Using digital technologies to address complex problems – what can we learn from other governments?

It goes without saying that governments face incredibly complex challenges. Sustaining cohesive communities in the face of demographic, economic, security and other challenges will test the ingenuity of politicians and civil servants.

In recent blogs I’ve questioned the industrial-age organization of government and highlighted how the private sector is improving services through digital technologies. Now I would like to shift the emphasis and highlight how governments around the world employ digital technology to drive problem solving.

And I will start by looking at the one of the most significant problems facing individuals, families and communities – mental health.

Nearly one fifth of the UK population have a mental health condition

Mental health conditions cover a wide range of disorders and vary from mild to severe problems. The most common types are anxiety and depressive disorders (9% of all adults). More severe and psychotic disorders are much less common.

Recent research has found that a third of fit notes (they used to be called sick notes) issued by GPs are for psychiatric problems. The employment rate for people with mental health conditions is 21% compared with 49% for all disabled people and over 80% for non-disabled people.

Almost half of benefits claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England are receiving payments as the result of mental and behavioural disorders. Recent independent studies estimate that cash benefits paid to those with mental health conditions are around £9.5 billion a year and administrative costs are £240 million.

This illustrates the financial costs of mental health conditions. But it fails to address the personal impact on individuals, their families and the wider community. That is why the NHS is putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.

Using technology to create community solutions

Although overall spending on mental health will rise by over 4% in 2017/18, many areas of the country are under pressure to provide enough high quality services.

We also know that mental health is a very complex problem that goes beyond the capacity of any one organisation to understand and respond to. There is disagreement about the causes of the problems and the best way to tackle them.

Which is why Creating Community Solutions is such an exciting project.

In the US, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Obama administration launched a national dialogue on mental health. It soon became clear that, while mental illness affects nearly every family, there is a continued struggle to have an open and honest conversation around the issue. Misperceptions, discrimination, fears of social consequences, and the discomfort associated with talking about such illnesses all tend to keep people silent

The challenge facing the administration was how to convene a national participation process that would help Americans to learn more about mental health issues, assess how mental health problems affect their communities and younger populations, and decide what actions to take to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities.

Officials from across the administration collaborated under the umbrella of Creating Community Solutions. They designed an online platform and process that integrated online / offline and national / local levels of collaboration. The platform has promoted a nationwide discussion on mental health. It has given Americans a chance to learn more about mental health issues – from each other and from research. For example, in December last year, and all over the country, hundreds of thousands of people used their mobile phones to get together in small groups for one-hour discussions on mental health.

What can we learn from the US?

Creating Community Solutions is an amazing example of how technology can be used overcome barriers, give access to relevant information and promote participation and mutual support. As a platform, rather than a conventionally structured project, it straddles traditional administrative boundaries and provides support in a distributed way.

I’d like to see our government adopting a similar approach, using technology to break down hierarchical barriers and using platforms to promote collaboration across public services and with communities.

I’ll be writing about other innovative ideas in future blogs. In the meantime, do you know of other innovative solutions to complex public problems? What are the exciting ideas informing your own work —particularly if you are working in the public sector – and how are you implementing them?

Let me know in the comments below or contact me by email.

Are we truly working together?

Government wants to work smarter with citizens and deliver high quality end-user services that provide transparency to the end user through omni-channel and cross-organisational working.

A key word to aid this, is ‘collaboration’:

  • Collaboration between service providers and users (through user research, user testing, product increments, etc)
  • Collaboration between organisations (sharing of data, joint decisions on process development, sharing human and technical resources)

Or at least that’s what we think it means. Considering the two main definitions perhaps we can understand why there is confusion on what collaboration actually means:

1. work jointly on an activity or project
2. cooperate traitorously with an enemy

Working on cross organisation projects to improve the sharing of information I’ve seen issues with this in practice. Collaboration should be 1, but sometimes appears more as 2. Why is this?

In my experience people are willing to ‘work jointly’ as long as their own organisation’s agenda isn’t put at risk. Consider from my previous blog post ‘Lead by listening’  when I suggested that it’s “important not to be too protective of your domain. If a decision elsewhere could greatly affect your area of the business, but is better for the positive growth of the organisation, then perhaps embracing the change is the better option?”

Surely this must be true for effective cross-organisation collaboration. What I see in reality is programmes of work that stall with the realisation that one organisation’s vision or current way of working may suffer distruption even if it’s for the common, overall good. Often we arrive at this junction where one organisation must invest for another to save.

perhaps we need to re-define what collaboration means.

