January 21st –
This morning I was lucky enough to be invited to compere SPRINT13 – a fabulous, cross government event organised by Mike Bracken and the Government Digital Service – the team in the Cabinet Office that I helped to establish. It was a great honour to be a part of the event for many reasons (and not just because I could indulge my talk show fantasies).
There has been a lot of talk in the press over the last few weeks about the civil service and whether or not it is fit for purpose. Of course there are frustrations within any enormous organisation but in the interactions I have had with departments over my digital work, I have been less frustrated and more enthusiastic. This morning showed how it is possible to make staggeringly fast progress in Whitehall if you have both political, departmental and individual leadership. Before christmas, the cabinet office published the Government’s Digital Strategy (http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/2013/01/06/digital-transformation-in-2013-the-strategy-is-delivery-again/) where a commitment was made to recreate public services for the next decade by placing the user and digital technology at the heart of priorities. This may seem a small shift. It is not.
SPRINT13 was a chance for departments to come together to share digital stories, to compare experiences and build skills. We heard from 3 brilliant digital leaders – from MoJ, Defra and DfT. All of these leaders shared astonishing stats about the money saved by moving to a truly digital by default service but what I was more struck by was their pride in creating services that were so easy to use and could deliver such benefit to citizens.
There is an enormous amount of work to do, a huge number of challenges en route but the prize is massive. The tools are secondary – this is not actually about digital but all about behavioural change. For decades departements have led with policy and process but in 2013 it is time to lead with user requirements and need. The UK is currently shining a spotlight on the start up tech sector – great focus has been placed on silicon roundabout and the vibrant digital economy in the country, as chair of Go On UK we are trying to focus on the digital skills gap in the country so the final piece of the puzzle is the governments own use of technology. Government can both make life easier for millions of citizens but it can also save us the taxpayer billions so this is a vital priority. I will try to do everything I can to help the GDS team and others and I urge everyone to give feedback and get involved.