Enabling Good Government: digital transformation beyond silos
The role of government is to meet the needs of citizens above all else – by making policies, maintaining order and providing services. While this remit stays unchanged, we’re seeing a shift to digitally-enabled Good Government.
What is Good Government and how does it make a difference to citizens?
Good Government is when all agencies act in an efficient and joined-up way to deliver their mandate, not only to administrate the population and maintain order, but also to proactively look after citizens and prevent problems from happening.
For hundreds of years, most public institutions got used to designing and implementing their activities in silos and expecting citizens to behave accordingly. So, to interact with local or central government, citizens had to contact different departments separately, keep discrete records and update multiple agencies with the same information multiple times. Similarly, waiting in queues or on the phone within strict office hours was part of the package.
Even today, many public services come in silos – especially when more than one agency is involved. Data is rarely shared or integrated and there are gaps and inefficiencies that affect governments and citizens alike. This is not only inconvenient it has more serious implications. More vulnerable families, for instance, often have to engage separately with the different services they might need, such as, social services, health services and the police. This means that there is no holistic view of an individual’s needs because information about an individual is not shared between services. Because of this only the symptoms of crime or a citizen’s vulnerability can be tackled, not the root causes.
Joining up Good Government
Here are two underlying assumptions that have existed over time: firstly, the assumption that regulations and processes that citizens use must be designed around a government’s internal organizational structures; and secondly, that government bureaucracy is required to gather information from people that then needs to be validated. The capabilities of digital technologies – especially cloud – turn both these assumptions on their head. Cloud makes it possible to radically redesign services (with citizens at the heart) and revolutionize the way data is captured, analyzed and validated. Digitally-enabled transformation means that governments can not only deliver better, cheaper, faster services: they can implement their policy objectives more effectively and embody what we can call Good Government.
Let’s take child protection as an example. In families, there are often signs of child vulnerability that are picked up by the school, the police, the social worker, even the fire department or justice department, but the full picture is missed because the information isn’t shared between agencies.
It was this problem that kick-started a pioneering project in Wales. Blaenau Gwent County Council, with its partners, established a multi-agency hub to share data about vulnerable citizens between the police, the local health board and social services. This was ground-breaking in a few ways. By cooperating to share data, the partners established for the first time commonly-agreed indicators of vulnerability. And by cleaning and matching data to establish an accurate single view of each citizen, multi-agency teams could then identify vulnerable citizens faster, reach them with better-targeted support – and even prevent citizens becoming vulnerable in the first place.
This kind of data-sharing requires not only a shift to more flexible and agile technology (essential as governments move forward in a digitalised world); it also needs a change in culture and mind-set for public sector workers to collaborate. Traditionally, government agencies and internal departments may be used to protecting information, either because they don’t know the rules of collaboration or can’t see the benefit of doing so. Equally, legislation can be a real blocker; but this too is changing. The South Australia Government, for instance, passed its Public Sector Data Sharing Act 2016 to promote, enable and regulate data-sharing across government, even when other legislation may prohibit it.
Clearly, different governments are at different stages of digital maturity depending on their particular circumstances. But if governments can deliver digital services that are faster, cheaper and better, there are the win-wins of Good Government. For example, the partners in Wales had much better data while also making savings from not having to maintain multiple databases. By collaborating and digitalising in this way, governments can better target precious resources to reach the margins and get support to the people who need it most.