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Organisations that take the Simplify, Standardise and Share approach can avoid ‘delusions of transformation’ says Socitm

Local public service organisations that want to deliver real transformation, rather than just ‘e-enabling’ information and online transactions, should follow the ‘simplify, standardise and share’ approach set out in the recent paper published by the Local Public Services CIO Council (LCIOC) in collaboration with Socitm and SOLACE.

Details of what this means are set out in Changing the Game: the systemic failure of transformation, a new Socitm briefing.

The briefing has been prompted by a recent paper from Brunel University, claiming that that public sector digital transformation initiatives have been mostly ‘cosmetic’ and have not delivered, in terms of outcomes or return on investment.

This is because the potential of ICT to change policy design, implementation and administrative practice has been missed: ‘digital’ should be enabling transformative, creative policy development ‘rather than just doing existing policies faster, better, and cheaper.’  The London congestion charge and car tax renewal are cited as two properly transformative initiatives that have met multiple policy goals that are potentially more significant than the improved user experiences they have also delivered.

While continuing with the ‘business as usual’ of optimising and improving existing policy instruments and business processes, Socitm members are urged to work at a higher level in the instrument + policy system and evangelise and spread knowledge about the potential of technology, changing the game by opening up others’ thinking.

The briefing points out that the same advice is given in the Socitm/SOLACE paper Simplify–Standardise–Share. This urges organisations to take a high level strategic approach to improve public service outcomes dramatically. The paper emphasises that digital technology is the means and not the end and that design principles should be applied to deliver service outcomes that consider ‘the diverse places in which people live and organisations operate.’  

The briefing recognises three key ‘delusions’ identified in current approaches to deploying digital technology in government and public administration:

  • that it is about slashing administrative costs, whereas in fact it raises needs for additional resources for development, maintenance, security and redesign for new channels 
  • that everything has to be user-focused, when focus on the interface overlooks transformation of government processes 
  • that government and public administration are rooted in nations’ constitutions, in policy and in law, and consequently much more than technology is needed to rationalise them.

The LCIOC Simplify, Standardise and Share paper encapsulates a practical approach organisations can take to avoid being trapped by these delusions, by setting out a series of design principles – as opposed to ‘best practice’ or ‘standards’ – that local public service chief executives and senior managers can follow. 

This does not mean there should be uniformity in approach amongst local councils, because each area in the UK is different, with variations in geography, demography, rurality, politics, priorities, economy, poverty, population density, cultures, communities and infrastructure. At the same time this does not mean every council needs to have different systems and digital solutions, simply that the way they are implemented and the priorities for implementation will be different.

According to Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy at Socitm, the Local CIO Council regards locality as an organising principle and sensitivity to individual (not just organisational) needs as new drivers for policy instrument/service (re-)design: 

‘Socitm and LCIOC are actively pursuing this approach in our contributions to developing plans and actions for health and social care integration and for cybersecurity and resilience. The Brunel critique of past e-government and current digital transformation programmes is timely and thoughtful, challenging us to reserve the term “transformation” only for when it is fully justified.’

Changing the Game: the systemic failure of transformation can be downloaded free of charge by Socitm Insight subscribers at https://khub.net/

Further information:

Dr Andy Hopkirk, Head of Research at Socitm

andy.hopkirk@socitm.net; tel: 01604 709456

Vicky Sargent, Socitm Press Office                                                     vicky.sargent@socitm.net; 07726 601139