Opportunities for the transformation of government come along roughly once every 10 years it seems. There have been two significant efforts to drive real transformation in UK government in last two decades:
- The early 2000s several waves of major IT change initiatives, including NHS IT, border technology, ID cards etc. Electronic government was also targetted, building on the previous administration’s “Government Direct” paper. The original 1997 pronouncement said:
- “by 2002, 25% of dealings with Government should be capable of being done by the public electronically, that 50% of dealings should be capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100% by 2008”
- 2010 brought the the creation of GDS, a big focus on agile and digital exemaplers along with spend controls. Key pronouncements there included:
- “Government ICT is vital for the delivery of efficient, cost-effective public services which are responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.“
- “Digitising transactional services will save people and businesses time and money; by making transactions faster, reducing the number of failed transactions and simplifying the end-to-end process.“
Now, it could be that big waves of change come with changes of Administration – the Blair government in 1997 and the Coalition in 2010.
Or it could be that large organisations, such as the civil service, can only handle significant change on a decade long cycle – it takes time to define goals, communicate, shed previous work, mobilise new teams, align funding and get into delivery.
At the beginning of the change cycle, there is enthusiasm and excitement, occasionally more heat than light perhaps, but nonetheless, a desire to get things done. As the decade draws to a close, everyone is tired, change is harder and less and less is done. You can perhaps see some of that tiredness in Gerry Gavigan’s “short history of government digital strategies” published in 2012.
As this decade draws t0 a close and the new one begins, we might be ready for a new approach.
One that brings a clear strategy and plan but that also recognises the need to work out how to keep momementum going over a 10 year cycle, avoiding the big bang start and the drawn out slowdown.
One that mobilises teams across government and its industry and third sector partners and that allows for inevitable fatigure, rotation of staff and the funding cycle.
One that sets long term goals, but also makes clear the steps along the way that will be required to meet those goals and that, in so doing, will demonstrate the progress that is being made on a monthly, quarterly and annual cycle.