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Love it or loathe it, technology shapes what we do and who we are as never before. How do we capture the best of these possibilities in a way that doesn’t leave the disadvantaged and disconnected behind?
This document is a summary of “making digital work for everyone”, a report from the digital government review team and advisory board.
This is an independent review to the Labour Party that was commissioned by Chi Onwurah MP – the Labour Shadow Minister for Digital Government, Cybersecurity and Social Enterprise.
The report sets out how trust can be earned and deserved and how digital services can be brought to every citizen. But it’s also a clear vision for something larger: a progressive, democratic version of what digital inclusion should be.
The report says that digital transformation provides the opportunity to build a new type of government: one that is more accountable and responsive to people’s needs; and that can deliver services in a more cost-effective way, a way that simplifies and automates many processes.
The benefits of digital are innumerable. Some benefits can be quantified financially, for example, moving central government services online could save £1.7 billion every year. As major contracts come to an end, government could save billions annually as new services are built to replace them.
But there are many other benefits that aren’t as easy to see. Improving digital skills will improve people’s education, employment prospects and productivity as well as giving them access to cheaper goods and services. This could create up to £6 billion per year of economic and social value. Digital technology allows a more collaborative approach to the development of public services, which will produce better services and allow more people to get involved
Our recommendations will take the UK into an exciting and supportive digital future that is open for anyone to use.
The digital transformation of central government is currently led by the Cabinet Office. We recommend that each Secretary of State take responsibility for transforming their departments’ services while our best experts focus on cross-departmental services that will have the biggest impact on citizens’ lives.
Everyone should have the opportunity to use the Internet yet 10.5 million adults in the UK either can’t or choose not to. Under the current Government’s plans 10% of the population will still be unable to get online by 2020. Volunteers and the private sector are working together to address this challenge, but the next government should do far more to fund, connect and support these groups to help everyone get access to the Internet. It makes both moral and economic sense to set a far higher target and give everyone the chance of getting online.
In addition, Ofcom (the telecommunications regulator) should investigate whether, and how, government can make sure every home is able to get good Internet access, in the same way that every home can receive post.
As well as existing places like UK Online Centres, government should make its own buildings available to people without internet access or for those who need face-to-face support to use the internet.
Services powered by citizen need
People don’t care which part of government is doing what. They want to complete the task they are doing and get on with their lives. Government needs to make sure all public services provide a joined-up, coherent experience for citizens. Government also needs to:
- publish plans of how it is going to improve services
- listen to feedback on existing services and act on it
- create online communities around public services, in these online communities government can help people and people can help each other
But government mustn’t only have this conversation online. Doing this will exclude many people. Everyone needs to have an opportunity to contribute.
Data and Society
It’s possible to improve people’s lives by making better use of the data government holds: from researching new medical cures to helping us complete our tax return. Government should make it easy for people to find out what datasets it owns and, where safe and appropriate, make that data usable and accessible.
But everyone should own and control their data and how it’s used. Too often people’s data is being used without their knowledge or for purposes that they disagree with. Government needs to have an open conversation to find out what citizens need to be in control, and must create a coherent and ethical model to make this happen.
To be an open and transparent digital country, government should:
- find out how people want their data to be used and make sure that the public sector meets those expectations
- publish all existing cases where government shares data between different public sector organisations
- let everyone see how services are performing. For example, people should be able to see how long the passport office are taking to process applications and to track their own passport order
- deliver the current identity assurance project (GOV.UK Verify) but make sure that people get support if the system fails
Despite some success, digital services in local government are not being transformed as fast as those in central government. This is a more difficult challenge than central government. Local democracy is important and government needs to support it. To increase the speed of change the next government should :
- increase collaboration between central and local government’s digital experts
- collect and share evidence about the outcomes, costs and benefits of implementing digital services in local authorities.
- encourage local authorities to recruit and train digital experts
- create a new organisation to work with local authorities to build ‘local digital factories’ that will deliver solutions to common challenges like planning or waste disposal
We’ve seen great success with ‘hackdays’: days where government opens its doors and its data to external experts to produce usable solutions to real problems. But many people see ‘hackdays’ as something only technology specialists do. To stimulate true innovation these challenges should be welcoming to all. The challenges could be set by a public sector organisation or members of the public.
By running challenges focused on real problems, using public spaces and public information, and using active and engaged communities we will unlock the most creative ideas from across the country.
Government IT and procurement
A lot of government IT is built differently in different public sector organisations. To make significant financial savings government should:
- create a common platform, based on open standards, to increase reuse and reduce costs across all of the public sector
- publish an annual procurement strategy to show government’s intentions and let suppliers know what its needs will be
- simplify procurement and focus on newer approaches that support new, smaller suppliers and allow government to keep pace with changing technology
The Civil Service and Delivery
To deliver a digital government that truly serves the people, government needs to make sure the Civil Service has the right skills. Government needs to:
- provide training to all staff during the next Parliament to make sure digital skills are available at all levels
- make sure those at higher levels have the skills to deliver transformation projects
- recognise the need for, and value of, digital specialists by offering appropriate salaries, training opportunities and setting career paths to senior grades
- support frontline workers to become digital champions
Government also needs to be open and transparent about the successes and failures of digital projects. There are many large digital projects at the moment but some of them are going wrong, while our best delivery experts are not supporting others.
Government should encourage more transparency and honesty in failing projects while ensuring that our best experts are working on the projects with the most value to the people that the public sector serves.
The full recommendations and background to the report can be found at http://digitalgovernmentreview.readandcomment.com. This website will allow you to comment on anything in the report and to see the comments that other people have made. The team who wrote the report will also be coming to a number of cities around the UK to debate the findings. They’ll be open to anyone to attend so you can turn up at one of these or organise one of your own. We’ll announce and publicise event details as soon as we have them.
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