The UK has a reputation for being a world leader in Digital Government: using technology and data to deliver more and better with less. Key developments during the last parliament included the founding of the Government Digital Service (GDS); the creation of GOV.UK and the exemplar transactions (such as registering to vote and viewing a driving licence) and the Digital-by-Default standard.
With a new government in place, this major public event provides an important opportunity to explore the priorities for digital government for the next five years with a panel of experts:
Key questions for debate will include:
- How should the GDS model evolve over the coming parliament?
- What actually is Government as a Platform and what progress are we likely to see on it?
- What’s the role of the private sector in helping deliver digital government?
- Should digital public services follow the same trends as those in eCommerce?
- How do we spread the benefits of digital government to local authorities and other parts of the public sector?
Featuring a keynote speech from Mike Bracken, this event will look back at progress over the last parliament and ask: what has worked well, what lessons can be learned, and – most importantly – what should happen next?
Mike Bracken: Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, and head of the Government Digital Service
Matt Warman: MP for Boston and Skegness; former Technology Editor at the Telegraph
Chi Onwurah: MP for Newcastle Central and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister
Laura Citron: Managing Director, WPP Government & Public Sector Practice, author of “me.gov: the future of digital government”
Steven Cox: Executive Director Public Sector, Fujitsu UK&I
Eddie Copeland: (Chair) Head of Technology Policy, Policy Exchange
time e.g. 5:22] = inaudible word at this time[IA 5:22] = inaudible section at this time[word] = best guess at word
Introduction: Eddie Copeland (Head of Technology Policy Unit)
Well hello ladies and gentlemen. I figure we should start just a couple of minutes early ‘cause a huge amount to get through. In usual way, Members of Parliament will be arriving in due course, they will no doubt appear through the door dramatically just before we mike them up, but welcome to everyone. Today we’re here at Policy Exchange to discuss the theme, The future of Digital Government: What’s worked, what’s not, and most important, of course, what should come next? For those of you minded to tweet, the hashtag is Digitalgov. I’ve also just tweeted out the bios, the twitter handles of all our panellists today including a little bit about the event theme as well. Anyone who hasn’t met me, my name is Eddie Copeland, I’m head of the Technology Policy Unit here. If you want to find the link I’ve just tweeted out, my handle is @EddieACopeland. Great pleasure to see so many here today, as I said. Apologies to those standing at the back. The reason is simply we were inundated with people who wanted to come to hear this debate … so no pressure guys. If anyone at the back does need a seat, please just make yourself known to one of our events team who’ll be happy to find one for you.
Anyone who needs toilets downstairs at the bottom, just on the way as you came in.
I’m particularly pleased to see so many people here today to discuss this theme of the future of digital government because I think it is such a vital one. Name me a policy area that will not be fundamentally affected by technology or our use of data; if it hasn’t been already, then certainly over the next five to ten years. It’s an area that myself and my colleagues spend a lot of our time thinking about, hopefully you’ve seen our reports. Many more coming out soon. Why is it so important? Well, as you know, there’s this pressing need right now to deliver more and better with less and we see technology and data, smarter use of those two things, as fundamental to that reform process.
Now our aim today specifically is to look back over the last five years as to what’s happened with digital government, and to ask those questions – which bits have worked; how do we scale them; how do we make them even better; which bits haven’t worked the way we thought they might; and how do they need to be changed? And then this final question, what should come next?
Now I’ve invited our panel to speak very freely on that theme but we hope specifically we may be able to tease out answers to just a few more specific questions. Number one would be how should the GDS model evolve over the course of this coming parliament; what is this government as a platform thing and what are we actually going to see from it over the next five years; what’s the role for the private sector in working with government to deliver that digital agenda; should digital government be learning from ecommerce – is there stuff that Amazon, that Google, that Facebook are doing that government should be doing, or is that just the wrong model? And then finally, how do we spread all the stuff that we’re doing in central government to benefit local government and the wider public sector? Many big issues there, as you’ll know.
Now from the outset, can I just say a very big thank you to today’s sponsor, that’s Fujitsu. As many of you will know, Fujitsu is one of the three largest global ICT firms, 13,000 people in the UK alone working across the public sector and private sector. They’ve been very supportive of my past research over the last year, will be getting involved in supporting some of my future work, and I’m delighted to say that we’re joined by Steven Cox, the head of their public sector government business in UK and Ireland. Steven, we look forward to hearing what you have to say in due course.
Steven will be joined in a few moments, we hope, by Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle. Incidentally, Newcastle you may know is a real hub of the tech sector, part of the Northern Powerhouse theme. If you haven’t seen what they’re doing as a tech cluster, go and see it. It’s really, really impressive. Of course, you’ll all be aware she led the labour digital government review in the run-up to the last election. We look forward to hearing what she thinks following that election.
I’ll be pleased to welcome Matt Warman, who is the newly elected member of parliament for Boston and Skegness, most significantly though he’s the former Technology Editor of The Telegraph. I think we’ll all welcome the idea that there are now more MPs who actually have any understanding of technology and again I look forward to hearing his perspective as a newcomer to parliament.
And then last but by no means least we have Laura Citron, hopefully you can see behind me there, who is the MD of WPP’s Government and Public Sector Practice. Also, one of the key reasons I wanted her here today is that she is author of a recent report called Me.gov, The Future of Digital Government, some really interesting ideas in there, which we look forward to hearing her speak about in due course. Chi, please join Mike. Welcome! And so Laura, we look forward to hearing from you in due course as well.
Now joining all of them on the panel, but first giving today’s keynote address, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome the man who is at the centre of government’s activity on all things digital. Of course you know him, Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, Head of the Government Digital Service and now also the government’s Chief Data Officer. So a nice light job description, Mike we very much look forward to hearing what you’ve got to say. Please give all our panellists and Mike in particular a big round of applause. Thank you.
Mike Bracken: Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, and head of the Government Digital Service
Thanks Eddie. Thank you everyone. I have twenty minutes for this presentation and I’m going to try and do it in ten because I’m deeply aware how warm it is in here, and I think it’s going to get warmer so I’ll get straight to it. Thanks for the introduction and thank you for so many attendees today. I’m Mike Bracken, and first thing to say is I don’t lead the government’s digital agenda, this man does – this our new minister for the Cabinet Office, Matthew Hancock, and it’s been a real pleasure working for him since the election. He’d already made quite a profound impact in his approach towards digital, and approach towards how he sees the work of both us in the centre and the wider government agenda. I agreed to take this on obviously before the election, so happy to fulfil that duty but I think you’ll be hearing more from the minister over the next few weeks and months.
We’re here today to talk about, thanks for the setup, what’s not worked … that’s great! But I’m quite happy to do it anyway, I’m sure lots of people have got better ideas than I have. I’ll try and be as honest as possible. We’re here to try and answer those questions and I’ll get to them pretty directly, so let’s start like this, shall we?
Well you did ask them in this order, so I’ll answer them in this order. Sorry for sounding boastful! The first thing to say is when I say ‘we’ I mean all of us in government, so GDS [6:58] has a brand and a cache, it’s little more than a rounding error in terms of the numbers of people working in digital and technology in government, so everything you see today is talking about one government and not GDS. So hopefully you’ll recognise some of it, possibly not all of it, so I’ll whip through this very quickly and I think these are the major legacy of what worked in the last government.
First and foremost, gov.uk. We cannot get away from just how radical it was to move to a single domain for government, and it’s interesting to see other countries now approach this model. It’s also been delightful for me to see just how much user feedback and benefits we provide to users this way.
Moving straight to transactions, taking 25 of our largest transactions, I think 20, 21 today, are public, either fully live, public beta, the others are still coming, and really had a go at it. I described it as a moon shot when we started at the start of 2013, it was half-way through the parliament, and to see that we’ve transformed so many leading services shows that we, in government, have really got our [8:07 chops] about the creation of digital public services. I think at the start of last parliament, if you’d said, ‘Is government any good at creating and managing its own digital services?’ the answer was, apart from the odd occasion, pretty much no, and I think that we’ve now gained the confidence that we needed in government to know how to run our own staff and to run it digitally. If gov.uk came first, Verify will certainly be the most ambitious and important thing we have done. Can I ask who’s used Verify here?
OK – that’s about right, a small number. We have, I don’t know, they’re just back from holiday, I don’t know the numbers, but it’s around 200,000 users at the moment. This is a way for you to use your identity and in future more of your existing identities to deal with the state, and that’s a profound change in the relationship between the user and the state, and I encourage you to go and look at gov.uk/verify. A performance platform, from the very start, and it was very uncomfortable at the start but we tried to do everything in the open as much as possible and we’ve published all our stuff, or everything we can do. It’s on the performance platform, anything from dashboards, live services metrics, money, amounts of stuff behind it. I’m still surprised by how little journalists use it, to be honest, and phone us up and ask us questions and we point them to the web and say, ‘It’s just there in public’ but that asset and that way of working is crucial for government to work in a digital way.
