Government Transformed podcast: sharing the inside story of how to make public service change happen

By on 01/02/2024 | Updated on 12/06/2024

Government Transformed is a Global Government Forum podcast that shines a light on how governments are transforming the services they deliver.

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

This first series, in partnership with Visa, looks at digital transformation in government.

Each episode – which centres around lively conversations between the podcast host Siobhan Benita and one or two expert guests – will provide insight into how civil and public services are working to transform service delivery, policy design and implementation through the adoption of digital technology.

Episode 2: UK general election: how to get ready for the next government – BONUS EPISODE

Welcome to this special edition of Government Transformed in which we look at the key issues in the UK general election and how civil servants will be working to get ready for the next government.

The general election will be held on 4 July, with parties setting out their vision for the future of the country.

That means that right now, civil servants are working on ‘day one’ documents for new ministers who will be appointed after votes are cast. These briefings will highlight the key issues that the next government will have to deal with, and set out the path to implement key policies.

Richard Johnstone, the executive editor of Global Government Forum, Leading Questions podcast host Siobhan Benita and the former Director General, Government Digital Service Kevin Cunnington, discuss the policy battleground in this election; the issues the next prime minister will inherit – whoever they are – and what will be happening in Whitehall right now as officials observe the campaign.

Episode 1: The story – and legacy – of the UK government’s digital academy

In this latest episode of Government Transformed, GGF’s executive editor Richard Johnstone and podcast producer Jack Aldane journeyed from London to Leeds to join a reunion of one of the UK government’s most innovative digital projects – the digital academy. 

The academy was initially set up in Department for Work and Pensions, before transferring to the Government Digital Service. Its aim was to give people the skills to build public services that would close the gap between government bureaucracies and the kinds of services citizens had grown accustomed to in an online world. It officially closed in 2022.  

At a meet up just a short walk from Leeds Train Station, former guest on the series and creator of the academy, Kevin Cunnington, was joined by those who ran the academy – and those who went through it – to mark 10 years since its establishment.  

Participants looked back over the academy’s eight-year lifespan, tracing its beginnings to the peak of its accomplishments, and the combination of factors that led to its eventual end. They discussed the impact the academy had, both on the way government viewed digital service delivery, as well as their own careers.  

This podcast offers a timely example of the difference smalls group of dynamic individuals can make to government services, given enough time and freedom to solve core problems with legacy systems. It also shows why digital technology leads to transformation only when people combine to form a mission-drive culture.      

In this episode, we refer to: DWP Digital Academy  

To find out more about Global Government Forum’s work on helping governments boost their digital capabilities, including developing digital academies, please contract GGF’s government liaison director George O’Grady

Series 1

Episode 5: The Barbados government learns from Iceland’s digital transformation journey  

Iceland and Barbados may be 4,000 miles apart and have wildly different climates but as two small island nations with similar populations, it turns out there is much that the Barbados government can learn from Iceland – about digital transformation in particular.   
This, the fifth and final episode of Government Transformed series 1 was recorded during a three-day Global Government Forum-organised study tour which saw a delegation from Barbados visit Iceland.   
Vigdís Jóhannsdóttir, chief marketing officer of Digital Iceland, Marva Howell, permanent secretary of the Barbados Ministry of Innovation, Science and Smart Technology, and Kevin Cunnington, former chief of the UK Government Digital Service – who led the tour – speak to podcast host Siobhan Benita from Reykjavík about successes, lessons and just how important it is for governments to share what works with each other.   
Learn how Iceland moved from 20th to 5th place in the UN E-Government Development Index; the challenges Barbados has faced in implementing its digital transformation strategy; the merits of giving officials the freedom to make mistakes; how Iceland’s digital government efforts are making citizens’ lives easier whilst relieving pressure on the environment; and more.  
As Cunnington said in the first episode of this series, and is a running theme throughout, what digital transformation comes down to, primarily, is people. And as this episode showcases communication, trust and learning from peers overseas are key to achieving true change in government.  
In this episode, we refer to:   
UN E-Government Development Index:   

Episode 4: Why building trust is the foundation of successful digital transformation in government 

“One of the things about trust is it takes a long time to build and can be lost in a split second.” 

In this, the penultimate episode of Government Transformed Series 1, guests Eilidh McLaughlin, head of the Scottish Government’s Digital Citizen Unit and Ben Roseth, modernisation of the state senior specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, discuss why trust is a prerequisite for the delivery of successful digital services – and how to earn it. 

