Breathing new life into joined up government

In 2008 the political scientist Donald Kettl introduced the idea of a ‘vending machine’ style of government. Operating in vertical silos, hierarchical and providing standalone services, this structure works well for routine services that don’t require collaboration. But it falters when we need joined up government.

For example, support and advice for the elderly is provided by the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, private sector providers of residential care and the voluntary and communities sector. How well the organisations work together and co-ordinate their activities has a significant impact on the quality of care provided.

And there are clear benefits from kicking the ‘vending machine’ approach into touch and shifting to joint working, such as:

  • Tackling complex social issues such as drug abuse, rough sleeping, juvenile crime by promoting the design of programmes which are better interconnected and mutually supportive
  • Promoting innovation by bringing people together from different backgrounds and experiences
  • Improving cost effectiveness of public services by removing overlaps and realising economies of scale

The citizen view of joined up public services – our digital barometer

Nowhere would the advantages of joined up government be more visible than in the way government interacts with citizens online. Our recent research with Ipsos, and my previous blog shows that online access to public services is the number one priority. But citizens increasingly want government to use the same systems and share data with one another. And this a consistent message across the UK, France, Norway and Germany.

Chart 1 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 1: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

This means delivering services through ‘one stop shops’, integrated with websites accessible 24 hours a day, and by citizens only having to provide information on a range of issues once, and to one location. However, the dream of never having to retype your address on another sign-up form is a long way off. We asked citizens if they had ever used a government service that extracted information from other relevant public services. Just thirty-nine per cent said they had, while sixty-one per cent said this had never happened.

Chart 2 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 2: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

Joining up through platforms – are they the answer?

The Government’s Transformation Strategy clearly establishes the need for common capabilities to manage publishing, web hosting, identity verification, notifications, payments and other processes. The goal is a seamless or horizontal government offering to improve performance, illuminate problems and lower costs.

A platform model will punch holes through government silos, improving efficiency and reinforcing transparency. But we also know that digital transformation is as much about organisational culture as it is about technology.

What needs to be in place to promote successful joint working across government? My checklist is:

  • Working towards clearly defined, mutually valued, shared goals and evaluating progress towards their achievement
  • Ensuring that sufficient and appropriate resources are available (typical skills for joint working are project management, marketing, consultation, financial planning as well as IT)
  • Leadership, to direct the team and the initiative towards the goal, with the ability to convince stakeholders of the purpose of the initiative and secure the involvement of a wide range of organisations

Successful parts of government are constantly rethinking how to bring together the right combination of skills to build products and serve customers. That often means creating more fluid and agile structures in which day-to-day work is organised into smaller teams that cut across business lines.

The key digital tool at their disposal is data sharing. Data is your biggest ally when making big changes or attempting to solve complex problems. Numbers provide information and analytics can be used to focus resources. In my mind the objective should be to:

  • Pilot approaches within a specific line of business and at a departmental level and scale up – it’s usually less complex than a government wide effort – as we learnt in our Court Store project
  • Adopt a ‘system of systems’, built around data exchanges, and building a common understanding of how the shared data is defined
  • Ultimately burning down data silos, as the impact is multiplied when data sets across departments are integrated, remixed and processes with analytics
  • And phasing out legacy systems gradually, moving to new systems in phases, and always asking “will this system be useful to other parts of government?” (often through open source platforms and technologies)

Sopra Steria is working with public servants across governments to develop new platforms and processes. If you would like more information, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Text translation of Chart 1

Question: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

  • Online access to public services: UK 83% / France 84% / Norway 91% / Germany 81%
  • The single transmission of data to government: UK 77% / France 85% / Norway 87% / Germany 77%
  • The creation of a portal giving access to multiple services: UK 76% / France 86% / Norway 88% / Germany 75%

Text translation of Chart 2

Question: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

  • Yes, once: UK 18% / France 21% / Norway 14% / Germany 19%
  • Yes, several times: UK 21% / France 22% / Norway 32% / Germany 11%
  • No, never: UK 61% / France 57% / Norway 54% / Germany 70%

Published by

Philip Craig

I am the Government Sector Strategy Director at Sopra Steria. My background is in the public (central and local government) and private (consultancy) sectors. I have an interest in public policy, technology and public service reform.

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