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Report of the Digital Government Review

Prioritisation: applying expertise where it is most needed

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The next government should prioritise its best digital expertise differently.

Many of the basic lessons of digital services have been learnt. We would expect that central government departments can now complete the task of digitizing the remaining ‘government transactions’ services themselves. They understand the benefits. They have been shown it is possible. They should have the skills and, where they lack them, there are now support structures in place for their departments to develop them.

Similarly, Cabinet Office and GDS should remain in place to continue to develop best-practice standards, apply governance and to provide support as required. The UK is already a world leader in the digital transformation of central government, and their expertise continues to be invaluable. Our second recommendation acknowledges and seeks to formalize these successes and this progress across every central government department.

Recommendation 2

Priority: High

Individual central government departments should complete the digital transformation of the identified transactions by 2020 to best-practice standards under governance of the Government Digital Service (GDS) group.

The goal of adopting digital services within departments should be embedded within department digital strategies, departmental plans and present within the objectives for permanent secretaries. All transformation should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and plans should include the delivery of accompanying assisted digital support.

Building on our existing strength and expertise, we now need our best experts to tackle the more complex and knotty services which are used more frequently and by more of our citizens.

This demands that we think as rigorously as possible about the societal value of a service, not simply the cost to government and how it can be reduced. We must fully consider the value to people, communities and businesses of improving a service and the benefits it creates for democracy and society.

Within the UK organisations such as BT [12] and think tanks like the Big Innovation Centre [13] have been working with academic institutions to propose methods for this problem. Government must work with such ideas to provide a stronger methodology and evidence base both to determine when and where digital expertise should be prioritized and then to measure the success of such programmes.

This methodology and evidence base should be openly published to increase transparency and accountability. It should be open to debate and scrutiny. When researching some government services it may even be appropriate to fund a small Discovery phase to explore the service in more detail.

In particular, we propose a consistent and scientific approach to putting the societal value of services at the heart of policy, across three areas:

  • The potential benefits of digital public services for citizens: how it will improve people’s lives
  • The potential benefits for government: how it will reduce costs by increasing reuse, by removing expensive technologies or by improving frontline service
  • The costs and benefits of performing a wider digital transformation of an entire service area, rather than simply moving an existing service onto the Internet.

The services to be explored would include those that support frontline workers as well as online services directly used by citizens.

In parallel with this scientific approach, we need to recognize the place that our democracy itself plays in prioritization. We have democratically elected leaders constantly identifying and debating major issues and proposing policies. Yet our best digital expertise is often not focused on these major issues [14], and is instead asked to digitize existing processes and services.

Whether the issue is housing, immigration, social care, integration of health and social care, or merging of benefits payments (i.e. Universal Credit), these policy priorities all need top digital expertise in place.

This type of prioritization requires more than simple decision-making. It also demands a more collaborative approach to government. It needs an approach where ministers, departments and local authorities work together, each giving up some control in the process.

When adopting digital public services, the public sector should not be focused on defending the territory of, or claiming success for, their own department or organisation. Instead we should work together and celebrate success together, praising everyone who contributed to that success.

It may sound self-evident, but it bears repeating that we are working for the benefit of the nation’s people and communities. This requires us to cooperate and to focus our best people on key policy areas decided by our democratically elected politicians; to take a longer and larger view of what technology can offer, and how its involvement must deliver much more than simply streamlining what already exists.

Recommendation 3

Priority: High

Government should focus the best digital experts on services with the highest value to society.

They should be focused on more impactful problems aligned with both policy priorities and the benefit to society. This will require the production of a stronger evidence base and methodology for determining the benefits of digital transformation. This will also require more collaborative working across the public sector, a more joined-up government.



[14] The most famous example of this in recent years is the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) Universal Credit programme where millions of pounds have been wasted as a result of bad decisions, flawed methodologies and inter-departmental disagreements in Whitehall.

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One comment

  1. Peter says:

    The argument is being made online, and was also made at the launch, that this prioritisation could also usefully factor in the need to learn and for best practices to emerge. This may be most relevant in new area: e.g. local gov or NHS; with frontline workers; etcetera.