Citizen Experience Digital Transformation Uncategorized

Apps, Platforms and Government

This one of a series of articles focused on transformation of government service, produced in association with Equiniti

A few years ago, we were discussing the app economy. Apps (i.e. applications, typically, on mobile devices) were revolutionary, or so it appeared. Everyone wanted an app and tech entrepreneurs fell over themselves to get in on the act. Even government departments and local authorities rolled out apps.

But not all apps were created equal. The app market became the ultimate long-tail exemplar – people used a few apps, but most of the rest were wannabes.

The problem with many of the apps was that they weren’t joined up. Each had to do its own convincing of its own importance. After a while, they failed. They were deleted. They died.

There’s something allegorical about the app story. Apps continue to be important – we all use them. But apps aren’t important in themselves…they are merely windows into information. Some provide huge vistas into a vast, connected world. Some don’t.

The API economy, on the other hand, is something different.

Where many apps were standalone and insignificant, APIs provide for a joined-up world of possibilities. The API economy is as important for government as the private sector. Here’s how an article in Forbes defined APIs (and why they’re important):[1]

APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces) are the components that enable diverse platforms, apps, and systems to connect and share data with each other.  Think of APIs as a set of software modules, tools, and protocols that enable two or more platforms, systems and most commonly, applications to communicate with each other and initiate tasks or processes. APIs are essential for defining and customizing Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) too. Cloud platform providers all have extensive APIs defined and work in close collaboration with development partners to fine-tune app performance using them.

In short, APIs allow applications to be built without the need to constantly reinvent the wheel.

In a government context, this is very significant. APIs allow applications and user interfaces to share critical information and processes. But it also means that government can become more like a platform than a set of apps that don’t talk. This makes the process of government more seamless, less annoying and much, much more efficient.

The Institute for Government (IfG) has recognised this. In its report published in June (Improving the Management of Digital Government) it pointed out how the cyber-attack that took down hospitals and doctor surgeries across the UK (largely because Old PC operating systems hadn’t been updated) showed the fragility of government IT.  It also called into question the role of the Government Digital Service. The report, while recognising that the UK was considered to have one of the most digitally developed e-governments, also laid out what more could be done.

More recently, Francis Maude, the former government minister who created the Government Digital Service, also criticised the civil service in terms of its embracing of the need for greater efficiency and reform. In his speech, delivered in September 2017, he said, “imperceptibly, inch by inch, with a control dropped here or not enforced there, the old silos and departmental baronies are re-emerging, with nothing to restrain the old unreconstructed behaviours from taking hold once more.”

The Civil Service and GDS hit back. But regardless of whether criticism is due it’s clear that there are rewards waiting if the government can reject the departmental baronies and move towards an API-focused model for government.

The IfG Report defined what needed to be done:

  • GDS should create a store for Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the public sector that encourages reuse and supports the development of API standards.
  • The Government should urgently clarify the roles of GOV.UK Verify and the Government Gateway, to spread the benefits of secure identity verification.
  • GDS needs to manage the market for digital services more actively, by: a) configuring the Digital Marketplace for different users b) ensuring that standards are enforced with vendors, including on shared services, to save money and provide a better service for users.
  • GDS should work with the Treasury to review practices around charging for sharing data within government and the public sector, and establish principles so that incentives to share data adequately reflect the public interest.

Sharing is the watch-word here. The creation of an API store for the public sector works to ensure reusability of core information assets – meaning that complex processes can be made seamless as far as the citizen is concerned.

Many of the services provided by government require (currently) multiple systems to be accessed independently of each other. That’s why the IfG is right to highlight the importance of identity verification. Silo verification is a key reason why interoperability doesn’t work within government – and it’s also a major source of citizen frustration.

With a commitment to efficiency and reform within government we’re tantalisingly close to all- digital government service. However, the government needs to create its own API economy before that’s achieved.


Digital Government Workshop Videos

Martin Taylor: Digital Transformation or Evolution?

Martin Taylor from Content Guru (part of Redwood Technologies) presented at our recent workshop in London and suggested that digital transformation of government may not be quite as possible as some would suggest.

He asserts that as an IT service provider to public sector he needs to work on the evolution of technology rather than its wholesale replacement.


Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience Workshop Videos

Delivering Transformation

At our workshop in London a few weeks ago we asked Abigail Gilbert of think-tank NLGN and Stephen Morgan of Squiz to discuss how digital initiatives might work to enhance public service provision.

Abigail and Stephen chatted about how authorities are engaging, increasingly with platforms and smart city infrastructure to improve things – with a strong focus on procurement issues, as well as citizen-driven attitudes.

Digital Government Workshop Videos

Stephen Roberts: Digital Policing Review

At our recent Conversations Workshop in the Town Hall Hotel, Bethnal Green, Stephen Roberts of Vigilant Research provided an overview of the Digital Policing Review – a project that looks at how police forces are adopting digital ways of working.

The Digital Policing Review was set up around 18 months ago by Stephen, previously the Managing Director of Kable – the public sector analyst firm.

In his presentation Stephen outlines how technology and process, in policing, need to speak the same language.


Citizen Experience Workshop Speakers

Digital Transformation and Policing

The Digital Policing Review Capability Assessment 2017, to be published in April, surveys progress towards digital transformation in the UK’s police forces.

We’re delighted that Stephen Roberts, who oversees the Review, will be presenting at our upcoming London workshop on April 27.

Stephen will summarise ambitions, drivers and inhibitors across the service for digital engagement, deployment, intelligence and investigation. He will also report on cross-sector information management, analytics and tasking, especially in regard to vulnerable individuals and joined-up intervention.

A leading commentator on public sector ICT, Stephen founded Vigilant Research in 2015 after many years as chief analyst and MD of Kable. His primary focus is the Digital Policing Review, which provides the service with free, independent analysis and insights into the use of technology across the UK’s constabularies.

If you would like to pre-register for our workshop please complete the form on the event page.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government

New UK Government Digital Strategy

Last week the UK government (specifically DCMS – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) published its new “Digital Strategy for the Digital Economy.”  Much of what’s in the document is motherhood and apple pie. The document paints a grand vision for “an economy which is resilient to change and fit for the future.” But there are a number of specific pledges to make the provision of government services more fit for the future.

We’ll be discussing some of the themes contained in the strategy at our upcoming digital transformation workshop in London on April 27. But, in the meantime, the strategy itself may be useful reading. Here’s a link to the Executive Summary.

The strategy commits to “develop single cross-government platform services, including by working towards 25 million GOV.UK Verify users by 2020 and adopting new services onto the government’s GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify platforms.” We discussed Gov.UK Verify at length in our recent Northern Powerhouse workshop in Newcastle upon Tyne.  So this strategic commitment is to be welcomed.

The Strategy also commits to “work, across government and the public sector, to harness the potential of digital to radically improve the efficiency of our public services – enabling us to provide a better service to citizens and service users at a lower cost.”

We’ll discuss this commitment, also, in our London workshop. Be sure to register now, places are filling up fast.

United Kingdom United States Workshop Speakers

Announcing our ‘Conversations’ Workshops

Over the next few months we plan to run a series of workshops in the United Kingdom and North America. These workshops will explore how government is (or should be) transforming itself to better engage with the citizens it serves. Our first two workshops will focus on future cities.  

Newcastle Upon Tyne Workshop
San Francisco Workshop

We’re calling these Conversations Workshops because we plan to provide the opportunity for people engaged in or interested in government at city, regional or national level – who have interesting opinions or experiences – to converse and make their views known to a much wider audience. We plan to record the conversations on video and to feature the videos here on Citizen2020.

Our primary focus is on engagement. In short how should government provide services to citizens in new, more efficient, ways in the light of ever-tightening budgets and the need for greater taxpayer accountability?

For example, if you have trail-blazed a new initiative where you make public previously hidden data (to improve public information provision) we’d like to hear about it. If you are pursuing an initiative that results in more sharing of public data – or sharing of public resources – please tell us more. If you rolled out a new ‘crowd-sourced’ platform that allows citizens to share information to avoid the need for call center resources, please contact us. Or if you are from a think tank that has interesting perspectives on how to transform city services through open data (or open services) please get involved.

We want to hear about how to provide better services with less resources. We want to know about novel uses for social media. We want to hear about new ways for citizens to do things more easily, more seamlessly, enabled by digital technology, or analytics, or social sharing, or knowledge derived from the community. And we’d also like to stimulate debate by debating new ways to do things to provide better citizen engagement.