Assisted digital support, we’ve done an awful lot of work, not enough I would contend but we’ve started on trying to help those with the most profound needs use digital services. We’ve had to do a lot of remedial stuff in the last parliament. I, like many of my colleagues, was surprised with the problems government had got itself into. Often quite basic technologies and technologies skills, so as well as people we’ve given them kit, given them training and we continue to do that.
The digital marketplace, again moving from procurement to commissioning, this is a work in progress. I think we’re onto about the fifth or sixth iteration of this. Started off in the Home Office, we run it from the centre now. It’s a great example of where we can meet our internal user needs and actually open up our supply chain. Quite simply better and cheaper technology. Liam, our CTO, often talks about technology as good as the user at home, that should be a baseline not an aspiration. And giving civil servants and wider public sector access to better and ever cheaper technology should be a no-brainer. We’ve done some of that, again still work to do, and we’re part of a group that saved over £10 billion but we’re ascribed to £1.3 billion of that. I point out to everyone that that was the result, not the target. So you asked what worked, I think that lot largely worked. I think that’s very ambitious and it’s testament to everyone in central government that put their heads down and worked on that stuff.
How did we do it? Well, for those of you who’ve seen the slides many, many times, don’t think you’ll never see it again; it’s just always worth saying, we have got to fight the internal battle to stop focussing on ourselves and start focussing on users, and everything starts with user needs, and that’s led us into some pretty interesting places. Standards, having standards that really help users, it’s helped us change our approach to suppliers, overall technology supply chain. It’s helped us release some of the latent skills in this country and get them into government. New governance processes, making them digital, and also developing new funding models, often for relatively small and focussed amounts of money, rather than large, big procurements. Also transformed our supplier base. This is a little unfair but it’s a postcode breakdown of major transactions. You’ll remember this from a report in 2011, that parliament undertook, and recently it looked like this on the same basis. Now we’re using the digital marketplace, we’ve certainly opened up our supply chain. We’ve got small, medium and large enterprises working directly to government and that’s how it should be. We try and treat them all the same.
So these are the ways that modern companies operate, modern organisations. There’s absolutely no reason why government shouldn’t be the same.
I stressed before and Eddie mentioned about Newcastle. It’s all very well in that London to sit here talking about how good we are, but the majority of work isn’t done in that London, it’s done in that Newcastle and that Swansea and all the rest of it. The majority of our work is done right across the country. This is always unfair when you get asked to make presentations like this, because it’s almost like you have to pick your favourite children, but if we can point out one or two of the services and indeed the organisations that have really transformed their approach, probably HMRC leads in the terms of the scope of their ambition and to go from work they’ve started, and they’re on a journey, but to go from work they started and to have such an ambitious service rollout and culture change as they embrace digital. Probably the one that’s most mature from a standing start was DVLA, in terms of its whole technology provision, the whole stack of new services, opening up data via APIs and now they’re at the forefront of that, viewing your driving licence information online and being able to get real time services, it means a real boon to the consumer.
These services sit on foundations, open APIs, data, standards, common technologies, without any exaggeration those things have got to be a foundation for a digital government and that’s as much as anything the thing that I’m proud of and what has worked in the last parliament. Without doubt this approach is being copied. Last week it was good to receive the US equivalent, the US digital service, 18F, and members of the Whitehouse came out for a study and it was just really interesting to listen to them talk about pretty much exactly the same problem set that we had three, four years ago before we did some of this stuff.
These slides represent the US top left, that’s Ansip, I think in Estonia, probably the nation that’s by necessity had to pursue a digital agenda first. Pia, who runs probably one of the most ambitious programmes of work, she’s trying to basically open source a new democracy platform, bottom left, and countries like New Zealand, where they’ve taken and work with our source code and actually with shared code and shared skills in the open. I’m often asked, as I was last week, what’s the trick about digital government, and I think for government it’s to recognise it’s more of a movement than anything, because we’re all facing pretty much the same strategic challenges, we’re all pretty much doing the same stuff, but there’s got to be local colour and differentiation as well.
Now the bit you’re all looking forward to after the boasting. There’s only one slide here, so hardly anything.
So we thought long and hard about this and I’m just going to get to Q&A ‘cause you can ask me more pointed questions ‘cause you don’t have enough slides to show you what’s not worked. First thing I want to say is there’s lots of stuff you won’t have seen that’s not worked because we stopped doing it really quickly, and that’s a good definition – the stuff that doesn’t work, stop doing it! You know? And because of the way we work and the agile way we work, we can do that really quickly, and I think that’s been a real testament to agile, is that you can try stuff quick, you can fail fast and move on.
But asked the question, there’s two ways of answering it, so let’s be honest, what’s not worked properly yet and what maybe won’t work at all? I think yeah, the jury’s still out on full channel shift, and I honestly believe that to be a timing issue. We’ve created a lot of digital services, many of our services that we have now didn’t exist, there wasn’t a digital option, so this wasn’t about improving stuff we had, it was doing stuff for the first time. There’s no way that you can engineer channel shift and move potentially millions of people to a really mature digital service and expectation level until you’ve taken them on that journey, and we’re still talking some of them on that journey, and what we will see over time, we’ve seen them one or two places now but what we will see inevitably is where we actually optimise that. Now that’s a political decision, it’s a ministerial decision, but I think to be fair, in the first parliament we’ve not yet got to the maturity where we’ve turned off services or not turned them off but optimised the digital channel in many ways. We have in some. Do have a look at the performance platform that will show you where we have done that, but we’re about the 80-85% mark in probably about … I don’t know, about 30 of the newer type of services. That’s not quite enough to really put your hand up and say yes, we’ve engineered channel shift. So I think that will come, the style and the decision about which services go, that’s a political decision.
The second thing is, and this might not be the right word but consistency isn’t either, it’s uniformity. Channel shift hasn’t happened like this, it’s starting to happen in these places. The second is uniformity. Gov.uk is a terrific experience, there’s uniformity behind that. What I mean by that is to recognise a simple bit of logic. Everything we do is based on users and user-testing, and our user testing at the start of this show was something very simply that we’d probably discounted in government, is that users by and large don’t really care which bit of government they’re talking to. Now we have to whisper that round here because we’re all very important in our departments we’re in or whatever, but actually users just want stuff, and they differentiate between local and national, but the differentiation of buildings round here is largely completely absent in their thinking. They just want the government stuff to work, they want it to work quickly and they want to get off with their lives and do stuff, and that’s what gov.uk recognise, is that when you’ve got a need of dealing with government, you’re dealing with ‘the government’ and that’s a consistent experience. It’s consistent in information provision, branding, publishing, search, navigation, you can find it easily, but it’s not quite uniform in the way that you finish a transaction. That’s because of the journey I explained before, so there’s still things to do like when you finish an application for a licence or when you finish an application or payment for a transaction, there’s still far too many different routes to finish. We’ve still got dozens and dozens, probably hundreds of payment routes in, which all look a bit different and you have to learn them a bit different. There’s no reason you should do that as a consumer, as a business. You should make it easy and simple. You’d be surprised if one of the major digital brands or John Lewis or Marks and Spencer, a retail brand, someone like that, made you check out in a different way every time. Why doesn’t government do that, at least for some of its services? So I don’t think we’re there yet but I think we will.
I want to talk about what’s not worked, and what we’ve learnt probably won’t ever, as far as I can see. I know someone else might still step into the issues and show me, but … when I got to government, again these slides are ridiculously simple but that’s the way we’ve worked, what I was told again and again is that a big IT procurement would lead to a great digital service, and time and again I looked around for the evidence of these great digital services from big IT procurements, and the answer seemed to be a false logic says, ‘We’ll just do a bigger one and it’ll be better next time. Buy more stuff in the same procurement over a longer lead time, do it over five years, do it over seven years,’ and yet it was always jam tomorrow, and I fail to see, after the journey we’ve been on, that that aggregation exercise is going to lead to better digital services. It may lead to buying the same stuff a little bit cheaper over a long time, I grant you, and there’s some value in doing that, but the question I was asked is, based on the digital services that we provide, and that approach simply hasn’t worked. That meant we’ve become locked into bad buys, and we’ve created these rules, government has largely done this to ourselves, we’ve locked ourselves into paying high rates whilst the cost of technology has fallen sharply. This isn’t rocket science – it’s just if you’re buying stuff over a five to seven year cycle, for [20:24 commodities] technology that doesn’t really change much, it’s likely to age quite badly towards the end of the contract. There’s nothing particularly difficult about that to understand, but I fail to see how locking ourselves into those deals can get us great digital services.
More importantly, it’s made them very difficult to fix, and because we buy them all differently in different standards, it has made them impossible to improve and work with each other. It’s not that services don’t work that way; it’s that they’re almost impossible to work across government if they’re not bought to, and delivered by, the same standards.
