Digital innovation needs local leadership, says Socitm

Written by Rebecca Hill on 24 May 2016 in News

Senior local leaders need to do more to champion digital innovation in their own authorities, four professional bodies have said.

In a joint position paper, the Local Government Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Local CIO Council, and the public sector ICT representative body Socitm, call on senior figures to become role models for the better use of technology.

The paper says that public services cannot continue to be delivered in the way they are at the moment, and that there will need to be a “wholesale rethink” about what services can be delivered in the future.

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Martin Ferguson, director of policy and research at Socitm and a co-author of the report, said that some services, such as social care and adoption, have had “failure built into them at every stage”, with work carried out in silos and issues with duplication of information.

“We’ve lost sight of the outcome that needs to be achieved," he said, adding that the delivery of some services will need a "complete re-imagination”.

Digital innovation will play a vital role in these changes, the paper says, adding that local leaders need to be given the freedom to think of innovative ways to ensure the sustainability of their local services.

However, Ferguson said that this would also require a change in leadership practices. “There’s a growing recognition that we can’t carry on with the older models and ways of leading,” he said.

He added that it was crucial that local leaders facilitated discussions with those involved at every level of service delivery. “It’s a case of trying things out – not saying that we know best.”

The paper sets out a number of examples of good practice, which it says other local authorities should build on.

These include the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s integrated, secure online single sign-on, self-service portal a range of services, including council tax and business permits, and the integrated digital health and social care record across local partners in Leeds.

In addition to sharing across local government, the paper says that collaborations should include central government, the NHS and other public sector bodies. It adds that this will be particularly important as services become more devolved.

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Submitted on 25 May, 2016 - 12:15
I read this with a heavy heart, but with a determination that things will change. The problem for many will be, it takes brave and determined effort and risk to get there. When I say risk, yes of course there is risk in 'trying new things out', but as has been shown by the speed of social and business change impacting at every level, the bigger risk these days is 'carry on the old ways and older modes of leadership'. If readers have heard this before, I make no apologies; I have personal experience of seeing the acknowledgement that change is needed, but the fear of what is involved in delivering that change. That fear hides behind the excuses that 'its the standard' and 'we can't do that, we haven't got the skills....and anyway we are ********** experts'. Get real. Things have changed. 10 years ago (possibly more), when it was clear consumers were starting to lock into using digital means to drive support their lives, the nay sayers were comfortable. There was a distinct 'professional' and 'them' line drawn in the proverbial sand. The problem then was starting to emerge of the speed of demand compared to the adaption rate in the public sector. Some simply didn't bother adapting, chasing instead to carry on with their 'line in the sand', gradually being eroded by technological progress and an attitude that 2nd best simply was not good enough. Then, in the consumer space, confusion ensued between professional expertise and casual expertise. Casual has gradually won over. Why? Because THEY ARE THE ULTIMATE CUSTOMERS OF THE SERVICES. It is time to bang a few heads together. It is no longer about encouraging public sector organisations to change their strategies when if comes to ICT and Digital transformation. Some can't even get strategies out of the door that don't limit their capacities to make a difference NOW...and some don't even have strategies that they can articulate to the public. This is a disgrace. I’ll not dwell on the ignorance around the important way we communicate with our service users, but take a look at the results of ‘Better Connected’ over the last few years…and the consistent failures of some councils to get their priorities straight and make things accessible enough and MOBILE. “We’ve lost sight of the outcome that needs to be achieved," he said, adding that the delivery of some services will need a "complete re-imagination”. Digital innovation will play a vital role in these changes, the paper says, adding that local leaders need to be given the freedom to think of innovative ways to ensure the sustainability of their local services. ICT leadership has held back a lot of service developments that might have progressed, limiting and crippling innovative ideas by way of ‘we don’t do it that way’, ‘we can’t’ and sometimes excuses that show a disregard for the true needs of communities. Local Leaders need to be defined, tasked and their success based on the speed of transformation, not on what legacy skills they have…this is not about the teams (who I am sure offer great value), but the leadership that limits change - not leadership that is needed. Recognise those who realistically open pathways to improvement, grow their influence and build on trials and success. This will always work best if the public sector gets together and shares its learning - and realistically proves that the promise is achievable. Join #DigiLeaders or local to us #DigitalNW to agin insights and networks of practice…and I’d love to read the whole report.

Tass Smith (not verified)

Submitted on 27 May, 2016 - 13:48
I think the problem is a basic one; people are scared. It may be irrational, but from conversations I've had in attempting to promote Digital Transformation in my authority, the words "Digital" and "Technology" conjure up some scary thoughts to staff and even to some senior managers. It's been verbalised in phrases like these: "I don't do technology!" - that was from someone who's job is to fit lifesaving technology on a daily basis and "Digital - urgh, that just reminds me of panicking when my spreadsheet's not working" - that was a senior and influential manager If this is the way our colleagues think, then it is no surprise that promoting Digital Transformation is like banging your head against a brick wall. So now I tell staff that if they watch TV, drive a car, use a washing machine or a smartphone then they're already doing digital stuff. The missing link is the human element. No matter how clever our web developers, mapping and mobile solutions are, we need our staff and customers to bring their imagination to the table. To illustrate this I use a simple and powerful analogy: For thousands of years, humans transferred information verbally. Through innovation, paper and pencils were invented. So, now there was some technology to do something better but until they were used, the paper and pencils were simply objects. What we needed was human imagination to bring the technology alive! Digital is just a different sort of technology which can reach further given the right human imagination. I now have at least two converts in my organisation (the ones I was talking about above) and as they take their new-found confidence, they'll have conversations that will perculate through the authority. I also coined a phrase for our Digital Transformation programme "Automate the information to make time for conversation" and illustrated it with some of the real examples of projects that we've put live. To do things differently, we need to think differently.

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