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Exploring the user needs of technology governance

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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.

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  1. Comment by Lucy Green posted on

    I recently chaired a discussion that included Public Sector CTOs and their peers from Private Sector suppliers to the Public Sector. There were about 20 senior people in the room, making it a valuable conversation. We were debating how the governance of work-life flexibility can be used to reduce costs as well as attract and retain the right work force. I used a flexibility spectrum that ranged from a completely locked down terminal for people working in high security departments all the way through to a mobile device “stack” that would support people who need to work in the community. The need for locked down devices was recognised. Interestingly, for departments who are not subject to high security restrictions, the group saw more benefits from being able to be more flexible. Think about it in terms of a clock. If “lock down” is at midnight, these participants articulated tangible value from being at “10 o’clock”. Supporting this degree of flexibility in the Public Sector is tough from a governance perspective but can be done. This group had plenty of ideas which I would be happy to share.
    Lucy Green,

  2. Comment by Helena Korjonen posted on

    What about engaging outside government with other stakeholders, partners and collaborators? It's about creating components that are inclusive.
    I was not clear on what the data needs explored and reported above is about - data and technology should not be confused.
    Next step from user needs assessments is identifying behaviour, what is said is not always what is being done in reality.

    • Replies to Helena Korjonen>

      Comment by adgreenway posted on

      Hi Helena, thanks for your comment. I didn't make it clear enough in the post that we spoke to some external experts in the technology world as part of this exercise too - you're quite right that we shouldn't be entirely navel gazing. And yes, changing cultures and behaviours is definitely a big part of this over the next few months; we want to give as much help as we can to help departments in doing that.

      • Replies to adgreenway>

        Comment by Helena posted on

        Great Andrew, if I can help in any way, let me know!

  3. Comment by David Chassels (@Processionplc) posted on

    And NOW you need to research Enterprise Software technology that supports all this. I suggest you read about the BPM ACM developments and use of declarative emerging - 6GL no coders to build customer centric adaptive applications. Plenty reading on links below and UK has pioneered and proven with early adopters with impressive results. and

    Research research not buy into old technologies (including open source custom building) that will come back and bite you sooner than you might think! So ask the right questioned that lie somewhere in GDS and being ignored....? Be the intelligent customer....

    Good luck