Our first two Conversations Workshops will be held in September and November, 2016 with further workshops planned for early 2017 in Washington DC and London.

If you would like to register your interest to attend these events please complete the forms on the relevant event page (see links above). Please note that we expect the events to be highly participatory – so most attendees will take part in the conversations that we’ll record.

So please do get in touch and join the conversations!

Digital Government Digital Policy

UK: A Future in Digital?

I could hear some sucking through teeth when a questioner at last week’s Brands2Life UK: A Leading Digital Nation? event implied that the majority of the tech industry was opposed to Brexit. Perhaps that’s because I was sitting behind Viscount Ridley. The issue of Brexit could easily have dominated the discussion at Portcullis House. But, then, so could so many other topics.

One panellist fixated on the ‘sharing economy’ as the route to a digital nation. Another touched on broadband speeds. Another hopped over a host of digital topics: innovation, skills, regulation.

It was, of course, impossible to reach any conclusion. The room was packed at Portcullis House with people with very different digital and political perspectives. The panel, that included Matt Warman MP, did its best to cover several of the issues. The people in the room – including Viscount Ridley – were itching for their say. The report, produced to coincide with the event, includes lots of important sounding calls to action by important sounding people.

Click here for a summary of the debate

The challenge, in making the UK a leading digital nation, is that nobody really agrees how to achieve it. To an extent it will happen (or not happen) by default. It is, indeed, questionable what role government will play. And there is an argument, of course, that the government should simply keep its nose out as much as possible and let the tech sector get on with it with minimal regulation and minimal intervention. After all, it’s the private sector that gave us the concept of single-click identity management, the sharing economy, and superlative on-line customer experience (not the government).

Also, the problem with events like this (and this is not the fault of Brands2Life who are to be applauded for organising it) is that they tend to focus on the known and the incremental. We all know now about the “sharing economy”. It’s in the public domain. We’ve all had a ride on Uber. But rarely do such events challenge convention or lob in a black swan scenario to discuss.

The United Kingdom is changing and none of us really has any idea how digital will be our salvation or our downfall. All we can do is look at the best bits and try to adopt them to the best of our ability, hoping we’re doing the right thing.

The trouble with government IT is that it’s much too slow at adopting the best bits and using technology to make government smaller and more efficient at the same time. Government is glacially slow to change and the Government Digital Service (GDS) is not the answer. There is never a simple causal fix to an incredibly complex problem.

GDS may help. It can’t do any harm to have a nimble, tech-savvy team at the heart of government (unless it gets too big). But it’s not a solution. Similarly, the “sharing economy” is not, of itself, any panacea or delivery merchant for the UK becoming a digital nation.

But discussion is good. It encourages ideas to germinate and it helps identify new markets for technology companies to serve. Because it’s the technology companies – especially the nimble and innovative ones – that will ultimately deliver the component parts of the UK’s success as a digital nation.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government Uncategorized

Engaging Millennials

I have lost track of the number of times articles on customer and citizen engagement talk about millennials and their unique characteristics – it seems to have reached mythical dimensions. So what is this “millennial phenomenon?”

What sets millennials apart from other generations, namely Baby Boomers and Gen-Xrs, is that this is the first generation to grow up in an interactive digital world – the so-called “digital natives.” To millennials, mobile and social technologies are what the telephone and the radio were for Baby-Boomers in their youth. Immediately accessing information and instantly communicating and sharing is second nature for this generation.

As a result, they expect not only immediacy of information but also brevity and conciseness of communication. It’s not that they have the attention span of a child but, rather, they have been conditioned to quickly process high volumes of information. They are also very visual; not surprising considering that the average young adult watches over 500 videos on line a month – from a collection of 75+ billion videos available on line (Comscore Video Metrix survey 2014). Given the gargantuan volume of information available digitally, millennials tend to be very selective about the information (or services) they want. And, in the process of getting them, they seek to have a personalized experience.

Given all that has been written about millennials, one would think the differences run far deeper. But the evidence seems to indicate that is not the case. IBM conducted a study about the preferences and behavioral patterns of millennials in the workplace. Their findings: Other than for their technology savvy, millennials are a lot like their older colleagues. They have similar career aspirations, desire for recognition and level of comfort making decisions on their own. A Fizziology report on social media communications found that, by and large, all three generations converse on-line about popular social topics a comparable amount.

