Digitising government – disruptive thinking and opportunities for better local services

30 Mar 2015, 1:27 pm

William Barker, Head of Technology Strategy and Digital Futures, DCLG

William Barker As public servants, we need to be smarter about embedding digital technologies and big data analytics at the heart of what we do in order to deliver more integrated, better, services for less cost to the taxpayer.

Real local service transformation is, as the Service Transformation Challenge Panel’s report highlights, about adopting radically re-designed approaches to service provision and how public servants can help to transform and reshape the workings of government and public services.

As part of Government’s immediate response to this report, the successful person-centred approach implemented by the troubled families programme is to be extended to support 400,000 more families and a review is to be held into how funding for transformation across local services is allocated. Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, also said that the panel had “given us a blueprint for better services in the years ahead, with plans that put people first by joining up what they do around the user. That’s an approach that gets better results and costs less too and I’m pleased that we are now pushing it forward.”

This line of thinking, coupled with the emergence of government as a platform, the internet of things, and the new discipline of data science, means (as outlined in the book ‘Digitising Government’) 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.


With the above in mind – 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 such a basic blueprint start to look like?

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 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? Drawing on all the above and taking the draft Digital Connectivity for older people model as a template, we have started to scope out a simple blueprint to act as a 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”.


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.

(If you click through to the interactive blueprint you will be able to follow links to further information about all the above topics)

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.

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.

Having started to draw together the common attributes of a basic blueprint 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, the Local Digital Programme and other sector partners to crowd-source a flexible blueprint moving forwards.

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.