We’ve been interviewing colleagues across the civil service to establish a clear set of user needs as part of our review of the governance of technology provision in government. We’ve spoken to senior leaders across government - Chief Information Officers, Digital Leaders and colleagues in Cabinet Office - as well as experts outside government. Some common themes are starting to emerge.
Accountability and transparency
Government needs inclusive forums where all departments can see their contributions translated into a clear strategic direction. Some past boards were described as ‘talking shops’; good for networking, poor for coordination.
A focus on vision and outcomes
We have already written about how we are improving and putting outcomes first. Any new models must have a stronger emphasis on defining good outcomes rather than just focussing on inputs and costs.
Consistency and simplicity
The world of government technology is vast, federated and complex. Departments have to talk to multiple Cabinet Office functions, and vice versa. Inconsistency on both sides can create delays and confusion. We need to reduce the layers of governance and speak with fewer voices.
Data not dogma
Instead of relying too heavily on theories and models, we need better data to support the choices we make - and to gather that data with a clearer idea of what we are using it for. Without that, we risk being inflexible in the face of fast changing technology.
Early, effective engagement
We at GDS need to admit that we haven’t always engaged departments enough in important decisions. Whether that’s developing strategy or the application of spending controls, we need to do that earlier and better. Processes like spending controls should be presented as an early opportunity for improvement, not simply a hoop to jump through.
Trust, autonomy and context
The balance of responsibilities between departments and ‘the centre’ is loosely defined. Most departments expressed a desire for greater autonomy, but also that this should be earned through demonstrable results. We need to be clear about what good looks like so people can work towards that.
Growing in-house capability and skills
There was universal agreement that governance had to go beyond just defining strategy and also provide a strong steer on developing in-house technology skills which reflect departments’ needs. The Civil Service should be full of intelligent technology customers and commissioners.
What is striking about these needs is that they aren’t unique to technology - the same could be applied to any number of areas. We’ll be using them as the building blocks for our work, which we’ll share an alpha version of soon.
For now though, we’d like your views on these needs. Do they ring true? What’s missing? Please let us know.