What else hasn’t worked? Well, increasingly this is another one of those things you have to whisper, siloed services. It’s very, very expensive to make government services and digital if we assume the working model of government as the basis for construction of those services. There’s 27 departments, 300 agencies and so on, and if we assume that each one has an autonomy and independence and has to have its own service, we’re going to be here a long time. It doesn’t make much sense to our users and it’s resulted in such a mishmash of arrangements with data, with technology, and particularly users now can’t see how the data is travelling over those services, if at all, and they feel that they have no control over that or no say over that and care.data was probably the most public message around that.
So those are the two things that … you asked the question what’s not worked; that hasn’t worked, I don’t see that working just if we try it again, there’s no evidence to say it’s going to work if you try it again. You’ve got to do something a bit different. What’s that different thing? Well, it’s back to the siloed services. That different thing we think is what’s coming and we’ve got to work in a much more measured way.
To talk about what’s next, sadly what’s next isn’t drones or big data or smart cities or cryptocurrencies or blockchain, although the inner geek in me would love to talk about this all day. What’s next is faded Victoriana of men like this. You will of course recognise all of those, this the picture that no one recognises. Anyone?
You’d be doing well if anyone gets this. It may well be but I’m not that good at history, but I know that the bloke second from the left is Trevelyan.
It’s about institutional reform, our institution, the thing that I’m talking about, is really based on a model which dates from these men round this table, the Northcote-Trevelyan model, and that really instituted a set of siloed, quite rightly quite a siloed structure which is answerable to parliament, which has worked and has many, many benefits, but what it doesn’t do in a digital world is enable you to work neatly for users across that system, actually mitigates against doing that. And particularly when we talk about service delivery, we need to take a new cross-government approach. Now when I came to government I was told by pretty much everything that the one thing that will never happen is government will ever work together well and neatly for common good, because, as one of my early colleagues described it, ‘We are a warring group of bureaucrats held together by a common pension scheme.’
He wasn’t wrong!
But when you’ve got no money and when users are unhappy and when your internal users are unhappy, and when you can see better services coming for a fraction of the price of your old ones, people are waking up to it and I think that what we’re on the cusp of with government as a platform is recognising that now we’ve proven we can do our services, and we’ve gained a bit of confidence, we really lacked confidence a few years ago, but we’re getting a lot better at it. Now I think we’re gaining the trust in each other in government to say well let’s use us as platforms right across the piece. Why do we have 200 payment services when we check out? Why do we do that? It’s ‘cause we all had to have our own. Now the reason we had our own is buried in the mists of time, sort of doesn’t matter anymore, they’re all commoditised, let’s have them as platform services. Apologies for the insultingly simple video, but I’ll tell you why I put this on in a moment.
In the past government has designed public services in a particular way. Each service was built on its own, independently of the others. Our service, represented here by this light, did what it was designed to do, but not always very efficiently. Many services duplicated their efforts to do the same thing. The result was a series of disjointed siloes. We think there’s a simpler, easier way. The same public services, but [25:08 IA]. It’s an idea called ‘government as a platform’. It breaks things down into smaller parts, like building blocks. Each block does one job. It’s easy to connect blocks together and easy to scale them up so [25:24 IA].
If some part of the service breaks, we can fix it [25:30] easily. Platforms can be opened up too, allowing third-party services to [25:37] government data.
We have already begun to build platforms. Gov.uk is a platform for publishing. Gov.uk/verify is a platform for identity and there are many more to come. This is what we mean by government as a platform. Better, smarter public services.
I hope you can see that at the back. When I showed that to a pervious minister, who’s no longer in government, he said, ‘Well, that’s good that. A four-year-old could understand that.’ I didn’t say anything to that, but it worked for him and all his colleagues. We had to keep it really simple at the start, to basically get this model over, but since that was made we’ve been doing a load of work and this is a little more complicated, if you can see it.
If one accepts the model that government is built on hierarchical lines, then we’ve had to build the foundations and the infrastructure for every bit of government in order to deliver a service. What we’ve done in the last parliament is go to down, start with the services and win confidence that we can do it. We’ve delivered four platforms, gov.uk, gov.uk/verify, the performance platform and the digital marketplace. We’ve also, in doing so, having to change a lot of our arrangements around governance and scrutiny and about data access and so on, but the real nub of government in a digital age is how we store our data, ‘cause government when it’s boiled down, is little more than a set of registers, canonical registers of the truth. A register of land, register of property, register of business, we’ve got about 1200 of them in government… or we would have if we had one for each thing but we’ve got hundreds of them, because just like our services, we’ve tried to create them again and again and again, and these canonical data, these registers, they should underpin all our services, but we’ve had to create them each time. So if we think about platforms and if we try to sort out that problem at a platform level and start with user needs then that should apply to policy as well as service design. These are the four platforms. Across government we think around 20 will transform government and you’re probably wanting me to get to the punchline, what sort of things these were. As I say, these have to be decided by ministers, but the sort of things like making sure that you book an appointment once and that it looks the same regardless of which bit of government you’re dealing with. When you’re making a payment it’s a platform that does that, when you’re applying for a licence in an analogue age, if you’re applying for a licence to run a pub and bury nuclear waste, quite different things; well funnily enough, they’re still very different things now in the digital age but if you have a licencing platform, a licence is a licence and you can modify it.
And doing that right will make us much more efficient and also make us much more trustful. That’s what government as a platform is all about, and in doing so we have to have … I’ll answer some of Eddie’s questions later, in doing so I think there’s an opportunity for everyone, inside, outside government or suppliers, technologists and more importantly, users.
Will we pull it off? I hope so! But we will only do so if we focus on user needs and not on the needs of ourselves and government, and with that I’ll give it up. Thanks very much.
Well thank you very much. Mike if I could just ask and then we’ll go onto our panel, five minutes from each to respond to that, to build on some of those points before opening up to questions, but I’m intrigued by your new job title of Chief Data Officer for Government and one of the arguments certainly our reports have said, and I think this is much what you’ve said as well, the technology in itself is never going to be enough, it’s how we use information and it’s the data siloes, there’s organisational siles; how does your role now allow you to actually get to grips with tackling any of those things.
Well I think it’s early days but I think we’ve created a model for digital leadership and then technology leadership. Different networks of skilled civil servants. Of course we’ve hired a lot of people in and in the data space we now need to do the same. There are thousands of diligent civil servants working really hard to maintain lists of stuff which become registers, and they’re often doing it in the same place, literally in the same department but in different agencies, and my job really is to bring them together so we can have a conversation and settle on individual registers that then can serve everybody. So it’s as much learning from the brokering they did around digital technology and bringing into the data space.
And implementation of open standards for data?
Standards underpins everything. Unless we have those, we’re lost.
OK. We’ll have a chance to open it up to everyone in just a moment. What I would like to do in the following order, we will start with Chi Onwurah, and then we’ll go to Matt Warman. Matt, good to see you. You probably got the gist of where we are so far but very much we welcomed you earlier as a new member of parliament who actually gets tech, and delighted to see some more of those, so we look forward to hearing from you in a moment.
Then we’ll hear from Steven and then from Laura. I will unsubtly wave at four minutes to try and keep us on track and then have a coughing fit at five. Please don’t take any offence but we’ll start with Chi, we look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Thank you very much and I understand that Ed has already said what a brilliant tech hub my constituency of Newcastle is so I don’t need to repeat that, but I will with respect return the compliment and say thank you to Policy Exchange for hosting this event and several others on digital in government, and it’s good that a major think tank is keeping this on the agenda.
Now five years ago I entered politics for the same reason I went into engineering, almost a quarter of century earlier; I wanted to make the world work for everyone, not just a lucky few. I saw technology as democratising and enabling, building bridges and connecting people rather than making weapons of mass destruction and snooping on people, and I still believe technology is an amazing force for good, but I know better than I did that it can also control and destroy, and particularly when it comes to networks it can concentrate power; and nowhere is this more important than in digital government. Unlike private services, citizens have no choice, often, how they engage with public services, and government may hold some of our most sensitive data, our health and tax records for example, and just to be clear, any criticisms I have for the digital government are all directed against the ministers concerned and not against Mike and GDS, whereas any praise is all for Mike and GDS and not for the ministers concerned.
That’s good, that’s great!
But when Mike, under the policy influence of the ministers, says that the aim is tech as good as you get at home, I think that shows a real poverty of aspiration, it should be better than you get at home because it should be for citizens, rather than simply for consumers, and it’s important that we get those kinds of principles right rather than just trying to keep up with the latest technology. So we need an approach to digital government that embraces the unique role of the public sector in treating people as citizens rather than just consumers, in dedicating itself to long-term inclusion as well as short-term targets, and in admitting that technology treated in isolation from society can worsen many of the problems it purports to solve.
So the good bits – under the last government we saw significant progress in the digitalisation of services and GDS’s digital by default approach succeeded in moving many services online and in curating a thriving market for new services, but as I go around the country speaking to the market opportunity, which I really strongly believe that digital government should represent for small businesses particularly, I do hear a number of concerns from suppliers. G-cloud an excellent route to market for some but others still find it difficult to get onto, and digital services framework again really fantastic idea, prospect, but in terms of how it works in practice, some argue that it encourages body shopping, creating a market for body shopping rather than for true digital services. And when it comes to government as a platform, and I’ve seen the video a number of times and I do like it … and I’m pleased that government has finally begun to respond to my calls for broader architectural thinking within and across digital government. So agile and architecture are not contradictory, as seemed to be the position for some time.