Perhaps we need to include empathy in how we collaborate. By stepping into the shoes of our partner organisations and seeing how proposed changes affect them directly could help us understand how to genuinely work together to make the positive change we seek. If we can’t manage this then we’ll find we need to re-invent the definition of collaborate:

Collaberate : verb. (collaborate merged with berate) – being happy to work together, right up until the point you feel your domain is threatened by those you were collaborating with, and then turning on them.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Developing a digital culture to meet citizen expectations in Local Government services

Originally published as a guest blog on techUK Insights

A recent conversation with a Local Government IT manager led me to consider again what ‘digital’ means and what digital transformation means to the way that we deliver local services.

My colleague argued that ‘digital’ is just an expression of new technologies, and digital innovation could be best expressed in traditional IT terms, after all the IT world has always embraced change and new ideas.

I accept that it is certainly true that technology is important to deliver the ‘digital revolution’ and new technologies form the bedrock on which transformation is built.

But I would suggest that digital transformation is not primarily about technology changes but by the changes we observe in culture, communication, consumerism and the unprecedented transformation of society’s operating model.

The ubiquitous and unprecedented scale of societal change has happened in just the last five to ten years, and it’s getting more difficult to remember a life before Apple, Google, Facebook and Instagram.

In Local Government, where digital transformation is looking to leave a lasting and sustainable legacy that genuinely improves citizens’ lives and futures, the Sopra Steria approach has certainly been to make the best use of available technologies, but has always been supported by a strong business spine. We have endeavored to match both the ambitions of our clients with the desire of their stakeholders to consume services in the ways that they are increasingly using to access other markets. Game changing platforms such as Facebook, Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon do not allow other providers of goods and services to continue with traditional methods and still retain happy customers. For these and other digital leaders, digital transformation has been powered by an enormous leap in customer expectation.

In Local Government this customer expectation across a diverse range of services is also driving change and we see many different approaches to delivering digital business strategies.

So how should Local Government drive through this digital change?

We recognise four key ingredients for success which concentrate on how digital can transform the way Councils and their citizens both provide, and receive, services. They recognise that it needs careful planning if it is to provide real, useful, affordable and usable alternatives to the current methodologies.

1. Make the most of existing technology

The first stage focuses on long term planning, and encourages the immediate use of facilities already available within existing technology applications and platforms to ensure that current investment is used to its full potential. This approach encourages quick wins at low cost.

2. Small step transformation

At stage two, we start to enhance the physical service delivery with digital content, taking small manageable steps towards digital transformation. The intention is to enhance the customer experience by increasing the ability to interact with the council online and to start to introduce new ways of working.

3. Re-imagining delivery

Stage three makes greater and greater use of a redesigned on- line presence to replace or extend existing physical processes with digital operations and digital enablers. This would be visible through continuous customer improvement processes that increase customer contacts through digital access channels and offers the digital fulfilment of service requests. Where appropriate, the web will become the default channel of choice, allowing greater service time and funding to be diverted to supporting more vulnerable citizens.

4. A digital business

The final stage of the digital transformation is to develop new digital business and operating models that reach the full potential of the digital environment without just reflecting and duplicating existing physical process.

The activity would be to redesign existing business structures to take full advantage of a digital approach to service delivery. This may take the form of working with partners to improve business outcomes by sharing data and processes. It may consider new commissioning models that are not restricted by traditional barriers but that continue to improve service delivery whilst also reducing operating costs.

The world is changing and digital is changing the ways that we work, rest and play. In another five years we will look back at an unprecedented period of change. Let’s make sure that Local Government is able to embrace the opportunity to deliver lasting and sustainable change today and provide that solid foundation for the next revolution – whatever that may be.

The clock is ticking!

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

If you’re not assessing you’re guessing: the value of an evidence based approach to strategic resource allocation

There are signs at my gym, that say ‘If you’re not assessing you’re guessing’. It’s something that is easy to ignore in your personal life, but in a business context measurement is becoming mission critical. At the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW) Annual Conference last week, there’s been considerable talk about stretched resources – starting with the opening speech from the President of the Association, Gareth Thomas.

“I suggest we have a perfect storm developing, comprised of fewer resources, reduced public services, new threats, and a worrying increase in some types of traditional crime. If the model for delivering policing services in the future is fewer people, working longer, each doing ever more, then I suggest that model is fundamentally flawed.”

Other presentations and conversations also highlighted the fatigue officers are feeling from heavy workloads and indeed 72.2% of respondents to the 2017 Police Federation Pay and Morale Survey said that their workload had increased in the last year.

