Penny Webb-Smart: whole-of-government approach to service

A crowd of people

Service delivery is about people: the customer, and the community of workers government increasingly needs to deliver 21st century transactions. A senior executive in NSW talks service innovation.

What if public services were available and delivered where and when you needed them? What if some long-standing and complex public policy problems could be reduced or even solved? What if far fewer people “fell through the cracks” between health, education, welfare, and justice public services? What if public services could be customised to your individual needs?

While these questions are not necessarily new, what is new is that the digital economy provides new tools and methodologies that offer new answers to old questions. And to new and relevant questions like, “what if communities were able to design and deliver their own services?”.

Starting with people

The tools of the digital economy start with people, rather than technology, so services can be designed around user needs and underlying problems. The tools include:

  • Methodologies for deep understanding of and insight into users, including design thinking and co-design;
  • Ways of working based on testing and learning, the idea being to lower risk by progressively testing potential solutions so it’s possible to change direction (or stop) before much time and money is spent;
  • Technology which is radically faster and cheaper to deploy (for a very basic example: I can and have launched a website in an afternoon with no coding experience); and
  • New digital business models, including crowdsourcing and platforms.

Because the key to success is starting with citizens — understanding the real problem we are trying to solve and what else is happening in the citizen’s life around the service or problem — collaborating across agency boundaries is critical. Government agencies have long understood the answer to many issues crossing agency boundaries — think about a youth offender or a mentally ill elderly person in public housing to name just two of dozens of potential examples.

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