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We need to embed trust, ethics and security into digital services. To achieve this we urgently need an investigation into “data and society” that openly and honestly recognises the challenges of handling and analysing personal data; that assesses the true benefits and limitations of big data and open data; and that defines a set of principles/rights and builds a new legislative framework to enshrine those rights in law.
We need to create a common approach to security and an ethical framework for developing new services. These will all help to rebuild trust and to reduce the ‘digital discomfort’ that so many people feel when using digital services.
We must design digital for everyone. We should not and cannot be restricting the benefits of the best digital services to those with the best skills and access: we need to include everyone and understand their differing needs.
To achieve this we recommend funding a programme to provide basic digital skills to those who lack it, while providing assistance to those who can or will never use digital. We recommend creating a new approach that can increase the pace of digitisation in cities and towns while recognising that those cities and towns need to retain control over their own identity and destiny. And we recommend defining what digital access and services people should expect in the 21st century.
This does not mean that we think every public service should be digitised. Where a service is digitised, however, we must insist that everyone should be able to benefit from this.
We have to focus on benefits to society, not just the cost to government. Rather than focussing on websites that save five minutes of form filling once a year, for example, we should be working with people and communities to use digital technologies to transform social care or to help reduce the cost of renting.
We need to move away from a narrow focus on ‘digital-by-default’ and ‘channel shift’ and instead to have a deeper discussion about the benefits that the digital transformation of public services can bring to people and society. Government must be in a position to focus its best experts on the most important challenges as measured above all by social benefit. This approach will not just produce more cost-effective public services; it will produce public services that create better outcomes for people.
We need to build stronger delivery capabilities. To achieve this we recommend starting with cabinet-level leadership for digital activities, but also increasing digital capabilities across the public sector by embedding it into all organisations. Suppliers need to understand what the public sector expects from them while the public sector needs to understand the capabilities of different types of suppliers.
We recommend gradually building a common architecture, or platform, based on open standards, open data and open APIs to increase reuse and to reduce the cost and time it takes to implement new policies or build new services.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, we have to put people in control – when they want to be in control – and have to support them when they don’t. We need to increase participation by opening up the public sector to requests and feedback from the people and communities that they serve.
We should open up performance data to improve accountability. We should recognise that the data government holds is data that is owned by the people. We should give people a choice in how they authenticate their identity with government, and support them if their choice fails. And we should use digital technologies to build ‘scaffolding’ around government: an open, common structure for access and interaction allowing people and communities to build their own services. We need to debate services with people before building them, and we need to allow people and communities to build their own.
To put it another way: rather than imposing public services onto people we need to work with people to design and build services that are centred around them.
“We need to redesign services rather than just put a digital front end to existing processes” – Charity
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