With talk of fewer resources and overworked officers and teams, the importance of measurement takes another dimension, with forces needing to have access to the evidence which not only enables them to clearly understand the impact of changing demand and resource levels for budgeting purposes, but also helps them to balance the welfare of officers.

For the team at Cleveland Police, this ‘Evidence Based approach to strategic resource allocation’ is something that they’ve been working on for some time. In one of the breakout sessions at the PSAEW Conference Brian Thomas, Assistant Chief Officer at Cleveland Police shared his force’s story about the great strides they’ve taken in organisational planning and how this has had a huge impact in working with teams across the force to take some of the stress out of resource decision making.

Supported by a new tool, PrediKt developed in conjunction with Sopra Steria, Brian and his team are able to operate in a more informed way.

He shared three areas where the force is now regularly using PrediKt:

Reality testing – Validating actual performance against planned performance. It is giving an evidence base to quickly identify what teams are busy doing and, through a dashboard, they have information which highlights automatically when teams’ actual workload is outstripping their resource. An example is when Neighbourhood teams are recording a greater percentage of response work and less time on preventative activities. The force is now able investigate the reasons behind the inconsistency and put action plans in place to resolve the issue.

Evidence based resource planning – moving from examining performance at an individual team level, here Cleveland Police are now able to examine resourcing at an organisational level and look at different scenarios based around the changing shape of crime, for example the impact of an increase in domestic burglary and how resources can be reallocated across the Force to ensure the workload is balanced across all teams and crime types.

Futures planning – the final example was to examine a resource profile change and identify what future resource profiling could look like if we need to increase training days per annum for example to comply with new statutory course requirements. A further example was what would be the impact of reducing officer numbers.

It’s clear that workload isn’t decreasing, as NPCC Chief Sara Thornton told the conference, ‘everybody knows what police should do more of; few say what we could do less of’. The final presentations also brought home the reality of cyber crime and the changing nature of crime, which will have a huge impact on policing and resourcing in the future.

It’s a world where forces really should be ‘assessing and not guessing’.

Getting a formal evidence base will transform resourcing so forces can truly assess the impact of changes to demand and resource levels, as well as helping to balance the welfare of officers.

Find more about PrediKt, Sopra Steria’s Police Resource and Demand Modelling Tool or contact me by email.

Reinventing business models: what can the public sector learn from digital disruption of business?

In my last blog I wrote about how government is challenged by technological change and globalisation. I now want to explore what governments might learn from the experience of the private sector.

Globalisation is connected to the rise of consumerism. But its attributes of brands, choices, service, access and responsiveness are no longer the preserve of the private sphere.  Increasingly, these attributes define the expectations of the public when they interact with government or use public services.

Unless public services can adapt to these new expectations, the ability to sustain a consensus for the provision of public services free at the point of use may prove impossible in the long term.

Business, of course, has been at the forefront of shaping this ‘new world’. But those forces equally challenge us.

How, for example, does business reform its governance in a way that inspires the trust and confidence of investors and is accountable to employees and the wider public?  How should businesses respond to the opportunities of the global market and new technology, both of which are producing a revolution in the way the business operates?

Let me give you just one example of how these global pressures are influencing business today.

Thirty years ago, businesses could almost entirely rely upon product cycles that lasted for three to five years and business models that could last a decade.  The great companies of the last century created products and refined their supply chains over decades. And they based their business models on relatively stable markets, high barriers to entry and a plentiful supply of relatively unskilled labour.

However many of the most successful companies today are those that have developed a capacity to reinvent themselves – not just once every ten years – but now every eighteen months or two years.

Businesses operate in a global competitive market.  They are challenged to create new value, improve productivity and respond to tomorrow’s customer needs – today.  That global competitive market ensures that today’s businesses simply cannot afford to wait five to ten years to develop a new product cycle or business model. For those companies and communities that are equal to the challenge, this relentless competitive pressure is creating new sources of wealth has increased standards of living.

Next week, I’ll be talking in more detail about innovation and why businesses might have an advantage over the public sector. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.  And if you are interested in public sector innovation you might be interested in another of my recent blogs where I wrote about how businesses learn from mistakes.

The world is still flat: how economic change is straining our ability to remake public services

I want to talk to you about what is arguably the greatest domestic policy challenge facing governments over the next decade.

How to create the conditions for a sustained transformation in our public services in a way consistent with the fundamental values that underpinned their creation.

