Making public services and government fit for the 21st Century

Published: 20 Apr 2017

Author: Calum Handforth
Making public services and government fit for the 21st Century

‘Digital transformation’ is the use of data and digital technology to shift and improve the operations of government, and improve how public services are designed, developed, and delivered. The UK has made strong progress on digital transformation for the delivery of our public services and government in recent years, but structural and systemic challenges threaten to slow or disrupt further improvements.

Calum Handforth, a former UK civil servant, has published a new and detailed report on this topic, based on discussions he had with governments around the world during a six week research trip enabled by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The report, entitled ‘Ideology + technology: Using digital, data, and technology to build better government and deliver better public services’, contains a wide-ranging set of recommendations.

These recommendations include:

  • That the government should produce a “Digital Brexit Strategy” to explore the digital opportunities and challenges arising from our forthcoming exit from the EU
  • A focus on citizen governance, including giving citizens the ability to own and manage their data
  • Building safe, secure and authoritative data registers across government to allow a safe and secure culture of open data
  • A focus on ensuring development of local services is linked with that of their national counterparts
  • A commitment to a no legacy strategy as older technology reduces options, reinforces old ways of thinking, and increases costs
  • Exploring how to focus more on piloting and experimentation in government, to find out what works and what doesn’t instead of just publishing concept notes and White Papers

The report also considers:

  • How best to recruit, build, and leverage talent across the civil service
  • How best to enable collaboration between government departments
  • The importance of involving both the private sector and civil society in ongoing digital transformation
  • How to encourage a culture of piloting, experimenting, and learning across government
  • Ensuring that digital transformation should always centre on delivering benefits to the citizen
  • Ensuring the right combination of leadership and skills are in place across government

Calum discussed the issues with politicians, policymakers, regulators, civil servants of all ranks, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, and academia in Estonia, Norway and Singapore. The report also contains a great amount of wider research, and splits digital transformation into four areas: drivers, foundations, the underpinning technology, and wider catalysts.

“The UK is a genuine leader in digital transformation - with huge efforts achieved over the past few years. However, the remaining challenges are more systemic and structural, requiring a focus on everything above and below the technology. The 'digital' part of digital transformation can be comparatively simple; the rest, discussed in the report, is much harder” –Calum Handforth

Since returning to the UK, Calum has presented his findings at a TechSalon hosted by DFID. He was also invited back to Norway in January to discuss his findings. He plans to speak at conferences and events later this year, and is drafting further articles on this subject.

Read Calum’s report here

Notes to editors

Contact: [email protected]

Phone: +44 (0) 77 927 127 37

Twitter: @CalumAH


About Calum Handforth

As a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Calum travelled to meet with governments in Norway, Estonia and Singapore to learn how they use data, digital, and technology to deliver better public services. Before this, he worked at the heart of HM Government, where he managed primary and secondary legislation (including facilitation of the roll-out of digital infrastructure), worked as a policymaker on UK and EU policy, and in the UK Tax Authority’s Behaviour Change Team where he ran one of government’s largest Randomised Control Trials.

Calum is currently a Senior Consultant specialising in Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation. He has a professional focus on data, digital, and technology in international development, including mobile phone-delivered information services in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.