Public servants need to be smarter about embedding digital technologies and big data to deliver more integrated and better local services.
Real local service transformation is, as the recent Service Transformation Challenge Panel's report highlighted, about adopting radically re-designed approaches to service provision and how public servants can transform the workings of government and public services.
This, coupled with the emergence of government as a platform, the internet of things, and the new discipline of data science, means (as the authors of the recently published insightful book on Digitising Government point out) that not only technologists but policy makers and practitioners are having to re-think their traditional frames of reference as new disruptive opportunities are occurring on an almost daily basis.
WELCOME TO THE INFO-SPHERE
Everybody is increasingly operating in what is known as the world of the digital info-sphere, a realm spanning both the on-line and off-line domains, in which the Oxford based digital futurologist Luciano Floridi describes in his latest book "The 4th Revolution", as a place in which each of us is "building a raft whilst swimming" as we constantly devise new ways of working with data and digital technologies to achieve radical change.
So what can help people navigate this brave new world of the digital info-sphere as we look to combine and re-combine ideas about data, design, digital and delivery together to help transform local services? And where do we start to look to source the blueprints to help "build the raft"?
Well, within central government, the strategic blueprint is being devised by the Government Digital Service (GDS), whose pioneering work is transforming the way government services are working for the public. Similarly we are witnessing a whole range of new ways of digital working across local authorities, customer led service initiatives and collaborative working with the centre.
Likewise with the help of the Department for Communities and Local Government supported initiatives like the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, transparency and the local digital programme a growing number of places like the Transformation Challenge award winners are looking to take advantage of digital technologies and 'big data' analysis to drive local service transformation.
SCOPING A "BLUEPRINT"
So taking all that together, and fully recognising that a one-size fits all approach does not work and that there will be differences from place to place, what could the common attributes of basic blueprint start to look like?
Well, with this in mind, DCLG's Grey Cells Initiative has been working with a range of partners to look at what turns policy into practice on the ground around issues such as digital inclusion, digital connectivity for older people, community integration projects like English My Way and mapping digital case studies from around the country.
We at DCLG have also been looking at GDS's work on digital inclusion and assisted digital, the latest thinking on Smart Cities, NESTA's work around local innovation and the work of Tech City. Looking further afield, we have been considering ideas from around the world such as the Onlife initiative, "open statecraft" and the Estonian e-service programme or concepts from North America such as "Charting the Digital Info-sphere", Building Digitally Inclusive Communities and Cities of Service.
So where have we got to? Well drawing on all of the above and taking the draft Digital Connectivity for older people model as a template, we have started to scope out a simple draft blueprint to act as frame of reference of likely areas that policy makers and practitioners need to be aware of as they navigate themselves around some of the complexities of the local digital "info-sphere".
MAPPING WHAT WORKS FOR DIGITAL, DATA, DESIGN AND DELIVERY
Our blueprint is still very much in early draft, but looking at the themes identified in the Challenge Panel's report, we see the key pre-conditions for addressing digital transformation looking like this:
- The establishment of a strong data sharing culture , that supports the growth of data science and collaborative working;
- the adoption of common design standards that are agile and inclusive;
- the delivery of services that are user focussed and trusted; and
- adopt digital technology and platforms that can help to underpin service transformation.
But as the Panel report also acknowledges, for digitisation to truly take a hold, organisations need to adopt a What Works approach that in practice means:
- forming a whole-place strategic view of the challenges and opportunities that a digital-by-default approach has to offer;
- provide focussed leadership around improving connectivity collaboration and governance to support transformation;
- establish a positive boundary spanning culture so the organisation can be both an effective strategic partner and intelligent commissioner; and
- linking-up with learning networks that can help keep you focussed on delivering user-centred digital services and solutions.
Our draft blueprint then goes on to look at the sort of digital foundations that a digitally connected community should look to have in place like broadband connectivity, inclusive accessibility and user focussed standards of services. Before outlining some of the likely areas of delivery focus such as knowledge and learning, health and wellbeing and community participation and linking them to potential cost benefits analysis outcomes.
As I said earlier, like everyone else we are "building the raft whilst swimming" and we are the first to recognise that what we set-out above is only a very small part of the smart transformation work that is happening across places. To see more of what's been going on look at the Grey Cells data-set and check-out the Transformation Network and Local Digital sites for the latest stories and how you can share your own experiences of what works with others.
Having started to draw together what the common attributes of a basic blueprint start to look like, we now want to road-test it remembering as ever that "one-size does-not fit all". The next step will be to work with the Transformation Network, the Transformation Challenge Award winners and Local Digital Programme to develop the draft blueprint in association with a number of other partners. The intention being that the blueprint becomes a set of flexible crowd-sourced resources that can help to navigate the complexities of the digital info-sphere and the digitising government agendas and help identify how places can harness the benefits of big data and digital technology to transform local public service delivery.
William Barker is Head of Technology Strategy and Digital Futures at DCLG; he is also a Visiting Fellow at Brunel University looking at Digital Government and "Connected Statecraft" for policymakers and practitioners in the digital age.