Tech 100: ‘To persuade those in the public sector of the benefits of change, we must rid ourselves of jargon’

Written by Colan Mehaffey on 2 December 2016 in Comment

Colan Mehaffey, digital consultant for the Scottish Government’s Digital Transformation Service, on people being the critical factor in digital transformation

A repeated theme of this year’s Connect Tech 100 has been a focus on people. Whether it’s Riaz Moola’s excellent post on the University of Edinburgh start-up Hyperion Development, or the in-depth interview with the Scottish Government’s director general for communities, Sarah Davidson, it has been refreshing to see the spotlight on the true catalyst of change in the public sector.

Since joining the Scottish Government’s Digital Transformation Service (DTS) earlier this year, I’ve seen how winning hearts and minds to get people on board with digital transformation is vital to delivering services more efficiently and effectively for citizens.

In discussions with contemporaries from across the Scottish digital spectrum, there’s an assumption that people can be as much of an obstacle to business transformation in the public sector as technology adoption or financial constraints.


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But while there are well-documented shortages in digital skills, there’s an equally rich pool of talented people who can be energised and mobilised to help deliver change.

If the first stage of engaging with this latent force is to establish an effective understanding of what digital transformation actually is, then we’re off to a rocky start. In DTS workshops the understanding of  ‘digital transformation’ is consistently inconsistent.

It follows that to connect with people and to persuade them of the benefits of change, we must rid ourselves of jargon and de-clutter our communication. For a concept that is so young, many millions of fine words have been written about digital transformation. Yet few of them seem to resonate with - or inspire - those in the public sector who can make a difference.

Theories and methodologies abound online, in a neo-academic battleground that is dizzyingly difficult to follow. Ask public bodies what they want and they’ll say the same thing time and again – trusted, straightforward advice and examples of what does (and doesn’t) work.

So at DTS we focus on connecting with people through discussion and action. Across the 50 public bodies we’ve had the opportunity to work with, this collaborative approach, allied to a focus on building skills, is fostering success.

In discovery with organisations, the key is to investigate collaboratively where the issues lie and the efficiencies can be made. Business analysis can too often become an interrogation of already paranoid staff who feel like they’re being questioned by the executioner.

However, if staff can be enabled and empowered to understand and map business processes, and look at them end to end, the improvement of those processes can become organic and sustainable.

The Scottish approach to service design is another great example of this approach in action. At the launch of the service design champions course in early summer, virtually the first words uttered by Cat Macaulay, the Scottish Government’s head of user research and engagement, served as a strong statement of intent – “service design is everyone’s business”.

If the ultimate goal is to put users at the heart of services, those who deliver the services are the best placed to help do it. While simply focusing energies on people won’t make change happen overnight, it can certainly create an impetus that will expedite the process.

Colan Mehaffey is a digital consultant for the Scottish Government’s Digital Transformation Service 

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