Digital and technology

How digitalisation can deliver better public services

Myra Hunt, joint Chief Executive of the Centre for Digital Public Services Wales, outlines her organisation’s role in digitalising Welsh public services, how digitalisation can enhance effective procurement, and delivering bilingual services.

Digital Public Services Wales serves an advisory role to government bodies, operating under the framework of a digital strategy.

Hunt outlines the role of the UK’s Future Generations Act, which, she states means that “anything that a department does in terms of our public services, or anything that a sponsor body does, needs to be done taking into consideration the impact that will have on future generations”.

Challenges in Wales and lessons for Northern Ireland

As two neighbouring regions with cultural similarities, Wales and Ireland share similar challenges from a societal perspective when it comes to effectively implementing digital transformation.

Wales has a strong indigenous language which needs to be accounted for in the delivery of public services. Hunt states that this can be done by ensuring that utilisation of the language is done by professionals who do not seek to be too academic, and deliver the language demands in a manner which recognises its everyday usage.

“There are a lot of people who want to use Welsh and will choose to use it. As a result, we are changing the way we use our Welsh content. When you work bilingually, there is a tendency to work in English and then translate. What we are trying to do is move translation upstream into our production process.”

She adds that this will involve a recognition that there is “a difference between a spoken language and an academic language”.

Outlining that “users are at the heart of everything we do”, Hunt explains that ensuring that having a “user centred design” in place is critical.

Hunt points to success in a digital plant prescribing programme which has been undertaken with the collaboration of the Centre for Digital Public Services Wales which, she states, emphasises the importance of ensuring “that we embrace our new and agile digital teams who are working at the coal face”, she states.

She adds that the programme was “fascinating for me”, and was necessary due to a wide usage of paper-based services which are still utilised by Welsh public services.

“This was in a community hospital ward in Wales. What this showed was that the efforts that front line staff are going to in Wales to try and explain the service that they are offering to users and the shared experience that we have of trying to make sense of these disaggregated, complex services that we all live within the public sector.”

On shared procurement, Hunt tells of her experience working in Whitehall (the UK Civil Service) and across UK local government, and that one of the overriding legacies of the non-digital era is an inefficient and misaligned set of procurement policies across local authorities.

“When you work bilingually, there is a tendency to work in English and then translate. What we are trying to do is move translation upstream into our production process.”

“With the current funding pressures we are under, there is going to be increased momentum behind moving to a better aligned and digitised procurement policy. It is critical that we come together around our commercial management to make us much more effective purchasers.”

Adapting to a digital world

Hunt offers a critique on the current implementation strategies of digital government overhauls and the enhancement of digital services, in that the term transformation has been used verbatim for decades, and that if digitisation is to help deliver effective services, that new language needs to be utilised within the sector.

“I started my career with everyone talking about digital transformation, and today this is still the big thing people are talking about. I have debated with other industry leaders whether now, partially because of the impact of the Covid pandemic, we are just talking about improving our public services. Most of our public services, possibly with the exception of our health service, are delivered through digital channels. We need to mature and perfect them, and then turn them into end-to-end services.”

Hunt’s role is ensuring that digital elements enhance the user experience of public services, which she states help “modernise and support other government departments which are delivering those services, and which are driving transformation in government”.

In conclusion, Hunt states that there is a danger of the new ‘business as usual’ being centred around permanent crisis mode, such as the ongoing crises in Ukraine and with European energy. Hunt states her belief that that the current level of digitalisation and future developments “need to account for the level of crisis management which takes place in this day and age”.

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