Organisations can avoid ‘delusions of transformation’, says Socitm


Local public service organisations that want to deliver real transformation, rather than just ‘e-enabling’ information and online transactions, are being encouraged to follow a ‘simplify, standardise and share’ approach.

The idea was set out in a recent paper published by the Local Public Services CIO Council (LCIOC) in collaboration with Socitm and SOLACE.

This has now been followed up by a new Socitm briefing – Changing the Game: the systemic failure of transformation – that details what this means.



The briefing has been prompted by a recent paper from Brunel University, claiming that public sector digital transformation initiatives have been mostly ‘cosmetic’ and have not delivered, in terms of outcomes or return on investment.

The authors of the paper say this is because the potential of ICT to change policy design, implementation and administrative practice has been missed. “Digital should be enabling transformative, creative policy development rather than just doing existing policies faster, better, and cheaper,” they say.

The London congestion charge and car tax renewal are cited as two properly transformative initiatives that have met multiple policy goals that are potentially more significant than the improved user experiences they have also delivered.


Key delusions identified

While continuing with the ‘business as usual’ of optimising and improving existing policy instruments and business processes, Socitm members are urged to work at a higher level in the instrument + policy system and evangelise and spread knowledge about the potential of technology, changing the game by opening up others’ thinking.

The briefing points out that the same advice is given in the Socitm/SOLACE paper Simplify–Standardise–Share. This urges organisations to take a high level strategic approach to improve public service outcomes dramatically.The paper emphasises that digital technology is the means and not the end and that design principles should be applied to deliver service outcomes that consider ‘the diverse places in which people live and organisations operate’.

The briefing recognises three key ‘delusions’ identified in current approaches to deploying digital technology in government and public administration:

  • that it is about slashing administrative costs, whereas in fact it raises needs for additional resources for development, maintenance, security and redesign for new channels
  • that everything has to be user-focused, when focus on the interface overlooks transformation of government processes
  • that government and public administration are rooted in nations’ constitutions, in policy and in law, and consequently much more than technology is needed to rationalise them.

The LCIOC paper encapsulates a practical approach organisations can take to avoid being trapped by these delusions, by setting out a series of design principles – as opposed to ‘best practice’ or ‘standards’ – that local public service chief executives and senior managers can follow.

According to Socitm this does not mean there should be uniformity in approach amongst local councils, because each area in the UK is different, with variations in geography, demography, rurality, politics, priorities, economy, poverty, population density, cultures, communities and infrastructure. At the same time this does not mean every council needs to have different systems and digital solutions, simply that the way they are implemented and the priorities for implementation will be different.

Changing the Game: the systemic failure of transformation can be downloaded free of charge by Socitm Insight subscribers here.

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