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Digital government: ending 20 years of putting 'lipstick on a pig'

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A draft research report from Brunel University London says there needs to be a complete turnaround in the way governments and researchers think about how digital technologies can change the public sector. The report is published to coincide with the 11th National Digital Conference, on Wednesday, in London. [www.nd16.co.uk]

The Working Paper which invites feedback from practitioners in the field explains how the only coherent way to achieve any real impact is to embed the potential of technology in the instruments that make governments’ policies real. Policy instruments are the tools that governments choose from to intervene in the economy, society and environment to make change, such as licences, information campaigns and more tangible things like public services and infrastructure.

The paper, entitled; “Digital Government: Overcoming the Systemic Failure of Transformation,”claims that even the most recent approaches still come from the perspective of technology, not the core policy-making functions of government.

Vishanth Weerakkody, Professor of Digital Governance at Brunel, said: “Almost every government plan, international benchmark and academic study has started from the viewpoint of a web site, or app.

“Government strategies over the last 20 years have only had cosmetic effects and the result has been like putting lipstick on a pig. What certainly has not happened is the much-hyped ‘digital transformation of government.’

Co-author Paul Waller added: “It is essential that we get rid of language like ‘services’ and ‘customers’ that comes from thinking of government as a supermarket or airline.

 “If you want to transform government and public administration, you have to redesign your instruments and their legislation to embed the use of technology in creative ways, not just build a web front end.”

 “Digital Government: Overcoming the Systemic Failure of Transformation”, subtitled “Digital transformation through policy design with ICT-enhanced instruments”, can be downloaded at: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/12732