Establishing an agency to broker the best of the public and private sector minds to solve the major pain-points citizens have interacting with government is the challenging brief David Hazlehurst has been given.
A career public servant and economist, Hazlehurst has been handed the task of taking the federal government’s vision for digital change and bringing it to life through the new Digital Transformation Office.
The government has committed to moving all major government services online by 2017, driven and guided by the DTO. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull readily admits the DTO is very much a copy of the UK Government Digital Service.
The GDS has been rapidly changing citizen interaction and engagement, with a vast array of UK government services now available through a mega government portal gov.uk. The whole approach of the GDS — and its equivalent in the US, 18F — was to establish a body which acts like a start up within government, and can draw upon both the public and private sectors.
The DTO was announced in January, with no budget or resources. There is now a small team of secondees in the Department of Communications, led by Hazlehurst running the interim office, ahead of its formal creation once Budget funds are approved.
Russell Reynolds has been given the task of finding the leader of this new type of agency, but in the meantime it is the executive coordinator from Prime Minister and Cabinet, Hazlehurst who is tasked with getting the DTO into initial working order.
“We have been thinking about how to establish something that is of government and in government, but very much connected with private sector thinking, skills ideas, and needing to operate in and nurture an ecosystem that is far more permeable than most will have experienced to date,” says Hazlehurst.
According to Hazlehurst the aim is to set the DTO up so “people and ideas themselves can be moving backwards and forwards between public and private.”
“It is certainly the case the government doesn’t have or need to have all the answers. Listening to the public about what they think the problems are and then having an open mind about how those are addressed will be a critical part of the new way of doing things.”
Hazlehurst says until the public launch late March, the major focus has been navigating through the budget process and developing and receiving approval for the shape of the set of initiatives the government wants to start with.
“That’s involved a lot of engagement with colleagues across government, but not a lot outside. Now we want to create opportunities for external engagement — with state governments and the expert community who are keen to engage. We have learnt quite a lot from what has been happening in other countries, but we will be doing that much more intensively as well.”
The DTO website will be up shortly and not surprisingly Hazlehurst says the DTO will be as digitally native as it can be.
“We will be using our website as a digital platform for us to engage. It will have all the features you would expect. We will be blogging and sharing our thinking around the plans we are working on. We will be putting up prototypes of the services we will be working on and seeking feedback.”
Hazlehurst says there are some big threshold questions to be debated. For example, Hazlehurst can see the government “more as a wholesaler of services, information and data with others retailing. The private sector can then knock itself out doing what it does best, which is to create value for people.
“If the government can establish those wholesale services and the framework in which the magic of the private sector can just happen, we think that is a better way to go.
“We will be going out there humbly with our ideas — and confidently once we have heard further from the public — about what matters most to them with a mixture of our objectives.”
Citizen concerns are often associated with life events, says Hazlehurst, such as a birth of a child, aged parents needing care or setting up a new business.
“People often find themselves having to deal with multiple parts of government and multiple layers of government. So we will be putting problems out there and saying we want to work on those.
“We will also be looking for smaller, easier problems. We know it will be really important that the DTO not only work on very big, very difficult problems, but also be able to put them into bite size chunks.
“And also to identify things we can do in, say, a ninety day turn around, so there is the opportunity to show real benefits quickly and build confidence and support for the agenda.”