So how to best engage millennials? Here are some tips from the experts:

– With smartphones and tablets as their standard equipment, mobile presence is a must. The key here is that the on-line experience across platforms has to be seamless, regardless of the device being used.

– Keep in mind that millennials span three decades and, as a result, there is a lot of variation in their interests and preferences. The youngest millennials are still teenagers while the oldest ones are marrying and having children. When developing an engagement strategy, you need to ensure you utilize the channels and platforms that your target millennial segment utilizes. Just as important, the content you create needs to be relevant to the channel where it is published. Otherwise, it will not resonate with your target audience.

– Appeal to their visual sense and desire for a personalized experience by using interactive applications. Applications that allow the user to zoom, spin, rotate and interact with an object virtually the same way one would with a real product will provide for a more engaging and personalized experience.

– Keep the communications brief and concise. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your audience’s attention.

You might note that there is little mention about social media here. While social media is a great tool for marketing products and services to millennials, it has limited utility in eGovernment applications. Why? Because of privacy concerns. Millennials are keenly aware of data mining practices of social media providers and they want to keep aspects of their life such as their dealings with the government private. To wit, a recent Accenture #AFSFedPulse survey found that only 20% of millennials living in the Washington DC metro-area would use Facebook or Twitter to receive information from the government.

So, yes, millennials are different – but not so different.

Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience Digital Government

Gov Apps? Where are they?

In previous posts, I have talked about what Government as a Platform (GaaP) is all about: government agencies not only providing web applications specific to their mission but also services on which citizens and organizations can build applications of their own for the benefit of other citizens and the community. It’s the apps that provide the value; GaaP is just an enabler.

So who’s developing such apps and for what purposes? Herein is a sampling of government-open-data apps that have been developed and, in many cases, available for your use. – The US Federal Government publishes a list of mobile open-data apps it has developed. The list, which is available through its official web portal, [ ], comprises of nearly 300 apps. These apps, by and large, are specific to the Agency’s mission.

Apps range from the practical (waiting times at US border crossings) to fun (North American Aerospace Defense Command’s tracking of Santa Claus’ journey on December 24th) – not many of those – to the arcane (railroad crossing locator).

These apps essentially consist of user-friendly interfaces to specialized open-data sets. In many regards, these are the first-generation eGoverment apps – based on the concept of “let’s make all this data available and see what people do with it.” – This companion website lists 81 government-data-based apps developed by third parties. Like, the apps cover a very wide range of applications.

An interesting app, which is still under development, is iCitizen. According to its creators, iCitizen “tracks elected officials and the issues you choose to care about in real time. Take part in polls to let your representative know where you stand on hot-button topics. Real-time monitoring and voting. Rate your federal and state elected officials. View their voting records and campaign contributors. Track the current issues most important to you, and keep up with related news. Cast your vote in polls related to today’s issues. Show your support for or opposition to pending legislation.” If iCitizen can do all of this, it certainly would raise citizen engagement to a new level.

Code for America  – This site lists Code for America’s products: 40+ apps focused municipal services. These “tactical” apps are designed to solve specific problems or provide a particular capability. Some examples:

AddressIQ – Jointly developed with the City of Long Beach, CA, this web application was developed to reduce the demand on emergency services by analyzing city data to help identify addresses with a high number of 911 calls (In 2013, 10% of the city’s addresses generated 52% of 911 calls). AddressIQ displays this information to city staff and supports the coordination of cost-effective ways to provide those addresses with better care and resources.

TextMyBus – Provides a simple text messaging service to relay real time bus arrival information to Detroit riders and an API for developers to build 3rd party transit apps.

Jail Population Management Dashboard – Gives Louisville, KY, judges, corrections staff, and police a real-time, in-depth view of the local metro jail system, which helps them understand the conditions in the metro jail and use this data to assess how their decisions will affect program, facility and inmate outcomes.

The above three sites provide a good cross-section of the types of government-open-data apps that are being implemented today. As I indicated in a previous post, these examples represent the first-generation of GaaP applications – akin to the Pong video game of the early eighties.