Issues & Ideas | 21st October 2014

How can technology transform government?

Last night, at an Institute for Government event, Mike Bracken, head of the Government […]

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Last night, at an Institute for Government event, Mike Bracken, head of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Executive Director of Digital for the Cabinet Office, called for civil servants to work more closely with technical advisers and end-users on delivering digital services.

At the event, Mr Bracken told the audience of policy-makers and technology consultants that members of the government too often failed to make the distinction between policy and delivery.

Delivery, Mr Bracken said, should be the organising principle when adopting digital measures and too often services are designed with little or no input from the end user of these services.

Mr Bracken said his vision for digital government would involve civil servants stationed “with a digital technician on one side and a user on the other”. Examples of good practice, such as www.gov.uk, were cited by Bracken as effective ways of delivering services digitally.

He said it was vital that these services were designed to enable easy transition between online services offered by different Whitehall departments. It was up to government departments to make services work together and not up to users to have to go away and “work out how government works”. Bracken underlined that the “sovereignty of government department ends with digital”.

Bracken highlighted that the internet allowed a unique opportunity to design service delivery from scratch, without being bound to out-dated legacy policy. He also warned, however, about being too quick to adopt “the next big thing that software companies are selling”, such as big data or the internet of things. Whilst appreciating the importance of these developments, Bracken pointed out that some government departments have not yet mastered their “small data” and are not ready for “big data”.

The government can already look to examples in the private sector of how this is being done – Bracken talked about targeted communications to test messages. However, the government also has to be market-leading in other areas where the only inspiration comes from abroad – South America and Scandinavia were among examples of international benchmarks.

Asked from the audience about the significant part of the population that is still digitally illiterate, Bracken responded that it was important to deal with the “mainstream” first and it would then become clearer where the gaps are for those individuals who are still offline or are not regular computer users.

May2015’s upcoming interview with Baroness Lane Fox, Lastminute.com founder and former Government Digital Champion, will explore how digital is transforming politics and the civil service in more depth.