Our key takeaways from Tech UK's Building the Smarter State 2019

30 Sep 2019 - Angela Conway

How will new technologies and societal trends alter the way that public services are designed and delivered? At this year’s TechUK Building The Smarter State event, we ventured down to London to hear from a collection of speakers who pondered that very question.

Services should be proactively designed around user needs

“It is vital to put users first when developing new technical solutions to problems,” stated Simon Hart, Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office in his talk. Of course, this is reiterated in the Government Design Principles which confirm that building the ‘right thing’ will not happen without knowing what the user needs are. These Government Design Principles are perfectly positioned to create solutions which are joined up, responsive to user needs and make the most of private sector innovation through partnerships.

Simon McKinnon at DWP also explained how they are evolving to meet user needs - understanding that they must meet the needs of their customers, colleagues and taxpayers - while at the same time making practical economies in the design of services, rather than building each from the ground up in its own right.

The government is preparing for a step-change in innovation

Released this year, the Government Technology Innovation Strategy reflects the government’s commitment to designing around user needs.

“It is the duty of a government to serve, and it’s in everyone’s interests that government serves with excellence.” - Oliver Dowden CBE MP Parliamentary Secretary (Minister for Implementation), taken from the strategy document mentioned above.

There was much discussion on this topic from the third talk of the day, presented by Paul Maltby, CDO of Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government (MHCLG). Paul explained that the challenge in government is framed around legacy technology, infrastructure and the business models that surround. Some areas of central government show the benchmark for local government, in terms of intuitiveness and simplicity.

The Local Digital Declaration calls for local gov to put users first, invest in the right infrastructure and have an open and collaborative culture. This, of course, requires cultural change in addition to practical change.

A growing adoption of new methodologies to encourage collaboration

Discussed on the Future of the Organisation panel was the topic of tribalism and how this needs to be ‘put down’ within UK public sector bodies, to work together as one ‘government’. Customers don’t get passed from pillar to post when they visit a bank or insurance company, and the government needs to aim to replicate this seamless experience when dealing with life events like bereavement; as one holistic organisation.

This was also picked up on in Jenny Nelson’s talk from Newcastle City Council. Discussing the Digital Newcastle programme, one of the key objectives is to consider how digital can support growth - especially through collaboration. Newcastle City Council have already formed strong partnerships to assist with these objectives, which has helped to stretch their thinking on “what does digital mean now?”.

We look forward to hearing more about how government and industry can work together to overcome common challenges that may be preventing digitisation at TechUK’s next event, Supercharging the Digital economy, on 6th November.

If you would like to find out more about how Orange Bus practices human-centred service design for public services, do get in touch with me at angela.conway@orangebus.co.uk.

*Thank you to TechUK and Funky Photographers for allowing us use of these images.

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