Disrupt the public sector and do more with less

Alex and Remya from Team Seamless attended the recent Disrupt the Public Sector (or DTPS) event at Collective Campus in Melbourne. It was exciting to brush shoulders with fellow local government tech “disruptors” and there were certainly a lot of familiar faces who, like us, want to stay up to date the latest digital trends in the public sector.

Presentations included Kirsty Elderton from FutureGov, Hamish Gordon the Chief Operations Officer at OurSay as well as an informed and passionate panel of speakers that captured the audience’s imagination…

Steve Glaveski, Founder of Collective Campus and one of the DTPS presenters, gave us some background on the event’s origin and scope.

“The purpose of Disrupt the Public Sector was to bring together people with different perspectives and experiences from across Government, consultancies, startups and the freelance community to have a conversation on how Government could be doing more with less by embracing disruptive innovations and new ways of doing things.”

Do more with less… how is that possible?

Key takeaway: move fast

Until recently Facebook’s corporate motto was “Move fast and break stuff.” It was a call to action that inspired their developers to cast-off their outdated thinking and nurtured innovation.

Although they’ve recently upgraded their motto to the more mature “Move fast with stable infrastructure” the emphasis on agility remains. Like any agile project development, rapid prototyping is highly encouraged in the private sector. Rather than being bogged down by the particulars of heading widths and content containers, development needs to move quickly and nail down core functionality.

It’s common practice in the private sector to crowd-source your solutions i.e. taking a minimum viable product to real world users and ask them for feedback. It’s not as complicated as it seems, we’ve even heard of UX designers asking people to beta test prototypes while waiting for their coffee order!

Real-world user interactions can quickly identify “golden nuggets” (essential elements that you have executed with perfection) but also potential pain points. Ultimately, the faster you move the closer you will be to identifying the community needs you are not currently fulfilling.

"If startups and companies like General Electric can do it, why not the U.S. Government?" Team 18F

18F and lean startup principles

Home to Silicon Valley and countless other incubators in the technology space, it should be no surprise that the United States has emerged as a leader in digital government, culminating in the launch of 18F.

Named after their physical location on the corner of 18th and F streets in Washington, DC, 18F was established to build digital products for various government agencies while utilising the latest programming tools and lean startup principles.

Did it work?

Within its first week in operation, 18F updated and deployed code to a government-owned website in just 29 minutes. This is a wild departure from typical US government website development that can see increments delayed for weeks and sometimes even months.

Steve Glaveski believes that giving 18F a mandate to make lots of small bets “helps to get around the bureaucracy of the public sector and enables 18F to move as quickly as they need to in order to be successful.”

The establishment of 18F was a response to the catastrophe of the healthcare.gov rollout, an inadequate service that cost U.S. taxpayers more than $350 million, while a similar patient record system in the UK cost the government a staggering £9.8 billion.

That too went down in flames and was abandoned.

It was time for a change, not only for the U.S. but globally. 18F was just the beginning, and the Australian government took notice.

“It is encouraging to see the establishment of the Digital Transformation Office,” explains Glaveski. “The first step in any innovation agenda is action and awareness and while the methods will evolve and benefits will grow over time, innovation requires action and getting out of the building.”

When it comes to the delivery of community services, government agencies can’t afford to take the kind of risks that nimble startups like Uber or Spotify have taken. Nor can they afford to invest millions, even billions, of dollars into technologies that fail to deliver the most rudimentary outcomes.

Low-level disruption, not of product but of processes, is the clear and obvious path for cost-effective digital governments in the future.

Wrap-up

Disruption and innovation in the private sector are heavily geared toward generating profit. For governments, it’s about improving efficiency and achieving the better delivery of digital services at a lower cost.

 

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