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What public leaders need to know

Governments often focus on the technology first, rather than the ways of working they wish to enable

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Copeland highlights a lack of innovation in structures and processes
Copeland highlights a lack of innovation in structures and processes

Technology should be an enabler, not the driver of public sector innovation, says the director of government innovation at Nesta.

 

Eddie Copeland is responsible for leading projects relating to city data analytics, behavioural insights, digital government, collaborative platforms and digital democracy at the UK innovation foundation. He says that while much has been promised about the potential of digital technologies to positively transform the work of government and the wider public sector, he believes digital government is often misinterpreted.

 

He has prepared an overview for public sector leadership teams on what digital government is and how they can think about the role that digital technologies might play.

 

Copeland would welcome feedback on a draft overview which he hopes to turn into a more comprehensive guide in the future. “I critique the tendency for organisations to take the label ’digital government’ too literally, focusing on the technology first, rather than the ways of working they wish to enable,” he said.

 

Below are his nine key messages that he believes all leadership teams should understand about the enabling role of digital.

  • Technology should be an enabler, not the driver of public sector innovation
  • The most exciting development is not that any specific technology has reached maturity, but that we can broadly take for granted that technology can do whatever we want it to do
  • We’ve seen exponential levels of innovation in the technologies available to the public sector but almost no innovation in the structures and processes to which they are applied
  • You will achieve more if you have operational excellence and very basic technology than the most advanced technology and a bad process
  • If you’re optimising an existing function, look at how digital tools can improve the entire end-to-end process, rather than bolting on a nicer front face to an old way of working
  • The level of transformation that digital technologies can enable is primarily down to how much of the process or way of working you are willing to change
  • Organisations cannot expect agile projects to succeed if they insist on keeping older forms of project management, governance, budgeting and procurement
  • Public sector technology teams should focus on being smart, demanding customers to the best innovations the market can provide, and set clear standards for the tech they will buy or develop
  • Responsibility for creating the environment in which digitally enabled projects can thrive sits squarely with leadership teams.

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