Why even bother with a user-centred, digital government?

Responding to Tom


Mr Steinberg has just published a blogpost about the missing ‘why?’ of the drive towards this user-centred, digital government so many of us have committed ourselves to in recent years.

He has identified five values that drives him and expands on each;

  1. Compassion
  2. Fairness
  3. The value of government itself
  4. Respect
  5. Transparency

Tom asked for the thoughts of others but I don’t disagree with any of these. I suspect they all had some effect on me and my career choices. I recognise the importance of each in the behaviours and activities of the people I admire who are still fighting the good fight in local and central government.

That said looking back I think the main thing that drove me in my ‘digital transformation’ days was different. Certainly by the end. I primarily cared about what I guess we can call ‘empowerment’.

In every corner of the civil service I met people who were passionate about their work, who had the right instincts and massively wanted to provide the best possible service to both their users and to meet the aims of their organisations. Often they weren’t the most senior and often they were pretty battle weary from previous ‘change’ programmes. They might have been a bit cynical about this ‘digital’ thing but they absolutely understood the scale of the opportunity and what it would take to make it work locally.

This ‘user-centric, digital government’ created opportunities to give these people their voice. Initially this might not of seemed like the case as so much of ‘transformation’ seemed done to organisations rather than done with them — but the real successes? They realised early on that they needed these people who were immersed in the organisation but desperate to modernise.

These people became Product Owners, User Researchers, Delivery Managers, Service Managers and all sorts of others things. They learned new skills (particularly things like agile) but they embraced the opportunities and understood how to make it work with their colleagues and could really speak to the needs of their users. For them is wasn’t theory or abstract.

Sure there were/are lots of naysayers but there are plenty of these modernisers out there and they need to be spotted, nurtured and protected. They need to be genuinely empowered because when they are great things happen and that was probably always the case but this ‘user-centric’ revolution cracked the door open wide enough for us to push a few people through and they in turn can keep that door open for the peers they identify.

These people have always wanted to put their users first. We just gave them a language to describe what they already knew and frameworks, precedents and networks to use to make things happen.

For me that was a big part of the WHY?