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Improving public/private collaboration to boost digital government

TechUK and the civil service are working together on a programme to develop digital skills in Whitehall and a better understanding of government needs in the tech industry

A problem shared is, as we all know, a problem halved. No prizes for getting that one. The virtues of collaboration are evangelised by many and disputed by few.

Working with others brings in new ideas, drives innovation and creates space for better ways of working. Collaboration can act as a force multiplier, where the parties are greater than the sum of their parts. It can help organisations tackle significant challenges.

The coming decades will certainly bring significant challenges for the UK’s public sector as it strives to deliver more value for money while meeting the needs of an ageing population – and, crucially, a more demanding population, as citizens become ever more consumer-like in their expectations of public services.

In the UK, our consumers are the most prolific online shoppers in Europe. Their expectations and demands are increasing as retail and online experiences improve. This is creating an insatiable appetite from consumers for quick and easy services.

Think about food-delivery apps where entire business models are built on the idea of convenience. And as advances in the digital economy march on, the public sector must prepare itself for the high level of service and convenience that citizens will expect when accessing public services, too.

A smarter state

Of course, this will have to be done within budgetary constraints. It is probably safe to assume that this year’s Spending Review will not lead to an overwhelming increase in departmental resources, so we have to accelerate the transformation of public services through the smart application of digital technology. Quite simply, the smarter state is the only one we can afford.

The expectation is to provide seamless end-to-end services, which are modern, affordable, and deliver value for citizens. It is the technology community’s job to help address this by driving closer collaboration between the public sector and the tech innovators to ensure that solutions to government challenges are practical, deliverable and informed by leading industry thinking.

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To ensure that the principles of industry/government collaboration are instilled across the tech sector and the civil service, earlier this month, TechUK launched TechConnect, an initiative for early professionals to work together to drive innovation in public services.

The programme, sponsored by Jacky Wright, chief digital and information officer at HM Revenue & Customs, brings together 38 early professionals enrolled equally from the civil service’s Digital, Data and Technology Fast Stream programme, and from tech companies.

Digital skills

TechConnect is a 12-week digital skills programme that will see the cohort split into teams to identify and design solutions for public sector challenges. As digital natives, we hope the cohort will be able to look at the issues and potential solutions differently.

The cohort will visit a range of sites to see live demonstrations of innovation happening in the private sector that could be used to inform their solutions. The programme will culminate in a competitive presentation “pitch day” attended by senior officials and industry representatives.

Wright summarised the aspirations of the initiative when she launched the programme, saying: “I hope this programme will give private sector participants insight into how we work in government, the sheer scale of what we do, and how their expertise and experience can help make a real difference for the whole country.”

She added: “For our civil service colleagues, I hope this will give them an appreciation of how innovation can work in real time in a commercial, agile environment. Working collaboratively across the traditional public-private divide will give participants a creative freedom to bring some of their ideas to life in ways they may not have experienced in their usual environment.

“I am hoping, and expecting, that TechConnect will showcase how public and private sectors working closely together can innovate at speed and bring technological and business ideas that will truly help transform government.”

That is the ambition. And if this year’s pilot is successful, we plan to expand it.

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