How has government been transformed in 2021?

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What were the biggest themes that emerged in the 30+ live discussion sessions across our recent festival of government transformation? Conference Chair David Wilde sums up the most significant ideas currently shaping the public sector agenda.

Reflections on the Government Transformation Show

There is no going back to the old ways – technology has proved its worth, government agencies have shown how well they can work together in times of crisis, Cloud isn’t the future, it’s here today, and flexible working gets stuff done. But there was more - so many of the panellists focused on people and the importance of supporting each other, skills, reskilling, tackling inequality and trust.

On trust, the world of data has been transformed. Again, many of our speakers and panellists highlighted how data is now beginning to better inform and drive decision-making, from tactical “in the moment” decisions around deploying resources to tackle emergencies, through to advanced analytics providing real insight into societal, economic and spatial challenges for government.

On business, a strong drive towards a more grown-up relationship, government being much more commercially aware and challenging, and the private sector recognising the need to collaborate with competitors and public services to transform and grow.

Lastly and most importantly, the relationship with those that government serves and engages with – citizens, businesses, international connections – we need to earn their trust and sustain it through transparency, accountability and active engagement. Oh yes, and include people in the process.

The challenges going forward are around maintaining that collaborative work culture; ensuring data is ethically collected and used in the right way, for the right reasons and with consent; and meeting citizen expectations around delivering services in the way they need them, using digital for what it does best.

Local government really has regained its confidence and councils are raising their game.

Reflections on the Local Government Transformation Show

Where we live, learn, work, play and shop is undergoing seismic change, partly driven by the digital revolution, accelerated by necessity through Covid and mostly driven by residents and businesses wanting to do things differently.

So for local government, digitally enabled service transformation needs to meet expectations set by the banks and online retail, our places need to be reshaped to provide very different lifestyle and workstyle expectations, the circular economy is becoming an expectation and we all want to contribute towards tackling climate change. Tough asks when money remains very tight.

But the innovation demonstrated by all our panellists showed that local government really has regained its confidence and councils are raising their game in engaging with their residents and businesses to improve places, economies and the environment.

The other big theme was that of the relentless drive to ensure the most vulnerable in society are supported and safeguarded - this is at the core of local public service delivery. Panellists shared so many great examples of this throughout the pandemic and beyond. The challenge going forward is not only sustaining that effort but moving beyond, into tackling disadvantage and addressing inequality. Powerful messages backed with real examples of getting things moving in the right direction.

Data, trust, analytics and collaboration were key words used throughout and backed up with numerous use cases showing how to do it. Local government and local public services are certainly showing they can deliver, despite the financial challenges and driven by their sense of place and community.

Unlike previous grand schemes, new transformation programmes are centred around the people who matter – residents and businesses.

Reflections on the Citizen Experience Show

Public services have long been the distant followers in this space - organisation and role-focused, and with the continual debate about whether service users really are “customers” when they have no choice. The sessions around CX showed that public services are finally turning the corner, recognising that customer experience can be applied. The core drivers of “right first time” for all citizen engagements and “once and done” for transactions are what people want, not having to deal with Agency A, B and C to get the answer because it’s complicated.

The sessions spanning all public services gave us some great use cases on collaboration, customer-centred service design, using data to work out what is and isn’t working, and fixing problems. The success story of DVLA’s digital transformation was quite some time ago, but at this event, we heard all about HMRC spinning up UK-wide services for the furlough scheme in just days. Local councils are redesigning their services around a 360-degree of residents and HM Land Registry is moving its entire land and property ecosystem to digital so that land searches can be done in minutes instead of weeks.

There are huge transformation agendas across public services but, unlike previous grand schemes, these are centred around the people who matter – residents and businesses. They’re grounded in pragmatic and iterative investment and development programmes that test the theories in practice, then adjust the course as they learn more. It looks like we’ll get more of it right this time.

A lot of learning is being taken from other sectors that have already done it (banking, retail, insurance) and our international colleagues too - the UK is not the leader in this field. The supply side is also engaging meaningfully, with co-production, the development of standard APIs and accepting that re-use is something that the buyer should benefit from too. Software as a Service (SaaS) is driving the adoption of standardised technology solutions and adapting services to make best use of them, not recreating what wasn’t working properly anyway.

CX is finally understood in public services and is driving the much-needed shift to user-centred design and delivery.

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