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Government fails to learn from past IT mistakes, say MPs

The government has been criticised for failing to learn from past failures on IT projects, a lack of transparency and for refusing to drop projects that aren't working.

The Public Accounts Committee, a group of MPs which oversees public spending, said, "Numerous reports from this Committee have highlighted that government can repeat the same mistakes and fail to learn from the past."

Even when ways of capturing lessons have been introduced and used, such as the OGC's gateway reviews process, projects have still experienced problems. The reviews need to be published to combat this, the MPs said.

"Government has also paid insufficient attention to analysing the lessons from the reviews," the Committee said.

The prison service's C-NOMIS project was an example of an innovation programme that has "suffered from a lack of available project management skills and a failure to nurture those they do have".

The barriers stopping effective learning from mistakes are, according to the Committee:

Poor sharing of knowledge across organisational boundaries

Risk-averse attitudes which both stifle innovation and prevent lessons being learned

Learning and innovation not being built routinely into staff appraisals and competency frameworks

Too few ideas being generated from service users, suppliers and other organisations, and their own front-line staff

Many staff considering they do not have the incentives to learn or to innovate

The Committee said these problems could be overcome if gateway reviews were published, increasing transparency around government mistakes. The civil service needs a culture that encourages more learning and innovation, and central government needs to drive innovation forward. There also needs to be an effective way to collect data on and effectively measure innovation and assess when an activity is not working and should be stopped.

The Committee said, "Innovation involves trying new things, some of which ultimately will not work. So experimentation is necessary, but with public money at stake, government needs to be able to halt ineffective activities quickly and learn lessons from them."


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