Bridging the digital skills gap in Government

Expectations of Government services are rising. Citizens want and expect digital services that are responsive to their needs. As a result civil servants need to be aware of the opportunities available through this digital world. This means fundamentally rethinking policy making and delivery, becoming more networked, transparent and focussed on user needs. Delivering this rethink needs new skills that can blend the digital world with traditional Civil Service policy making and implementation.

2015 Digital Trends Survey – some key findings

Earlier this year we asked Dods Research to capture the views of civil servants around their ability to effectively deliver digital transformation. The survey results testify to some progress in skills development, highlighting the commitment of civil servants to increasing their knowledge, but also flags that a lack of digital capability is a major barrier to successful digital transformation.

37% of respondents believe they lack adequate skills training for their roles

Over two-thirds of those surveyed thought that the skills support they received was not adequate, a slightly higher proportion than those who said they had received appropriate training.

digital skills table1
Figure 1 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 1: We asked civil servants to rate their agreement with the statement that they received adequate digital skills training to do their job.  Civil servants were split on whether they had received adequate training with over 1 in 10 strongly disagreeing

The challenge for government is to build flexible skills and capabilities across the civil service. At a basic level this means every civil servant understanding how digital tools can improve the way they work through, for example, the use of social media to engage with users. It extends to the use of data for policy modelling, evaluation, data analytics and data mining to target improvements and monitor impact. And because services will continue to be commissioned from outside government, the civil service also needs staff with good commissioning / contracting skills and project management capabilities within the digital delivery space.

The most common methods of skill acquisition were informal, including best practice sharing, self-directed study and learning on the job

digital skills table2
Figure 2 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 2: Digital skills tend to be acquired through learning that occurs outside the formal learning system

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as civil servants are entitled to at least five days a year investment in learning and development. This is met through a wide range of forms of learning, from e-learning, traditional training and other development activities. And the Government Digital Service (GDS) is offering more detailed and practical learning and development programmes for civil servants in specialist digital roles and in other roles that are expected to work closely with digital teams.

44% of respondents said that a lack of digital training for staff was impeding the move towards digital public services (only just behind a lack of resources)

digital skills table3
Figure 3 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)|

Figure 3: Lack of digital skills is the second biggest obstacle to digital public services, only just behind a lack of resources, and twenty per cent ahead of any other factor

Departments have drawn on resources from the GDS and their ‘digital bench’ of digital specialists and specialist digital recruitment services. While many departments – such as HMRC, Home Office and Ministry of Justice – have established internal teams, others will continue to depend on GDS or face persistent challenges in recruiting enough skilled permanent staff.

The more pressing risk is that a skills deficit will affect implementation, with government missing opportunities to integrate systems and operations and wasting resources. The civil service must attract, develop and retain people who contribute with their skill sets to the achievement of strategic digital government objectives. It will also need to work with the private sector to supply teams of people focussed on addressing specific needs and outcomes (and not just bodyshopping!). And both the civil service and private sector will need to regularly evaluate the impact of emerging technologies, trends and projects on staff, to assess skill gaps and ensure the development of new types of organisational learning.

Why not share your view in the comments below about your experience with digital skills in Government?

More about the Digital Trends Survey

We’ll repeat the digital trends survey at regular intervals to track the progress of the civil service as it seeks to meet the ambitious commitments made in the Civil Service Reform Plan. And in future posts I will be highlighting other issues raised in the survey including understanding of users (including digital exclusion) and the setting of robust and relevant measures of success. So watch this space!

Read the full survey report ‘2015 Digital Trends Survey‘.

Fostering innovation in Government

Efficient, personalised public services require innovation to be part of everyday business. That requires an approach which incentivises and encourages learning, change and improvement but which does not crowd out local innovation with central direction. We know from the experience of working with government to deliver business process and technology transformation that a focus on outcomes is critical.

Innovation starts with a responsiveness to the public and to users. More and more, the public’s ideas, ambitions, aspirations and resources are the source of inspiration for how public services can change. We must help unlock a different kind of relationship between government and citizens. Choice and competition are important ingredients. But we must move beyond consultation to conversation and collaboration. The success of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their digital transformation agenda is a relentless focus on users and their willingness to have a dialogue leading to change, rather than a culture of ‘we know best’.

Second, we know government is full of talented and passionate teams who are committed to radically improving the services they deliver. But processes and systems can sometimes prevent good ideas from taking root and spreading. Innovators at all levels of government – local leaders, service professionals and citizens themselves – need more support to flourish. In other blogs we have highlighted the work of our Digital User Experience team, that adopts and extends the standards set by Government, working to meet customer expectations by researching target markets, rapidly prototyping and helping civil servants to visualise ideas, create usable and intuitive designs and delivering multi-platform solutions.

