April 17, 2013

Making the Civil Service More Technical

Russell has written an interesting blog post where he explains a bit about the team at GDS: the new, fashionable startup in London that just happens to actually be a part of the civil service - i.e. the Government.

In it he says:

"This is not about a bunch of private sector digital experts parachuting in to save the day."

From my perspective, a few steps removed (i.e. although I know quite a few people working at GDS, I've not had a conversation with any of them about any of this), this is just what happens when you get some people who are both passionate about what they're doing and who have the technical abilities to implement or understand it, and give them the authority to get on and build it.

It feels like this is us rediscovering what it's like to have people with good technical abilities in public service. As the existence of organisations like mySociety shows, there are plenty of geeks who aren't driven purely by a billion-dollar IPO, but the tendency towards outsourcing and private provision from big IT firms has meant that the scope for doing interesting and important technical work in the civil service (and in public service in general) no longer existed.

As a result, the civil service role had been reduced to a more managerial one, and you lose a lot of the practical knowledge. Couple that with a risk-averse environment, and you end up with the big - and by inference (though in practice size doesn't correlate with ability) safe - IT firms able to propose solutions which are skewed in their favour.

Hopefully the work at GDS will show that it's possible to have at least some of the technical team within the public sector walls, and with a more agile and responsive approach to building the services they can both be more flexible with working with private-sector teams and provide a better solution for less money.

I also wonder if this lesson maps onto other over-managerial parts of the public sector? Can we take this approach to free up the good, passionate teachers or the doctors and nurses who care about their patients above all else to do their best work?

Posted by Adrian at April 17, 2013 04:29 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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Crucial typo - I know it's McEwEn, I know, I know, duh.

Posted by: Jen2 at April 28, 2013 04:23 PM
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