So as shadow minister for Digital Government I often said in the last parliament that the next government would be the most digital ever. Now I naturally hoped it would be a Labour government to ensure progressive, inclusive and empowering digital government services, which were efficient and saved money but also pushed power out from the centre. And again in terms of the presentation we’ve just heard, I don’t think empowerment in pushing control away from government was emphasised enough. Our job, my job still as the shadow minister till we have a new leader, is to hold the government accountable and there are two key tests I shall consider, which hopefully I can say in one minute … yeah. Firstly, this is particularly relevant to Mike, as the Chief Data Officer: who owns public sector data? Before the election, we committed to enabling citizens to control and own data about them held by government. Public sector data shouldn’t be owned by the government; it’s the people’s data. It’s the people’s data, let them control it and decide how it should be used. It’s not for the state, it shouldn’t be for the state, if you like, to nationalise, and this particular area, control away from what belongs to the people, and we still have so many more … we still have more ways of dealing with data in government than we even have departments or silos to deal with it.
And then the second question is who has access to digital services? Now GDS did a great job of putting them online and making them more agile and responsive but digital inclusion was forgotten for most of the last parliament and even now the target is … apparently the target is 90% but I did ask Matt Hancock what the target was and he replied with an equation, which fortunately I was able to solve, which was that it’s going to go down by 25% every two years, which I think takes us to 2030 before everybody’s online. And so that means that millions will be left behind even in the best case scenario, and these are the most vulnerable people. In my surgeries I regularly see constituents who are forced to go to food banks because they cannot do their 35 hours of mandatory online job search. That is wrong. That is putting technology back as a controlling force, it is giving technology, it’s giving digital government a bad name, and we need to make sure that that does not happen in the future. Technology can provide opportunities; it needs to do that for everyone. Thank you.
Well thank you. As a Conservative, albeit a new one, I was delighted to hear Chi arguing against nationalisation, albeit of data!
I think for the first time we’re on a digital cusp that puts the ball in the court of progress if you like, and what I mean by that is if you go back five or ten years or maybe a bit longer, if you were to talk about a mobile phone mast being put up in any one constituency, then the local MP would be bombarded with people saying, ‘Don’t put it up – we don’t want this stuff. Take it away, take it away.’ Now, the postbag is the other way, the postbag is I cannot get access to 4G, I cannot get access to 2G or 3G, my broadband isn’t fast. For the first time, it feels to me as though when people argue for improved government services in a digital way, when they argue for improved connectivity, then the public are on the side of politicians if you like, and that puts a huge burden of responsibility, I think, onto those of us that think there is a bright digital future, and the reason I say that is because if you look at the care stuff that didn’t go perhaps as well as people like me would have hoped in the previous parliament, that was because, and this isn’t again a criticism of Michael, or the ministers …
It was because we didn’t manage to set …(It was a coalition government …) we didn’t manage to …
…set the narrative that said here is huge, bright, digital opportunity and there are risks and there are challenges and it might go wrong, but the potential gain for absolutely everybody if we get this right is huge. It means literally fewer people dying in hospitals and that is something we can probably all get behind, and it was a digital solution. This is about so much more than making it slightly easier to book your car tax online. But one thing I would say is that we also put ourselves in a potion where I think for the first time if you were to say to someone, from the moment a baby is born there is one digital identity that has the ability to book its vaccinations through to in due course pay some tax, through to ultimately that’s the same digital identity that a death certificate is logged against, I think actually there would be a significant part of the public that would absolutely get behind that single digital identity, which you could line up, if you were being charitable, to a national insurance number, and if you were being uncharitable you could call it a digital identity card and you could have a huge number of arguments about it. And for the first time, I think, what we’re talking about is standing behind an idea that is hugely controversial and yet hugely powerful, and yet one that consumers would get behind and would see it putting power in their hands, rather than in the power of government. So in the same way that we have the right and the choice to give huge amounts of data to our banks, we now see that there is the choice to give huge amounts of data to the government, and what Chi, I think, is absolutely right about is saying what we’ve got is fundamentally a trust problem, and I’ll come onto a second problem in a minute. But what we’ve fundamentally got is if you say to NatWest or … NatWest happens to be owned by the taxpayer but let’s not worry about that, if you say to NatWest, ‘I believe I gain huge amounts by giving you all of this data and allowing me to access it through my mobile phone’ people weirdly will get behind that. If you say exactly the same thing to the government about booking a GP appointment, we haven’t yet managed to get one national platform that allows you to book GP appointments, and that is because of some, I think some legitimate arguments around medical data online and all of that stuff, and through some spurious arguments about the potential risks outweighing the potential benefits, and through, more than anything else, a really, really fractured digital landscape amongst GPs and across the NHS. So we’ve got some real practical problems, but we’ve also got a real opportunity where I would hope through some political courage we will be able to say, ‘This stuff is difficult, this stuff is hard. It won’t go perfectly, but this is the real world and the benefits outweigh the risks.’
The one final thought I would leave you with is when it comes to making that case, we have to get it, I think I agree with Chi, we have to get it better than Google or Apple to maintain that level of trust. That’s quite ambitious. I’m not sure we’re going to get there and one of the main reasons we’re not going to get there is because, even if I were to advocate giving Mike all the money that government has got, we’ve still got less of an HR budget than Apple! That’s going to be quite a challenge, so we’ve got the challenge of getting this stuff right and we’ve got the challenge of being in a war for talent with the biggest, most attractive companies on earth. So if anyone in the next hour or so can come up with some solutions to that second problem, then I’m sure Mike is very keen to hear from you.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much indeed Mike, Chi and Matt. So I’m from Fujitsu, Steven Cox, and I won’t go through the great achievements of GDS but I will focus on some of the areas where I think perhaps some improvements could be brought, not just focussed at GDS but more in terms of government providing digital services. So I think in terms of major achievements, disruption has to be high on the list. What GDS has done in terms of disrupting the market, in terms of disrupting what government departments are seeking, is quite impressive, but there needs to be follow-through and the follow-through is about delivering the services that have then been disrupted, and there’s a step that’s missing at the moment, which is disrupt is great, create something new, but actually you’ve got to deliver something of scale and quantum and that addresses the security challenges of our citizens.
The next, I think, is creating a counsel. You’ve created a unit, and an entity that many across government seek the counsel of when they’re going through making strategic change within their departments, and I mean strategic change, not just around IT and digital but actually the future of the departments. The challenge, I think, is people don’t know how to read GDS. They’re not quite sure, when you speak anecdotally to the civil servants, if they’re going to go along and get a nice pat on the head for a job well done or whether they’re going to get beaten around the head with a stick and then have it thrown away, only for them to go off and chase it. So there’s an element there about being the counsel, but actually helping those who are being counselled to understand what it is that they’re being expected to go off and do, so that they then have the licence to go and do so. And a huge amount of time and effort is being lost across government at the moment with departments not quite sure what they’re going to do as a result of having the advice and guidance, and therefore delaying their progress.
The exemplars, I think we should take a lot of benefits out of those and really bank what has worked well, but many of them have had their challenges and we need to learn from those challenges as well. I think what sits underneath that is that for many of the exemplar projects they have an aura or a veneer of simplicity about the transaction with government. The reality is that underneath that veneer there are a huge number of complications and complexities that then need to be handled, and its’ the differences that drive the cost, and I’ll come onto that in a moment.
So government as a platform. Personally I don’t like the word platform, I know it’s not really for me to have a strong opinion about your programme, Mike, but nonetheless, I don’t like the idea of it being a platform. I think it’s more about a programme of change, and I think there are three key elements to that. The first of those is about driving services that citizens really want and value and want to go out and use. It becomes a single or consistent interface for citizens engaging with government, be that at the local level or the central level. It’s also about introducing change within departments. So when we talk about the user we should be considering the thousands, the hundreds of thousands of civil servants around our country delivering essential services to citizens, and the reality is a huge amount can be done. There’s a huge amount of untapped potential to re-engineer the services that are being delivered by and for those civil servants, and then thirdly, allied to that is shared services. How many HR, payroll, banking, so on, systems does government need across its entities? There’s a huge, again, huge benefit to be had from those shared services. Part of the platform agenda, yes, but I think it’s slightly different in terms of pulling out that and really giving the digital entity the mandate to drive that. At the end of the day what GDS has been doing is part of what one could call a national change programme, and what’s been missing is the rest of that change programme. It’s about the drive, it’s the follow-through, it’s about who is empowered within the department to actually make a difference and reengineer. It’s about understanding the individual interests of the departments, what is their core business need and what is it that the IT and the digital services need to enable them to do, and what can they leave to other people to do? And what’s missing is that overall programme of change that will really enable and drive digitisation.
