Harvard Kennedy School has a great programme at the moment looking at digital government around the world led by David Eaves and in June they had a bit of a ‘summit’ — bringing together practitioners from various corners of the globe to share their lessons and experiences. This is a report that was born out of that event and seeks to aggregate and synthesise some of the discussions.
It is kind of an interesting thing — it still doesn’t feel like there is a massive audience for writings on this topic and for those of us niche enough to be interested are not really going to find anything new here — it is smart and sensible but not new. Maybe I just live and breath this stuff a bit too much?
There is a suggested ‘digital maturity model’ — there is very little in it I disagree with and lots of it I would wholeheartedly endorse…but…I actually have never really seen the need for “a shared set of definitions for maturity” that apparently everyone at the summit agreed “would be very helpful”.
Anyway my perspective is likely a bit different — I have never been involved in the national level of this stuff — doing my thing on the edges in the little specialist corners of government.
Still I’m never going to totally dislike any model which includes three of my favourite hobby horses;
Elsewhere in the report I not surprisingly I liked Kathy’s demand for an empowered product management profession in government →
We need roles in government for people who think beyond just building to a list of initial requirements. We need product managers and leaders with a product mindset to make sure we keep iterating on requirements, find gaps in our knowledge, and continually improve.
I liked the sentiment in the section about ‘building better teams for digital government’ and if you are reading this you’ll probably be aware I have opinions in this space but I found it all a bit naive really. Building that ‘talent pipeline’, finding the right way of selling the mission(s), changing perceptions of the challenges within public service, competing not just with the internet giants but all the cool agencies, the financial benefits of contracting, the freedom of freelancing and who knows what else — none of this is trivial in the UK, US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand (the places I have friends are a bit English speaking I realise!) and the habit of robbing ‘Peter to pay Paul’ has now gone international.
The single domain remains the achievement of GDS that I am least interested in weirdly — I admire it and think it is a good thing — but for me the most important parts of GDS were/are spend controls, the service standard/associated assessments and the service manual (and maybe latterly the Academy). In fact in my alt-history of GDS it would have been a Government wide profession similar to the Government Statistical Service with a central core that just provided those carrot/sticks and leadership. Anyway this is a long way to say I wish Emma Gawen had written more about spend controls etc rather than the single domain as she really knows it and why it matters.
All in all it is worth a read if you are one of the dozen or so of us who might find themselves looking at something like this on a rainy Saturday afternoon or if you want something to show to someone just starting out on this digital transformation journey in public service.
In fact thinking on it as I write this I see how I could re-purpose elements of the maturity model to help with some of my consultancy these days so thanks for that folks!