on businesses and citizens. It appears to have had some success in identifying areas where things could move a little quicker, smoother, and maybe with fewer dockets.
There’s also been a lot of focus – rightly – on the user experience for citizen and customer facing interactions. The work that GDS is doing in this area shows that it can be done.
I do wonder though whether a similar approach ought to be being taken to internal systems, across government. Maybe a red tape challenge style thing, where public servants can identify the particularly crappy systems and processes that make their lives a misery – and get them fixed.
Or maybe we need a black ops style skunkworks, wielding the knife on some of the more monstrous forms of obstructive paperwork and dreadful databases. Taking a similar user-focused approach to that which GDS – and many other public facing services – are using to such great effect.
There must be at least much opportunity here, to improve efficiency and save money, as there is in making things easier for the citizen?