Socitm conference: councils don’t understand what ‘transformation’ really means

The difference between incremental service change and wholesale digital transformation is poorly understood in local government, according to a straw poll at Socitm’s spring conference. 

The finding was one of a handful of insights from an interactive session with attendees at the April 21 event, organised by Public Technology’s parent company Dods.

One-in-five respondents at the session said the real difference between change and transformation was not understood across their organisation, while 52% said the distinction was recognised “only in a few instances”.

Just under one-quarter said there was a “growing understanding” of the difference, while 4% said it was understood “across most areas”.  

Session co-host Andrew Rogers, director of Socitm Advisory, said the findings were telling set against the backdrop of local government‘s current financial situation, in which radical reorganisation of the way services are delivered in most areas is likely to be key to their  future sustainability.

“Change should be continuous, transformation only when required,” he said. 

“We’ve done a lot of top-slicing in local government but we now need to look at more innovative models for the whole council, and the partnerships within the public sector. 

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“What we’re finding is that a number of organisations are doing some good stuff within a particular department, but actually some of that is incremental change; it’s tweaking around with processes and implementing a bit of technology. Very little of it is transformational.”

Session co-host Mel Ross, director of transformation consultancy Adapt2Digital, said the survey finding put a new perspective on an earlier poll result showing 92% of organisations were undergoing “some form” of digital transformation programme.  

“So many of you said that there were transformation programmes in place,” she said. “But actually the the difference between change and transformation is only really understood in a few areas.”

In another related finding, poll respondents said senior leaders in their organisation generally did not take an active role in the authority’s digital transformation efforts. 

Twenty-eight per cent of respondents said their leadership team was not at all active, while 44% were said to support the efforts but did not participate in them. Just under one-quarter said leaders supported the programme and that a few were actively involved. Just 4% said leaders were supportive and “most” played their part.

Ross said the findings showed “a lot of room for improvement”.

“We really do need to understand what active leadership means, and to effect active leadership,” she said.

Elsewhere, the session’s surveys found a broadening out of the parameters of councils’ digital transformation work from “technology-only” to channel shift and service redesign.

The session also found 76% of respondents saying their organisation had never conducted an audit of the digital literacy of staff and elected members. Sixteen per cent of respondents said their council intended to conduct such an audit, while 8% said a sample-segment audit had been undertaken. 

Jim Dunton

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