We did some primary research at Fujitsu and we looked at the impact of digital on consumers, and more than half of the consumers that we assessed believed that government should be doing more to drive into digital agenda, and when we then looked into asking them about the people they worked for, which included civil servants and private sector employers, more than 70% of central government employees felt that their departments should be doing more to invest in technology and drive change over the next two years to achieve the strategic outcome of their departments. So the structure of GDS and its mandate should be considered, both inside and outside, and how they fit alongside the departments. Will GDS become a deliverer to other government departments, in which case it’s going to have to change mode a bit from being challenger to being supplier and acknowledging that they’re delivering services to other departments. And of course the big northern agenda comes into that as well, and the potential that GDS has to translate some of those findings under big data agenda, particularly in the context of the Policy Exchange piece on New York City.
Private sector, there’s a lot to be learned from private sector. Banks and retail have done a huge amount to drive change with their customers, but they’re operating in a competitive marketplace, they’re looking for sticky, attractive services that really bring on new customers. We need to be really clear that government isn’t like that. They’re a monopoly supplier that we all pay for so we need efficient, effective services that deliver. We don’t need them to have loads of bells and whistles on. There are certain transactions that should have those; when handling a change of circumstances maybe a death in the family, you might need a different approach to when you’re submitting your tax return, but broadly speaking we don’t need it all to be gloried up. So I encourage GDS to continue to engage with industry. There’s a lot to be learnt from industry and there’s a lot that industry will take from the guidance from government as well. The reality is that there have been hundreds of very successful programmes across all government departments and we also need to make sure that the benefits of those and the understanding and the learning from within those departments are truly tapped into. So my take would be, for GDS to be successful, it has to be trusted, and for it to be trusted it has to deliver, and to deliver it has to be clear about what it’s going to do and then actually do it.
Mike, I think you probably have a right of reply based on those comments. Could I ask you maybe just to put it back in the context of your earlier comments of saying that in the past government has had this difficult relationship with big IT, and you’ve been very clear about that, but there’s also …how do you respond where there’s been this debate saying that GDS alone cannot build everything, and the build versus buy debate, which I think actually speaks to part of what Steven’s been saying as well, in that how much can GDS do and how do you have to work with others? How do you see this going?
Sure. Well firstly the build versus buy debate is just a false dichotomy. Of course we buy an awful lot of stuff; it’s how we buy, and we move from very large aggregated procurement over many years to standards-based commissioning which can be changed quickly, where we can drive value. So from memory the digital marketplace is over half a billion pounds, these are not inconsequential amounts of money that we have been using, so yes, we have, in that context, a small but highly talented number of people who are adept at building and integration. So the idea of this build versus buy is simplistic. I mean I like conversations like this, I like them openly, but the reason I’m slightly irritated by that is just it’s the putting GDS in a box. There are many days I’d love to put some of my colleagues in a box, but … and it’s time to deliver – well, there’s a lesson in the GDS experience in the last parliament for all of us in government. So we’re looking about 400 people or so, with maybe 150 at peak spread across the country. Today GDS is delivering … if you voted we delivered that, if you’re delivering most of our motoring services, an awful lot of tax systems and indeed the data architecture for the newer services, delivered that. Critical national infrastructure, if you’re writing a ticket or a complaint or a feedback to government, pretty much centrally we’re delivering that, as well as running obviously all the programmes like gov.uk and so on. Also if you’re using the internet in a place in local government you’re probably using PSM. The point today is that GDS is the critical national infrastructure that is delivering digital government. To pretend that it is somehow some disruptive force which is challenging and not delivering is … you could only do that frankly through ignorance. Nobody would pretend we’re doing that because the real challenge is if 400-500 people can do all that, what on earth have the other 8,000 been doing in the digital and technology profession, and actually what they’ve been doing is man-marking really poor contracts that are not fit for purpose. So I’ll take all the money you’ve got Matt, we’ll double the size of that, but the real lesson isn’t that you can characterise GDS by being some disruptive force; it’s a delivery force. I have written twenty times more rules than we have broken. We write rules on standards, on commissioning, on procurement, the data service, these rules are copied round the world. We’re not rule breakers; we’re rule makers. We’re civil servants. And yet to characterise there’s some disruptive force on the side, yes we’ve done a fair degree of disruption, but what we’ve been disrupting is a previous arrangement which has been delivering shocking value for money and shocking services in some cases. So let’s be really clear about that, I don’t mind criticism but let’s be really clear about what it is we’re criticising. God knows there’s enough to criticise us on, but criticising purely as being disruptive, that’s not good enough!
We’ll come to these debating points I’m sure in just one moment, but first of all let’s hand over to Laura Citron.
Laura Citron, MD of WPP’s Government and Public Sector Practice
Thanks Eddie. Thanks Policy Exchange, for the invite. The first thing I’d say, if you’re wilting at the back there are three empty seats in the front row! If there’s anyone brave enough – five! Eddie’s asked us to come and think about what’s next for government digital services, and I’d like to touch on three ideas: brand experience, engagement and personalisation.
So take brand experience first. By that, what I mean is the way that digital government services make us feel. There’s been a huge focus today on functionality, and that made sense for the first phase, but now we need to go beyond functionality and also think about feelings. So for example, when I pay my taxes online I want it to feel formal, efficient and fair. But when I book an appointment at my GP or register my child to start school, I want it to feel personal, caring, local. And as we move more public services online, we’re moving beyond the very transactional transactions, if we can call them that, tax, identity, licencing, and into the much more sensitive and intimate bits of people’s lives and so we have to recognise that we need a diversity of different experiences that reflect the emotional context of these services.
Brands spend a lot of time thinking about this idea of brand experience and have lots of frameworks for dealing with it, but think for a moment what it would feel like to buy a pair of trousers on George at Asda or ASOS, compared to how it would feel to buy a pair of trousers at Selfridges or Net a Porter. The functionality, to the platform point, is identical: browse product, choose a pair of trousers, pay for it, arrange for it to be delivered, but the feeling and the experience is completely different. And I think we can apply some of these brand experience frameworks in the public sector to make sure that we’re getting the feel as well as the functionality right. And if we don’t think about brand experience, there’s a danger for as we move services from face-to-face to digital, that we lose the humanity that’s at the heart of them.
So the second point is engagement, by which I mean integrating the government’s own websites into the wider digital and media ecosystem through social media, advertising, eCRM and so on. And that matters to make sure that the right people are using the right services at the right time. We know that plenty of people don’t know or don’t want to engage with public services, so we need to go and find them and engage them, whether they’re on Snapchat or watching Emmerdale.
It’s useful to think about a marketing funnel for digital government services. As I’m sure you all know, a marketing funnel, the idea is to start at the top, find your audience, engage them and eventually convert them to take an action. I think a great example of that working very well that Mike mentioned was registration for the electoral role for the recent election. So GDS created fantastic online voter registration, plain, simple, it works. That on its own does not solve the problem of voter registration. The Electoral Commission ran a very effective marketing campaign targeting specifically the groups who are at risk of not being on the roll. So for example they use search targeting to reach people who’d recently moved house, they used geo-targeting to reach students on university campuses via their mobile phones. They had great content on Facebook and Twitter and they had really strong partnerships with local councils and civil society organisations, and all of that marketing activity funnelled people to the gov.uk transaction, and as we know, it was a great success, half a million people registering just the day before the deadline if I’m right.
But let’s be clear, that’s not just a triumph for gov.uk; that’s a triumph for the engagement campaign that found those people and brought them there, so there’s no point creating fantastic, efficient digital services which people don’t know about or are not motivated to use.
And the final point is personalisation, by which I mean moving from being user-centric, which gov.uk and GDS certainly is, in which users is a collective noun, to being user-centric in which every citizen or group of citizens have a different experience. And at a strategic level we know that personalisation matters, because it delivers better policy outcomes, particularly in health, education and social care. So digital can facilitate that and make services cheaper and easier.
But even within digital public services, personalisation can make processes more efficient and we’ve seen in the private sector that brands that have embraced adaptive content and personalisation have done much better, competitively than their competitors. So if you look recently at EasyJet versus Ryan Air, a lot of EasyJet’s success and even Ryan Air admit this, was their adaptive content and their personalisation approach. And some of the most interesting opportunities for personalisation are around understanding the context and the intent of user needs and then responding to them. So for example a person who searches for travel insurance on a Tuesday afternoon from a desktop computer in Newcastle probably wants something very different to somebody who searches from travel insurance from a mobile phone in the middle of the night in Bangkok.
And we can use these contextual clues to understand the user’s intent and so give them the experience that’s most likely to meet their needs, and we can apply the same principles to public services.
So to conclude, I think three ideas for the next phase, brand experience, engagement and personalisation. And if all three of those have got one thing in common, it’s that they require a much closer working relationship between the digital and technology people in government and the communication and marketing people in government.
