FutureGov urges public sector to take on disruptive technologies

Local government needs to make more of innovative technologies and consider the user first, a conference has heard.

Speaking at a FutureGov event in Birmingham on 3 June, Matt Skinner, head of product design at the organisation (pictured), said that the public sector had a lot to learn from private sector innovators like Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb.

However, he pointed out that those services often don’t support those most in need – “Uber isn’t interested in rural areas”.

This is where councils should come in, he said, adding that in order to do this they need to “fundamentally change the way they work”.

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It is “everyone’s job” to think about how to best use technology, Skinner said, urging councils to address siloed working practices and changing the way teams are set up.

But as well as technological changes, a major shift will be cultural, with speakers at the event focusing on the importance of thinking about problems from the user’s perspective.

“Customer experience is everything,” Skinner said. He added  that the only way to provide the public with an efficient and effective service, he went on, is to forget the idea of front and back office functions and establish end-to-end services.

Adam Walther, innovation consultant at FutureGov, echoed these thoughts, saying that many organisations would need to be reinvented.

“It isn’t just about tweaking,” he said. “We’re talking about making a new structure, not just about development and training.”

Walther said that councils should work across three “layers” – their people, processes and platforms – and offered some examples of changes that would bring a customer focus to each of these areas.

For instance, they should hire people based not just on their qualifications, but on their personalities. In addition, workers should be told to spend time with the public, rather than “allowing them to go 10 years without speaking to a resident”.

Meanwhile, staff should ask themselves if council processes prevented the public reaching importance services – for example, if a homeless person turns up at a library they should be offered help there, not told to go somewhere else.

And for platforms, Walther said councils should make more of an effort to open up their data, challenging participants to imagine how different their services would be if a child’s case notes were available to the family.

The speakers also encouraged participants to undertake technology projects with an interactive design approach that involved all parts of the organisation.

This should include developing solutions to problems in large groups, not closing your mind to “mad” ideas and using early-stage prototypes rather than pilots to test your solutions.

The idea is that prototypes – such as paper-based simulations of web apps – involve smaller investments, are more likely to generate honest feedback and allow you to make a changes to all parts of the system.

“It’s not about a perfect solution [first time],” said Simone Carrier, head of service design at FutureGov. “It’s about getting something you can get feedback on early on.”

Image credit: @FutureGov


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