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A marker for digital government

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Over the last few weeks I've spent some time sketching out my starting point for a few concepts: what I thought digital governance and digital government mean. Still working on the former, but here's the latter. I'm laying this here as a marker, curious to return to it in a year's time to see what I got right and wrong - and I welcome thoughts in the meantime.

What is digital government?

  1. Government that understands fully, and exists fully in, the digital world
  2. Government that is connected to citizens and stakeholders through modern - and multiple - channels
  3. Government through which an informational layer extends through everything (like the Force) and helps both citizens and civil servants; through which information serves people, rather than people expending effort to serve informational needs

And, what it is not

  1. Government that is tech-savvy, digital, modern, or innovative as an end goal (those characteristics must always be connected to the public good)
  2. Government that is digital-only
  3. Government that merely uses IT better than it does today

Even if the above is uncontroversial, it's still aspirational.

And while it's easy to say that governments need to better understand the digital world, how an "informational layer" evolves for government will need attention. A topical example would be those countries that now pre-populate tax returns for citizens and simply ask for an okay via a secure login or even a text message. A couple years ago Accenture put out a report about going from "looking digital" to "being digital:" i.e., going from bolting-on digital services and presences to embedding digital means into how people do their work. It's the difference between tracking something in a spreadsheet (manual entry, manual retrieval, but digital) and the way Google recognizes tickets in your inbox and reminds you about events. It's a much higher level of both sophistication - and actual impact.

The other I'll note for now is that digital government shouldn't be digital-only. Digital by default? Yes. But the digital system has to break well. That is, the experience should still be as seamless as possible for people with outdated equipment, low bandwidth, no internet, or no interest in using the internet to interact with government.

But for now, the above is a marker to return to later, with a lot of work required to test and develop those premises in the meantime.