Ladies and gentlemen we’ve heard a wealth of different themes covering every aspect, from what we thought we already knew to very new ideas, maybe even the idea of a single ID which we know has been political controversial in the past. I could ask a ton of questions but I’m not going to abuse my position, because there’s way too many people in this room. Can I ask for brief questions; please don’t be the person who disguises a 10-minute comment as a question!
No one likes that person, but please brief, to the point questions, name, organisation and let’s get your views. Lady in green, just to the side there and then Siobhan who’s just on the aisle.
Meghan Benton, Nesta
I was very pleased to see local government mentioned in one of the five questions, I’m somewhat disappointed that no one really touched on it except for maybe Laura partly and I guess it’s a question to Mike really: what are the implications for local government in terms of Verify, data sharing, standards and what role should the GDS play?
Excellent, let’s just take one more, we’ll probably do two at a time just to make sure we can get through those. Siobhan, here.
Siobhan Coughlan, Local Government Association
That question nicely segways into mine, I’m glad to say and again it’s a question to Mike. As you yourself pointed out it’s not so much, for the citizen, about central and local government, but the wider public service in government full stop, but also in terms of various national policies that we’re all working on at the moment, ranging from devolution, troubled families to the integration of health and social care, so I guess really it’s how can we utilise a learning from the work that’s being done both at GDS and more broadly across the public sector, including in councils, to support greater joining up on a place basis, but also to collaborate more effectively on some of the common challenges and opportunities you flagged up, like a common payment engine or bookings service or expanding the verification system so that works right across the piece?
Anyone can use them, we have no mandate for local platform players; if you’re in a local authority or in a hospital trust today you can purchase via the digital marketplace, nothing’s stopping you doing that and a platform approach doesn’t cut through the various lines of government. In terms of mandate and in terms of what local could do, I’m afraid I look to… it’s not my job!
I think Chi would like to come in on this one.
Yeah, I do. Sorry, you’re right I didn’t really mention local government apart from pushing power, because I didn’t want to give in fact too many critiques of where we were, but government as a platform, whether you like the phrase or not, that platform cannot be made in Whitehall. Mike, I actually put a PQ in about this just before the Election and I thought just before the Election you did get a mandate to work with local government; that was one of the answers to my PQ and another one will go in this afternoon to clarify that!
And just to say, working with is not about being like GitHub and your code is available; working with is working with.
Sorry Chi, can I just answer that, I didn’t mean to be… Yes, there was a statement about working with, but I think I was answering Siobhan’s quite detailed stuff about how we [63:39]. We don’t have a mandate for how we do that stuff, it’s more about goodwill. I think we’re waiting for a bit of direction to be honest.
I think just more generally, this stuff is hugely challenging for actually some quite fundamental stuff in local government from my perspective, because why on earth do we have digital people at every council when actually we could probably have fewer if they were compelled to buy stuff of the shelf? That underlines how much the substance of what you’re doing and the delivery are often bound up into one thing, and I think that is very, very difficult. On the other hand bear in mind we still live in a country where we don’t even have a national policy on IVF and I can see no reason on earth why the needs for that are different in Wales than they are in Cornwall. So there are challenges here that run deeper than simply digital.
I would like to point out if anyone is lying awake at night worrying about precisely these issues, there’s an excellent report called Small Pieces Loosely Joined…
…by a very reputable think tank and author, so I would maybe recommend looking for that to expand on those points. Two more questions please, Chris Yiu at the back and a gentleman just standing to his right; you first Chris. Chris is my predecessor everyone, just if you didn’t know.
Chris Yiu, SCVO
That’s the introductions done. So Google, Facebook, Twitter, these companies were mentioned several times, all those organisations have recently published their diversity data and they’ve all pretty much said the same thing, which is we’re not where we want to be, we could do better. I wonder where UK Government was on diversity and digital and how we can improve it?
Thank you. And the gentleman just in the grey jumper.
Neil Merit, Journalist for Government Computing
Thanks, if I can just clarify a point Mike raised about possibly 20 platforms under government, it’s a platform chosen by ministers, and I wondered if it’s possible just to clarify that in terms of what process there may be in terms of where they may be at in terms of outlining where those 20 platforms are and in terms of that ministerial role, how is that then balanced or what role does GDS play itself in setting those platforms and balancing it with user needs as well?
OK, so let’s start with this diversity question first, anyone wish to take that, Mike?
I’m [65:53]. It’s not a cop out, we’re doing a piece of work now to come up with the final figures, I do have them but they’re about two years out of date, they’re not as good as they could be, one of my big regrets is we’ve not made … I stood on stage at the Profession meeting last month and said we should have made more progress in some areas, not others. I think the short answer to that is I should publish them soon and then show you, I don’t have them to hand, but they’re improving, but they’re nowhere near… We can’t accept the logic that says it’s an industry problem and then go [66:21], that doesn’t even hold. GDS is about 40-odd per cent in terms of gender split, but there’s all manner of KPIs we need to publish, so we will do that hopefully over the summer, certainly in some areas.
And on the platforms question, oh sorry, Chi, did you want to come in on the diversity?
Yes, because I do think it is a critical issue both for the industry generally and we know that the figures for ICT are about, depending on how you cut them, between 10 and 20%, particularly in technical positions, and I did also put in a Parliamentary Question about this and didn’t get an answer <laughs> and so I look forward to those figures. It was interesting, Mike, that you have a great film that says what GDS does which is narrated by a black woman and yet your figures that I’ve seen do not say that you are doing so much better than the rest of the industry when it comes to diversity. I think it’s great that you’re putting people out there, but you need to make sure that you back that up with the kind of representation within the organisation, because we can’t waste 50% of our country’s talent, in fact, more than that, because of demographics in terms of disabled and those with less privileged backgrounds.
Can I add an anecdote, there’s a piece in The Guardian today or yesterday by Jemima Kiss on the Founders’ Forum, I don’t know if you read this?
I read her tweets when she was there.
I didn’t go by the way, and then there’s a follow-up piece on Medium by Ellen Ullman who blogs on some these issues, she’s working in our office, so it is a problem which is absolutely in front of us and is dealt with every day. I’m sure everyone working in this sector… the closer you can get to a problem, the more people you have in your office saying, ‘This just isn’t good enough,’ it doesn’t half bring it home to you, so we’ve got to pick our act up here.
And Neil’s platform question?
Back to being outside disrupters of government… Last August, September, when we came up with that sort of view, we’ve worked for five, six months with everyone in government across departments to whittle down a list, have endless amounts of workshops, what platforms could work, what departments and agencies could lead, what third parties, what we already have, what we could re-use? That process has led to business cases which have been presented to Treasury right now, so if you want to put a word in, all good, but the way the government works is that you [69:01] and cross your fingers, but generally they’re going in as an entirely across government play, so it’s the very opposite of what [69:09] early on when we just moved quickly, because we could. We’ve spent a year really working with our colleagues to come up with a platform list, I guess, which has the most buy in. Where it will land we’ll see in a few months, but it won’t be… GDS’s role will be to convene, to drive, to co-deliver, we’ll do some delivery and then to link where via standards, but we will only drive that when it’s got cross government buy-in and John Manzoni, the Chief Executive, has been very clear on making sure that this is a centre and departments working as one.
OK, thank you. We’ve got Liz at the front here and a gentleman at the back with his hand up.
Liz Kanter, SAP
I just wanted to make a quick comment on Matt’s comment about the national identity card and then ask a question about confidence. I grew up in the US, where we’ve had a social security number since the day I was born, my three sisters and I have a number that’s basically numerical, but it was decades and decades of confidence in this system working, and that’s why I’m OK with a number and obviously there’s a different view in the US about privacy and information, but it leads to my question about how do we, from a practical perspective, get around this question of confidence in the government use of data. Chi, we’ve talked about this before. I’m not sure whether we can articulate what it would look like to build the confidence that we’re all so aware that is needed for government data to be opened and shared and those kinds of things, particularly in healthcare. Maybe it involves pilots, I don’t know?
Actually it would be good to get both the Parliamentary but also the private sector experience because as we heard earlier, there is that difference and view on what people are happy to share with the private sector and share with public. Stephen do you want to come in on this at all? With Fujitsu working on both, can you notice the difference?
You absolutely notice the difference, in retail experiences people are very happy to share quite a lot of detail actually about the way they wish to interact with retailers. People link their retail accounts to their Facebook accounts, to Twitter, to LinkedIn, actually if you assess this altogether you’ve got far more information about individual citizens than government would actually find in some ways to be useful, but the reality is that we have a perception about a return of value, I think, when it comes to those transactions with the likes of Facebook and so on, that perhaps people don’t see when it comes to government data. And perhaps a suspicion about what government’s going to do with it. For some reason people, myself included, don’t necessarily carry that same suspicion with Facebook and Twitter and so on, but nonetheless we do when it’s government and I think that actually is probably the crux of the matter.
