Government digital transformation 101: key building blocks explained in new GGF podcast series

By on 01/02/2024 | Updated on 15/02/2024
A episode card for Government Transformation podcast episode 1 with Siobhan Benita and Kevin Cunnington

What are the key building blocks needed to create modern, responsive and citizen-centric governments? And how can civil servants knock down the barriers that stand in the way?

To answer these questions, today, Global Government Forum and knowledge partner Visa have launched a brand new podcast series Government Transformed, delving into all things digital transformation in government.

From what true transformation is, and is not; to the importance of digital ID and data sharing in making it happen; why people and culture are bigger challenges than the tech itself; and why winning public trust is vital in any transformation project, this is a must-listen for anyone involved or interested in the use of new and established technologies to streamline government operations and drive innovation in the delivery of public services.

In this compelling and informative first episode, Kevin Cunnington, former head of the UK Government Digital Service who worked with governments around the world during his time as digital envoy for the UK, sets the scene for the series.

Subscribe to Government Transformed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or Acast

Speaking to host Siobhan Benita, he defines digital transformation, explaining the difference between digitalisation and true transformation: digitisation is much narrower, typically involving the integration of what was a paper form into an online service and what some critics describe as akin to “better sameness” or “slapping lipstick on a pig”. Transformation, on the other hand, is the redesign of a service from scratch, requiring “PPT”, Cunnington says – changes to ‘people, process and technology’ – and work across organisational boundaries.

As he explains, true transformation in government is rare. He gives the example of the UK, which, though seen as one of the leaders in digital, has “only really scratched the surface”. Indeed, while the country offers around 7,700 digital services, by Cunnington’s estimation, 99.999% of those are digitalisation, not transformation.

One example of transformation is Universal Credit – the wholesale modernisation of the country’s benefits system – which, as Cunnington explains, took 15,000 people around 10 years and £2bn (US$2.5bn) to complete.

Digitalisation has “massive benefits”, he says. “Transformation is a completely different level of hardness. But the benefits are absolutely enormous.”

In the case of Universal Credit, for example, the economic benefit is £8bn (US$10bn) a year.

The role of digital ID in transformation

In this episode, Cunnington and Benita also talk about the importance of digital ID in making transformation happen.

“You absolutely really can’t transform until you’ve got some way of uniquely identifying individuals across different departments, different journeys, different life events,” Cunnington says.  

Yet, primarily due to privacy and security concerns, of the 195 countries in the world, only around 20 have a way of uniquely identifying citizens.

Digital ID is one key building block, and a hurdle; galvanizing people’s (and an organisation’s) willingness to embrace change is another.

When Cunnington joined the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as business transformation group director general in 2013, its systems “were terrible… it was 1970s and 80s technology and thinking”. However, when he tasked staff with making short videos on what the future could look like for citizens’ interaction with DWP, the submissions were “absolutely brilliant”.

What this demonstrated to Cunnington was that the problem “wasn’t that people didn’t know what good looked like”, it was that they “didn’t have the confidence to implement it because they’d never seen it implemented in their environment”.

What’s important then, is giving officials the space to be able to think creatively and envisage what good looks like, and this podcast series will aim to do just that. This first episode also discusses the importance of training civil and public servants in ‘agile’ and user-centric design, sharing examples from Estonia, Iceland and Denmark. This conversation provides  inspiring insight on how countries – regardless of where they are on their transformation journey – can move towards offering “an Amazon-like government experience”.

Listen to this first episode, subscribe to the series on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or Acast, and join us on this journey into the future of government and digital transformation.

Listen to all the episodes in this series of Government Transformed here. Episodes in the series will focus on:

  • How governments can start the transformation journey
  • Making digital transformation happen
  • Building citizen trust in transformed services
  • And tracking the digital transformation journey, from Barbados to Iceland

Join Global Government Forum’s LinkedIn group to keep up to date with all the insight public and civil servants need to know.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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