How to think about government transformation - and how not to

Bella Copland, lead strategist at Kin + Carta, shares her key takeaways and lessons learnt on government transformation strategies, pulled together from conversations she had with civil servants at the most recent Government Transformation Summit.

Culture is the 'how' behind any transformation 

While you may have expected discussions centred around transformation to focus on how emerging technologies like Generative AI can be utilised in a public sector context, or where digital product thinking can be used to accelerate the citizen experience, it was ‘how to implement change’ and ‘how to bring people on a journey’ which dominated discussions. Equally, the most engaging presentations, discussions, and keynotes focussed on how transformation was able to accelerate for specific organisations and agencies through empowering leadership, a clear purpose, or strong cultures. Whilst technology is a means to transform, it was the ‘how’ that delegates wanted to hear about. 

The 'end state' doesn't exist 

It may seem obvious, but change and transformation never ends. While delivering change we become obsessed with an ‘end state’. What’s going to be better? How is it going to change our lives? Our citizen’s lives? This is important, but it also puts too much pressure on perfection - we forget that there will, and should be, lots of twists and turns as you work through change, and that even once you get ‘there’, the goal posts will change.

Technology will advance, citizen’s expectations will evolve. Stop focusing on achieving perfection, instead, start focussing on step changes, continuous improvement, and the ‘journey’ of change - not the end destination. 

Everyone is on their own journey

Delegates were all in a different ‘stage’ of change, some with much higher levels of maturity/experience when it came to delivering transformation, with others about to embark on their journey.

It was great to hear how delegates had come to the event with the goal of, regardless of what stage they were in, hearing how others are getting on, how others are ‘launching’, and how others are evolving their programmes to adapt to new technologies and citizen needs.

Expectations on execution 

Developing a transformation strategy in the public sector is not for the faint of heart. Maintaining that strategy over time, is a whole other story. With political and leadership changes, competing priorities, and the constant evolution of technology, it is too easy to continuously re-write strategies - forgetting that value only comes from execution.

Agencies, teams, and public sector leaders need to be given the room to execute, acknowledging that it may take years for any impact to be realised. This doesn’t mean that ‘pivots’ might not be necessary, but they should only be implemented when there is enough concrete evidence that strategy execution is not delivering as expected. 

Perfection is the enemy of progress 

For any transformation strategy to be successful, start first with getting the right buy-in and support from leaders. Without this, your plans will constantly be undermined and thrown off course, reducing your credibility and impeding your progress. Once you have the buy-in, develop your strategy - but do not be worried about perfection.

Focus on ‘just enough, good enough’, so that you have enough runway to start building your plane, acknowledging that it is okay if the landing strip is still to be developed. With buy-in, and clarity on where you are going, create your roadmap, including both ‘easy to implement’ solutions alongside the foundations required for more long-term change. Delivering value early and often will be key to maintaining momentum and support (remembering that early value could be in the forum of positive feedback!). The next step - start! 

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