I take three things, when it comes to the main issue, for me it is about political courage. When it’s about Care.data or whatever it’s about saying, ‘These are the benefits, this is the reward, this is where we’ll get to.’ I think electoral registration is a really good example and this isn’t a party political point, but registration looked like it was massively down for a little while, it ended up being above where it was for the previous Election. The Labour Party used it as an opportunity to say, ‘Look, thousands of students aren’t going to be registered,’ and I’m sure that other parties in a similar position would have used it as a political football as well, but there wasn’t that consensus from government politicians saying, ‘This will work, just shut up,’ and there wasn’t the support from the industry and from the rest of the community to say, ‘Look, this is difficult, we know people will register at the last, possible, opportunity,’ we’ve got lots of data about how people behave online and how it’s different, we just need to be able to say, ‘Trust us.’ And of course, the problem with the project where the result should be greater trust is in order to get to success you have to say, ‘Trust us,’ and people just don’t.
The only other point I would say is there is an issue around… if you sign up to like a brand on Facebook you often do it because you think you’re going to get special offers about that brand. If you sign up to be a much more digital citizen in this country, you cost the government less and the only advantage that we tell you you get is that it is more convenient. Now actually if that were a commercial situation, that’s not good enough, you would say, ‘I expect to get a discount on this pair of trousers,’ or whatever it is. Now I think we are long way away before we are even personalised enough to think about saying this government service costs slightly less if you do it online.
Thank you, a point here from Chi.
You know very well that the criticism that we made was of this government for individual registration; it was not the government’s approach to digital registration, so it’s wrong of you to imply that we were using that as a football. Individual registration I still have some issues with and it has to be said in Newcastle the registration of students is still down.
Overall registration is up and that wasn’t the message that got out to the public; you could blame journalists.
Yes. I think I disagree with both of you. I’m in the position of being supported by the Royal Society of Statistics, I don’t know whether they’re in the room, when it comes to different attitudes from the public in terms of public sector versus private sector data. Actually in this country we still trust the government more than the private sector when it comes to our data and I would argue that when you say that people link their Facebook to their this and that, they are not consciously sharing their data, it’s not a conscious sharing of data and also that data is less important to them than their health records and their tax data. In terms of what does trust look like, trust looks like to have government trusting people to take control of their data and then them trusting us to do the right thing with it.
I think if I can add to that just the point around do you get an immediate, direct, personal, tangible benefit in return? If you want to see an example, if you look at Care.data with the negative reaction we had there when the benefit was for the nation as a whole but it wasn’t direct or personal or immediate, compare that though with the government’s announcement around the death of the self-assessment tax return which even the Daily Mail, ladies and gentlemen, thought was a wonderful idea, the same newspaper that was particularly critical of Care.data; joining up your records across multiple, different government departments, multiple different IT systems, to pre-populate your tax return, but because the benefit was immediate, personal and direct, people have welcomed it and I wonder whether that is a clue for how we could do this kind of stuff going forward?
I challenge you Eddie, actually.
You’ll challenge me, OK! We’ll come back around and we will come to Alex at the back there.
In that of course to get people to trust the system has to work and has to have all of the right governance and security and processes behind it, but as we’ve discussed, people behave in the way that their emotions direct, we are not rational. People don’t like something on Facebook because they think they’re going to get a discount; people often like something on Facebook because it says something about their identity or because they have an affinity with that brand, because it speaks to them at an emotional level, so the idea that this is all about rational, cost-benefit analysis in the mind of the citizen I think is dangerous, partly because it could lead us to the wrong solution and partly because it could mean that we then put the burden on the citizen to think that they should be the one making the choices, which they should but we also have to protect them. So I would first of all let’s not only think about the functional, rational trade-offs which people don’t really make, that’s why they share all this data online, and then let’s think about how we can communicate and engage people so that they do feel the trust and they do feel that they want to share.
I would actually suggest that we’re infantilising a lot of the people that we’re talking about, we’re saying they don’t know what they’re doing when they’re signing up for this, this, this and this. Actually my experience as a journalist was a very often that the people reading my stuff knew more about it than even I did and I was supposed to be the person that did know about it, so this whole thing about you don’t know what you’re signing up for, you don’t know how much data you’re giving away, I think people whatever their age very often know in precise detail what they’re signing up for …
Some of them do.
Exactly, and some don’t and they need to be protected and so the default should not be just put your medical records on Facebook, but obviously we need to find a balance where people can derive the maximum benefit, and if you look at, for instance, forums for people suffering from cancer, they will put the absolutely precise details of what drugs they’re on, what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, all of that stuff, because they think their community can help to solve their problem, so there is a continuum and we need to help everyone across all of it.
Context is king. Sorry, at the back, the gentleman sitting down.
Alex Blandford, Wonder Consulting
I’m interested here because we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the digital, but not a lot of time talking about the government. There’s a few phrases here: ‘My experience as a journalist; I think; political courage,’ where’s the user need in that? We’ve had no change in the way that government operates in terms of ordering a discovery phase, ordering an actual exercise to find out… When we talk about local government everyone has an opinion, but we have so little data on the actual user needs that we are going to try and meet over the next parliament, over the next, realistically, three parliaments, to get all of that fixed. Can any of the panel say anything about the… aside from some of the fantastic work that’s happened with the individual voter registration programme of changing law as it went along to make the programme go better, but of a more fundamental shift in the way that politics and government can work in an age where we’re actually trying to meet user needs, not political ideology so much?
Starter for 10, Mike, good luck separating those two!
Yeah, cheers for that!
I think the heart of your issue is right, is that once we recognise it’s about user need, and we’ve been quite clear about that, then it’s how do you do it? So it’s easy to do some stuff, but it’s a challenge to the machinery of any institution to change how it works, to find out how its users are using its services, and indeed want to interact with it. So things like looking at live service data, looking at the amounts of data or failed transactions, is much more rewarding than doing a survey, for instance, People actually look at what people do rather than what they say they were going to do, and yet when the machine is set up or an institution is set up to do what it’s been doing for a long time, it’s hard to change that. So I think at the heart of your point is where is the institutional reform that looks at user need and user behaviour? And that, I’m afraid, even if everybody in government, yes, we want to make that change and focus on user need, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but even if we did an awful lot of how we work is going to have to change. It’s not particularly interesting, in fact it’s only interesting to people who work within the systems to be quite frank, but our processes of how we change have to work. Everybody should use Markdown, everybody should not use long word documents, we shouldn’t have government buying macro, we should release our data. These are very easy sound-bite things to say, in practice they require generational changes of how people work. I’m afraid one of the best ways, I think, for government as a whole to really shift into digital thinking, in terms of how we operate, is how it changes itself here. And the minister, and elected members here, even just the idea of writing briefs up to ministers, not always, but sometimes, that could be replaced by data, sometimes we could make services [81:29] for yourself, the stuff like this. But in this institution it is baked into how we work, it’s never given a moment’s thought, but I suspect we have to be as creative for those things as we have been in some of our services creation and that also should free up thousands of people to stop pushing paper and re-written bits of content around the system.
Anyone else wish to come in on that?
Yeah, I think I agree completely with Mike in as much as it does require… I think digital as the experience of anyone in the room, digital is not… technology isn’t a change in itself, technology only affects change when it comes with process and system change and we’ve got some great new digital services but we do need a re-thinking of the way in which government works, which obviously always scares <laughs> any politician or any civil servant even more! But some of the things we need to do is to look more at technology as empowering, and not only empowering users, or as I prefer to call them citizens or people, but also the civil servants, because it is those frontline bureaucrats who need to be, and I know this is another catchphrase, but need to be co-designing personalised services with the people who use them. So they need great digital skills, the people who use them need some sort of understanding of the power and generally there needs to be a letting go of power from the centre and particularly from Whitehall.
I don’t want to respond with a very processy point, but a lot of this stuff has come from the Cabinet Office and there is no Select Committee that holds the Cabinet Office to account, so where you or I might want to say, ‘Where is the data that proves that what GDS has done here, here, here and here has met a user need,’ then that work actually doesn’t structurally, naturally happen. so I think some of that maybe we could fix through other Select Committees, but I agree with you, much as anecdotal evidence is obviously not what you should be building government policy on.
Can I just ask following on from that, this comes from a point that Pete Cummings sitting in the audience from Adobe has always said to me, we never talk about the digital private sector and I wonder are we doing ourselves a complete disservice by talking about digital government at all, because as soon as you stick digital or talk about smart cities or the internet of things, the eyes of 99.9% of the population glaze over and they think, ‘It’s your problem, Mike. That’s for GDS or that’s for the technology companies, we don’t have to engage in the process and changing the shape.’ Do we need to get away from this language?
Yep, but we’re not getting away from it quickly, we’ve got e-Government. I think it’s just government at the end of the day, it’s like most organisations who are on the transition to being just a digital organisation and we’re not there yet, which is why we need the prefix, but we will get there. But I agree with you, we have spent such a long time in the last parliament doing remedial stuff with technology partners really, because that’s the foundations you’ve got to get those in place, but it’s actually the stuff that Laura was talking about that’s really exciting that the machinery of government changes that I think will come more, if you like, from the stuff you were talking about than stuff that we’ve been talking about. I remember three years ago or something like that we put in a blogging platform, you’d swear, ‘How dare you, how very dare you put blogging…’ And now it’s just a tool, people reach for it, ‘I’ll write a blog.’ We say publish, don’t send everything via email. I’m sure there are some places where that’s not gone through, but generally people will use those digital tools and overnight they become second nature, and so there’s some of the stuff you’re doing in the private sector… I’m talking about the tooling and the techniques of working, they shouldn’t be digital government, they should be government, this is just stuff that we do.
