Digital Government — stuck in a groove?

For the past ~27 years, UK digital government efforts have largely focused on the left column of this table, occasionally drifting into ‘Rationalisation’ — and then, as teams change and drift away and memory fades, repeating the cycle.

a close up of text and logo over a white background
Illustration by Jerry Fishenden — from ‘Democracy, Politics and Technology

It was Ed Vaizey MP, the former minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who commented nearly 5 years ago that:

“I would completely re-engineer government. I would abolish government departments, I would have government by task, you know, what do you want to achieve?” 

His views reflect earlier ideas about the need to rethink, reshape and redesign government itself, and the essential role that technology can play in making that happen — effectively moving us from the left half of the table towards the right.

Instead, technology is often relegated to being an implementation and operational mechanism for decisions already made, or to help paper-over current organisational cracks and broken policies. 

I also suspect that much of the so-called ‘digital’ training is only making things worse, with its focus on aspects of ‘agile’ and ‘scrums’ and developers. It’s the equivalent of explaining to politicians and senior policymakers the nuts and bolts of how a car factory assembly line works, when their focus needs to be on how to design a better form of transportation.

If ‘digital, data and technology’ remain stuck in the same groove — boxed-in by existing “gut feel” political initiatives and dysfunctional organisational structures — they will continue to polish and burnish the status quo rather than helping radically rethink and improve our public services, the very opposite of what they rightly aspire to achieve.

As the past decades demonstrate, leaving technology festering on the left side of the table will never deliver the benefits that Ed Vaizey outlined, nor deliver the “transformation” in our public services that political parties of all colours have repeatedly claimed to desire.

All of which begs the question: how do we now make that transition from the left to the right side of the table … ?

Of which, more soon 🙂


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on 25th August 2021.

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