“If users don’t trust the digital services, they’re not going to use them. And if they don’t use them, then neither the government nor the citizenry are going to get any of the benefits that digital services can entail – the greater efficiency, the greater transparency, the greater objectivity,” Roseth says.  

McLaughlin highlights the importance of inclusivity when designing digital services if trust is to be gained and maintained, and of balancing such services with the in-person engagement some citizens require. 

Both guests share insights into how governments can prevent loss of trust, focusing particularly on data protection, cybersecurity, transparency, and communication. On the latter, as McLaughlin says, it’s important to “communicate with people even when you don’t have much to communicate. It’s the silence that breaks the trust”.   

The episode also touches on why citizens so readily hand their data over to private sector companies yet are reluctant to do so with government, and trust in the context of digital services in Latin America and the Caribbean. Join this episode’s guests for a fascinating deep dive into trust in government – at a time when so many institutions are lacking it.  

In this episode, we refer to:  

Ben Roseth’s blog: Trust: An Obstacle and an Opportunity for Digital Transformation – Ideas Matter (  

Scottish Government report: Building trust in the digital era: achieving Scotland’s aspirations as an ethical digital nation – (  

Episode 3: How the centre of government can be an enabler – not a blocker – of public service digital transformation   

Most countries have a digital transformation strategy for government, but what is the role of central digital units in helping turn those ambitions into reality?

In this, the third episode of Government Transformed, guests Shira Lev-Ami, chief executive of Israel’s National Digital Agency and Àstrid Desset, former director general of the Open Government of Catalonia’s Open Administration Consortium, offer insights into implementation.

As well as exploring the roles and benefits of central government digital units – Lev-Ami stresses that these should be “centralised enablers” and not “centralised obstacles” – the two leaders also highlight some of the biggest barriers to digital transformation in the public sector, including data sharing hurdles, the bureaucracy tied up in government procurement, and difficultly attracting and retaining top tech talent.

Desset believes recruitment and renumeration systems must be “changed radically and adapted to new times” if the latter is to be addressed.

Also touching on digital ID, public trust, and describing projects they’ve worked on or have been inspired by that provide lessons for peers overseas, this is a must-listen episode for anyone working to turn government digital strategies from paper into practice.

This episode of Government Transformed was recorded in September 2023.

Episode 2: Making digital transformation happen in government: from the ‘why’ to the ‘how’

In this second episode of Global Government Forum’s new podcast, Government Transformed, Kevin Cunnington, the former head of the UK’s Government Digital Service delves into how governments can make progress on digital transformation with podcast host and former UK senior civil servant Siobhan Benita.  

Cunnington describes his work creating a digital transformation strategy at the Department for Work and Pensions as covering “from the very basic philosophy of how to run the department, through to the change to the organisation and processes, and how it affected citizens”.

Cunnington also shares his reflections on the common mistakes governments make in implementing their transformation vision, including the biggest pitfall: under-investment in people.

He also covers major considerations such as transformational leadership, accountability, collaboration and engineering capabilities, and explains why he believes civil services should hire creative “crazy people” who will question the organisation’s orthodoxy.  

Touching too on the mistakes the UK made in trying to introduce a national digital ID system, why he believes AI won’t be the dominant force in government digital transformation in our lifetimes, and why it’s vital never to lose sight of the problem you’re trying to solve, this is an episode brimming with practical advice on how to achieve true transformation in government.  

In this episode, we refer to:

The UK government’s 7 Lenses of Digital Transformation

The UK Department for Work and Pensions’ 2020 vision

Episode 1: The difference between digitalisation and true transformation in government

Governments around the world are all working to digitise their services to make the most of technology to provide better services.

In this brand new podcast series from Global Government Forum, produced with support from knowledge partner Visa, we delve into all things digital transformation in government, exploring the key building blocks needed to create modern, responsive and citizen-centric governments and how civil servants can knock down the barriers that stand in the way.

This first episode of Government Transformed looks at the principles of digital transformation in government. Kevin Cunnington, former head of the Government Digital Service who also worked with governments around the world during his time as digital envoy for the UK, discusses with series host Siobhan Benita the difference between digitalisation and true transformation, the key building blocks needed to make digital transformation happen in government, and how governments – from Estonia and Iceland to Denmark and the UK – are leading the way on transformation.

This compelling and informative first episode sets the scene for the series. Subscribe to the series, and join us on this journey into the future of government.

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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