In this first in a series of blogs, I want to anchor the debate about public service reform in the context of a number of global pressures affecting governments.

Every government is challenged by a similar set of pressures. The most significant of these is when a combination of rapid technological change leads to profound transformation of the economy. This has significantly increased prosperity. But governments are struggling to maintain a consensus of support, particularly as communities experience periods of insecurity and upheaval when technology is introduced.

The change unleashed is provoking tough and searching questions for governments of all political persuasions.

How do we reconcile rising flows of goods, services, capital and labour mobility with the need to create and sustain socially cohesive communities?

At the same time the capacity and capability of health, education, social care, housing and other public services to respond to change is curtailed by continuing austerity. And our ability to build cohesive communities is even more difficult when the very mechanism for reconciling competing tensions within communities – the institution of government and the process of democracy – has never been more questioned.

People’s sense of ‘connectedness’ with government and the political process looks increasingly weak and shattered.

Next week, I’ll post about how business has responded to the challenge of technological change. The most successful businesses are agile – attempting to reinvent their their business model to meet rapidly evolving customer needs.

Meanwhile if you enjoyed this you might also enjoy my summary of our government digital trends survey. We asked civil servants how their work is influenced by new digital ways of working and the benefits for the public

Digital in Government: the next step is true transformation

Have you recently tried to access a government service and wondered why it can’t be as simple and easy as Amazon? Were you frustrated, like me, when required to print, complete and return a physical form rather than fill in a pre-populated online one?

In our recent survey of civil servants we wanted to understand how digital – the powerful combination of disruptive technologies underpinned by new business models – was being adopted across government. How is government seeking to enhance digital customer experience by optimising its digital infrastructure and insight from analytics?

Transformation = Restructure

Our Government Digital Trends Survey of nearly 4,500 civil servants over three years found they have a consistent understanding of what digital means. The most popular definitions chosen were ‘restructuring services’ followed by ‘improving online services’.

With government facing pressures from multiple directions, not least the challenge of implementing a successful exit from the European Union, civil servants view digital transformation as a win-win. Not only can it improve the quality of service that citizens receive, through the development of more convenient delivery models, but these same models can help government to reduce their costs.

But the sheer scale of changes facing the government means that the civil service needs to think harder about the way it works.

Breaking down ‘stove-pipe’ government

Adding to the skills gap I described in my previous blog, there are in-built structural challenges across government. Public services tend to adhere to ‘stove-piped’ models that have largely been left untouched for decades.

Departmental structures encourage civil servants to focus purely on their own priorities. The organisation of government provides little opportunity to consider how citizens’ needs cut across departmental boundaries.

The good news is that civil servants view the collection of data that underpins their operations as a core process. In 2017, civil servants told us that the most significant benefits of ‘big data’ were reducing expenditure (29%) and improving operational efficiency (21%). But opportunities for innovation in new processes (7%) and improving customer engagement (3%) trailed far behind.

Data-enabled government is needed

This example highlights the challenge and opportunity of digital transformation in government. A more innovative approach, such as a single interface for collecting data, is not only a source of efficiency. It allows government to remove the duplication of effort and provides a catalyst for the development of end-to-end processes that place the needs of citizens at the centre.

As government is understandably cautious by nature, digital transformation was initially limited to narrow front-end activities. The focus was on creating digital channels to ‘bolt on’ existing business processes, rather than redesigning processes endto end.

Yet government benefits from being one of the most ‘data-rich’ organisations. The growing number of data sets that are now generated, through the automation of processes, create huge opportunities to drive digital transformation. The Policy Exchange think tank suggested that the UK government could save up to £33 billion through improved data use.

What does data enabled digital government look like?

I think there is an urgent need for the joining and sharing of data across government to help civil and other public servants to plan more effective services targeted at those most in need.

There are several aspects to this data enabled digital government, including:

  1. Predictive analytics: Human resources tend to represent the largest single source of costs for government. Predictive analytics can maximise the efficiency of operations and improve workforce utilisation (helping government do more with – more often than not – less).
  2. Coordinated government analytics: Sharing data across government organisations drives benefits by avoiding the duplication of effort. But going beyond efficiency, the creation of cloud-based big data hubs leads to more personalised and targeted services.

And tailored and preventative approaches are urgently needed to address high cost social issues such as troubled families and health problems such as obesity. Predictive and coordinated analytics lend themselves to addressing these so called ‘wicked issues’ because they are so complex, fast moving and they involve changing the behaviour or gaining the commitment of individual citizens.

If you would like more information about the Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.