A new report demonstrates how enforced changes to working practice and the swift introduction of technology made during the pandemic could be a catalyst for updating and improving government services.
Jisc’s executive briefing programme steering group commissioned the report, which was written by digital consultant and researcher, Jos Creese, and supported by the Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation (Socitm).
The report recognises that the journey to ‘digital first’ has been accelerated by COVID-19, which “provides a unique opportunity to break out of the traditional organisational structures and to build a new model for local services which is more flexible and which uses expertise and adaptability to solve problems rather than just well-designed processes and defined policies. Such organisations will be truly fit for the future”.
Describing a new role for local public services and their relationship with the communities they serve, the report suggests new governance, technologies, ways of working, risk models and service design. This represents a more fundamental shift than simply absorbing collaborative technologies into ‘business as usual’.
The report goes on to say:
“Local government and health, in particular, will need to become more adaptable if they are to be able to support their communities in any future crisis in terms of food, energy, essential service support and public protection – including biosecurity.
“Emergency planning and business continuity will require reviewing as centralised government is redefined and the importance of local public services increases. Resilience of services and the infrastructure on which they depend will be fundamental.”
Issues to consider include:
- New models of leadership to drive digital change, support workers and to protect democracy and equality
- Review of supply chains, civic emergency planning, business continuity and organisational resilience
- Redefined ‘work’, working spaces and how workers are supported and deployed
- Redesigned IT infrastructure, response to cyber threats and data security management
- Review of technology opportunities, from collaboration tools to AI and robotics.
In conclusion, the report says:
“Each organisation needs to plan their own journey to the ‘new norm’, depending on their organisational culture and digital maturity. But all need to do so quickly. Acting now will allow the best parts of the new digital operating methods to be sustained, whilst at the same time tackling the risks, technology shortfalls and policy changes required.
“At the heart of this are people, not technology; this is about keeping everyone safe, productive and motivated, treating people as individuals and supported with kindness in this new digital age.
"But technology matters too. Outdated legacy IT must be dealt with, and the ‘free for all’ approach to IT choice has to stop. Only in this way can the wider IT security and resilience risks be dealt with effectively in a massively distributed and collaborative model for future public service delivery.
“Moreover, each organisation needs to be prepared for the next COVID-type incident – because there will be one. This includes being able to address the backlog of work that has built up, and so avoiding an ongoing feeling of being stretched ‘too thin’ to think about the future.
“Overall, there are many unpleasant effects from COVID-19. But there are also positives in terms of the modernisation of public services if they choose to grasp them.”
Socitm’s director of policy and research, Martin Ferguson says:
“Our members have been flagbearers for the changes and provision of digital infrastructure that have proved vital in sustaining and even improving local public services during the pandemic.
“This report is timely given our current ‘Planting the Flag’ activity focused on resetting local government to achieve better and more timely outcomes for people, communities and places, on reforming models of local service delivery and on enabling local recovery. Local government and the places that it serves will not be the same. Our responsibility will be to continue to nurture changes that harness digital – data and technology - with empathy and care.”