The Government Digital Strategy was formally launched last week. It’s an in depth document putting digital at the forefront of public service provision in the UK – digital by default’, and comes not long after the very smooth launch of the Gov.UK website. Yesterday, No. 10 digital evangelist Rohan Silva, GDS boss Mike Bracken, Government COO Stephen Kelly, Deputy CIO Liam Maxwell, were joined by Tim O’Reilly (founder O’Reilly Media) and Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka in the Treasury to discuss the strategy.
The Americans seemed genuinely bowled over by the depth of the strategy, and the seriousness with which the British Government is approaching this agenda.
O’Reilly praised he way that the Government has “switched the default” particularly around crowd sourcing and regulation, which he described as a very powerful. move from regulation to reputation. Phalka, on the other hand, commented that many of the problems with Government digital strategy that they have encountered in the US are answered within the British document. Critically, Frances Maude, the Minister Responsible for all of this, has visited Silicon Valley, and been shown the type of things that technology and the start-up mentality can achieve.
Mike Bracken noted that you can achieve big things with small teams, and it seems that in this case flexibility and being smaller is paying dividends for the UK.
O’Reilly felt that liberating data and then letting coders get to grips with it at hackathons was a great way of breaking down barriers between government and community, and fuelling innovation.
It’s all very Big Society.
As ever there was lots of talk about how much money could be save by digitisation, and Silva commented that £10bn has already been taken out of Government IT spending. However, those involved in Government digital projects seem to realise that this needs a vision as well as a reduced bottom line. Pleasingly both Silva and Bracken noted that many of the issues facing the UK government in terms of digitisation and openness are actually cultural, not technological.
Silva, responsible for Silicon Roundabout, amongst other things in the UK, was rumoured by a ‘scoop’ in The Kernel to be leaving his government post, but he seemed pretty bought into the agenda yesterday.
It’s very easy to be cynical about trendy, techy, government projects. Frankly, as citizens we are more than entitled to question mandarins and wonks telling us how fabulous they are, and what improvements they are making to services and our lives. They also have to be reminded that not everyone who requires public services has access to the digital systems they are building. However, if as well as digital services these projects bring about a cultural shift of openness in government, then it is a worthy cause.
It’s beginning to look like there is something genuinely special going on here.