Third, we have to make sure that government at the centre is supporting innovation. The UK must be the best place in the world to run an innovative public service. As budgets are squeezed, new approaches are even more vital to improve the efficiency and quality of services, tackle strategic challenges and build new kinds of services for a new global economy. Innovative approaches will be focused on addressing long-term challenges, such as the need to reduce re-offending and promote social cohesion. For example, we are working with private and third sector organisations to explore how digital and mobile technologies can promote nudge behaviour and promote self-help within the offender community.

Finally, changes in people’s expectations and knowledge, combined with technology are revolutionising the way people find solutions to problems and support each other. Much innovation in society is undertaken through new channels such as online communities. For example, hundreds of thousands of people share practical ideas through sites such as netmums.com or moneysavingexpert.com. These and other channels could enable the public to engage with government much more effectively. Government must move further from traditional one-way consultation to a genuine two-way conversation and collaboration with citizens. And better engagement is needed for service redesign, encouraging front-line public servants to come forward with their own ideas on how to cut waste and continually improve services, along the lines of ‘lean’ initiatives.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Mind the GaaP – shared technology platforms and data analytics

The outcome of the government’s digital strategy has been higher adoption of on-line services and the introduction of new technologies – including social media, mobility, analytics and cloud computing. But as government delivers services that are simpler, clearer and faster to use it also creates increased expectations.

First, citizens demand services that are often universal but also reflect the levels of personalisation they get as private consumers. But government operates as a series of silos. Services, processes and technology reflect inward-looking departmental needs.

Second, the public finances demand that government boost productivity using innovative digital technologies. The government saved £18.6 billion in 2014-15 through various reform projects. But the savings attributable to digital transformation are significant but relatively small (£391m).

In an environment of increasing citizen demands and top-down cost reductions, how can technology help government be more responsive but at least cost?

Government as a Platform might reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and costs

Two years ago the Government Digital Service (GDS) set out to transform twenty-five major public services. Twenty digital ‘exemplars’ are now publicly accessible. GDS continues to work with departments to build these and other services in agile and iterative ways.

The next phase of the government’s strategy is ‘Government as a Platform’ (GaaP). This is the sharing of the core infrastructure of systems, technology and processes across departments. GOV.UK Verify is a good example. Rather than having to prove who you are to every government department, Verify uses certified companies (and public and private sector data) to confirm a person’s identify once and for all. Other potential platforms are payment processing, case management and appointment bookings – common services used all around government.

GaaP offers a number of potential benefits. First, enhanced user satisfaction by eliminating the need for a citizen to input unnecessary data and information. Second, cost savings by eliminating administrative procedures and processes (and associated transactions) that are not needed. Third, wider economic benefits by making the data open, as others who are unrelated to government can create new businesses that complement public services. Forth, citizens or community groups might also use this data to hold government to account.

Tailored and automated services offer even greatest benefits

In the private sector an ability to share systems and data through technology is leading to a more personalised service. A user is in full control of navigating, choosing and terminating a set of offers. Back-office integration enables the private sector to offer proactive, enhanced and efficient services.

How might this approach be applied in the public sector? At its most simple, the government might pre-fill data in an application form that it already possesses, based on taxation or benefit entitlements, and notify the citizen via email or text of any changes. But more significant improvements to the quality and cost of public services are available through the analysis of this data (a data platform), leading to earlier and more focused interventions.

For example, approximately 40% of hospital admissions in England are unplanned admissions. They are a problem for hospitals because they are costly and disruptive and increase waiting times. Vulnerable patients with complex physical or mental health needs tend to be the biggest problem.

The detailed analysis of historic patient level data, identification of patterns and predictive risk modelling can predict and identify ‘at risk’ individuals. Unplanned admissions can then be avoided through changes to the hospital discharge process and better co-ordination of care.

Taking it to the next level, ICT-enabled simulation and decision-support tools are also able to analyse large and complex socio-economic data sets on deprivation, crime, health, education, etc. This deeper analysis can inform early intervention and screening programmes, with resources focused on communities and individuals who most need them.

Costs can be avoided by highlighting incidences of unnecessary care or delays in treatment. And by making evidence-based information about options, outcomes and uncertainties available, patients are also in a better position to make informed choices about the treatments available to them.

This proactive approach may not be appropriate for all types of service. It will, for example, depend on access to necessary data and protection and legal access. But, when applied to high-risk and often disproportionately high cost individuals, the savings potentially far outweigh the up-front costs of investment.

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.