[85:24 Steven Cox]
And Google produces loads of stuff about the digital economy and how important it is for the UK so they’re just as bad.
Well, Google is just as bad. No, I didn’t say that! Let’s take three questions, I think we’re probably coming to our last few, so a gentleman at the back, I think I saw Philip had his hand up, a lady just behind, so let’s start with Philip here, the gentleman holding his hand up. Hold your hands right up, please, if you wanted to question.
In the 2012 Budget George Osborne said that no new major online systems should go live unless the responsible minister were themselves able to use it. Now there were rumours before the Election that this was going to be watered down to be senior civil servants. Tongue-in-cheek, I ask was this because Oliver Letwin was wanting to test GDS services from West Dorset with its not-spots and slow access? Basically what effect have requirements of that type, where you try and use the minister as a proxy for an ordinary human being (we’ll leave jokes aside), but to actually test whether things really are useable over the kind of connection that the individuals trying to use them would actually have?
OK. We’ll summarise some questions, we’ll take a few, the lady just behind I think has her hand up and then there’s a gentleman over here.
Gesche Schmidt, Local Government Association
It’s more a comment to looking what the users really want and neSecretariat, because we looked at open data where people just had the raw open data, they didn’t know what to do with it, it’s about the usability and there are plenty of examples now out from local government. A great one is in Sedgemore with the new nuclear power station in Hinkley, reams and reams of information, documents and reports being published, nobody was able to use it, they found a really good method of linking data, putting it out, so you can put in a community, ‘I need to know about transport,’ and the data is fed to them. So those types of examples are out there, we need to look for them and build the service around that.
Thank you very much, the gentleman at the front.
Carl Reynolds, Doctor in the NHS and CEO of Open Health Care UK
My question was, it seems to me, as a doctor in the NHS, that since the National Programme for IT at the NHS not much has been going on and I can appreciate you may say it’s not within your remit, but do you think that anything will be done to address user need in the health service, because as a jobbing doctor day-to-day I don’t feel my user needs are met by the software that I have to use, and it’s funny that we have debates about Care.data when what’s going on at the ground is pretty outrageous actually.
OK, I’ll take one more question then we’ll have to ask everyone to wrap up. The gentleman at the back with the glasses.
Stefan Czerniawski, Cabinet Office
Mike, when you talked about the things that haven’t worked so well, your examples were powerful but they were about the impact GDS had had across government and more broadly. Looking back, is there anything about the way that GDS itself has operated over the last few years that you would have done differently?
What we’ll do, I want everyone to be able to leave, get on their way home on time, I’m going to ask each of our panellists very briefly, about one minute maximum each, to pick any of these questions: so is it appropriate to pick a minister as our analogue for what a person can do with a government transaction; we heard about usability in local government and what we can learn from other examples; we’ve asked whether we’ve looked at user needs and what could be done in the health service; and finally, are there things that you’d like to do differently in the way that GDS has operated? Let’s start with Steven, if you’d like to take any of those comments?
Well I’ll certainly avoid whether a minister is the right benchmark. I just think in terms of local government services and sharing of data, probably the two parts to it; is what can the local authorities do with the data they already have that will actually enable them to run themselves more effectively and efficiently, and that’s really about connecting different parts of local authorities in a way that hasn’t yet been achieved, but doing that starts to create the identity of new services. And just in terms of what is the user need, I think we’ve got many examples of disruptive technologies that have come along and created the need when people would never have responded. If you’d sent them a questionnaire or survey of the data that was out there in the first place, they would never have predicted how iPods and iPhones and so on, all the things you’d expect to reference, have come about, and I do think that’s where something such as a GDS has the opportunity to create something that people don’t yet necessarily know they need, in order to drive change.
Thank you very much.
I was going to be amazed if we hadn’t mentioned rural payments or the NHS in this whole hour and luckily we got there. I think obviously broadband is hugely important and all this stuff is totally useless if you can’t actually use it. That said I think they are, in a sense, separate problems, because we need to think about how do we cater for people who can’t get online so that they don’t get a second class service, but we also don’t need to allow that to hold back progress at the top end.
On the NHS point my wife’s a doctor so I hear a lot about NHS IT. I think in a sense that again is a political courage point, isn’t it? It’s going to be horrifically expensive to fix this stuff in a way that gets you the service that we know will allow doctors to work more efficiently, that is about the body of MPs who have faith in this stuff working and all the wider community convincing the public, and possibly more importantly the media, because that is often where the firestorm is whipped up, that this is in everybody’s interest and it won’t be perfect and we can’t present people with perfect solutions, but it is worth it and we will get there.
Thank you very much. Chi.
I talked about my two tests for this government but I think actually as a more broader and general test, open data is a great one because the way that local authorities and government releases open data shows a) whether they understand what open data is, and b) whether they understand the audience for it or understand the fact that there isn’t a specific audience for it but they need to release it in a way where it can be used and I think that’s a test that far too many of us in government and the local authorities are failing.
When it comes to NHS, I think I agree mainly with what you’re saying Matt, but I think the only way that the NHS is going to meet the increased needs and strains on it is through using technology and innovation effectively. I don’t think that getting there is about telling people that they have to trust in us, in government, I think it’s about… you talk about user needs, but I also think it’s user capabilities, user assets is about developing and designing services based around that which will attract people and give people confidence in it.
Thank you very much. Laura.
I’ll take the question on testing on ministers, no!
Yes, of course, it’s important that it works in areas where rural broadband might be patchy, but also for citizens who don’t have access to broadband in their homes at all and who are perhaps accessing services on a phone, in a library or in a café. But there’s a broader point that one of the great things that GDS has achieved is putting proper, deep user insight and testing at the heart of building digital services, and I know you were making a flippant point, but going to an anecdotal, can a minister use it test would be hugely retrograde.
Thank you very much and finally, Mike.
Health first. I agree with you, the same problem as the rest of the government, when we started we said, ‘We’re not going near health.’ The problem health has is bigger than the rest of central government put together, 3,000-odd domains, the same problems, no standards, supplier lock-in, hard to change, no intra-operability. Strikes me, two obvious points about health: firstly I don’t think it’s that expensive, we spent £12.5 billion on the last one. The US Digital Service came into being because of healthcare.gov, we’ve had that experience, I think that’s why GDS maybe into being… It won’t cost as much, but we have got to change the way we do stuff and that means having open and honest conversations about standards and everyone using the same stuff. That in itself requires some political intervention, because we’ve got a three-way split at the moment in the governance of that stuff between our networks, HSCIC and NHS as a devolved brand, all of them for very good reasons, but you can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t give everyone control and have their own empire doing exactly what they want and then say it doesn’t work very well together, it’s not going to, so that’s got to be gripped.
Cabinet Office. Stefan, I’d have hired you quicker, sorry for not doing that, I put you on a train to Warrington if you remember; I regret not putting forward, more stridently, a generation of women in GDS at the start and in the technology profession; and I regret not starting actively on that sooner, because whilst we’ve got a few great emergent leaders there’s not enough.
And the other one was ministers, oh yeah …biggest, single source of cultural pushback that!
I wrote that line… you write lines for the Budget and then you just see what goes in and that one went in, I was amazed when it went in. People would say, ‘How dare you, how very dare you make ministers actually use this stuff?’ but the cultural change was huge, because what it meant was that officials who themselves often didn’t… this was back in the day, but who weren’t using digital services themselves, were saying, ‘I’ve got to show this to a minister. [95:47] Mike Bracken from GDS [IA],’ so they had to engage. It was a very unsubtle way of making my colleagues engage in the product development, rather than take a report about it and it sort of worked for a bit.
I’m going to leave you with an anecdote if I can. We’ve got a new minister in the Cabinet Office, Matthew Hancock, and in my first meeting with him he said the words agile and iteration without any prompting –
… because his background, I think his parents had a software company or something like that. But the thing that I’ve seen in my five years in government has been a real generational play. I don’t mean a generation, I mean generations of people who have adopted different types of technology. So when I started, even private offices and stuff like that, they weren’t very technical, there was a lot of paper, but now there’s just a lot more devices. So I don’t think even three years later we would need a device like that again, but it was a means to an end at the time.
Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen I hope you’ll agree that was a really useful and thought-provoking tour through the various different questions around the future of digital government. May I say thank you once again to the sponsor, Fujitsu, for making this event possible. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for listening and asking such great questions and for surviving, despite maxed air-con in very hot conditions, really appreciate it, but can we please now put our hands together once more for Mike, for Laura, for Chi, for Matt and for Steven. Thank you very much.