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3rd March 2021 | Central and Local Government

Guest post: 2020 a year of challenge, discovery and innovation

Nadira Hussain, Director of Leadership Development & Research, Socitm, shares her insight into the rise of technology and digital solutions in public services

The ‘digital by default’ or is it ‘digital by necessity’ agenda continues to permeate within the public sector, at a pace we have never experienced. It is evident that we are in unchartered waters, but the question is, can we capitalise on the response to the adversity of the situation and create a blueprint for public services that makes them accessible for everybody?

More than ever before, we are increasingly also becoming more conversant with the importance of place and the need to strengthen local communities and their ability to support, nurture and develop place-based solutions.

There is no time like the present to build on our monumental efforts and positive experiences in the public sector in response to the pandemic over the last year. We have created an environment and a work ethic that has transformed the way in which we deliver services to the people in our communities who need them most. Our mindset and attitude have had to acclimatise to thinking and behaving very differently; we have become far more receptive to change through the deployment and use of technology and collaborative platforms, adopted agility and flexibility as standard practice, enhanced our approach to working in partnership to deliver better outcomes and targeted and provisioned our services for the most vulnerable people in our localities.

We in local government have achieved a huge amount of change in a relatively short space of time; developing and establishing new services within days rather than months or even years. Surely, we want to build on this momentum and create the means by which we can instil the interest and enthusiasm to do more innovative and transformative work in our sector? We want to encourage our leaders and colleagues to continue to build the trust and confidence within our organisations that we have already achieved, to plan the onward investment in technology, digital services, data insight, skills and service design, and to really focus on creating public services that can be consumed by everybody. We want to emphasise the importance of our places and divert our efforts to creating robust relationships, partnerships and improve local outcomes; to co-design and co-create services that meet the needs of our citizens, champion the health and wellbeing of our communities and address the social inequality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The rapid exploitation of technology and the deployment of digital solutions as the strategic enablers and catalyst for change within the sector, especially during the pandemic, have created the opportunity to think far more creatively and innovatively about how we provision public services. We have seen so many good examples of the use of technology to deliver services and priorities virtually, that otherwise may not have been possible given the circumstances that we have encountered over the last year. It is evidently clear that business continuity has been dependent on establishing technical solutions at pace, the adaptation of key processes and workflows and adopting an agile approach as a given. We reference such areas of focus, exemplars and case studies in our Digital Trends 2021 briefing.

Going forwards, the key aspects for consideration include our response to social, economic and environmental requirements with a sharp focus on inequality, climate change and sustainability, localism and urban redesign. Undoubtedly though, the primary requirement will be the key priority of recovery, ‘building back better’ and how we successfully transition to establishing a blueprint for public services that will overcome the current limitations and enable access for all. The key question is, how do we use both current and emerging technologies and data in an ethical and secure way to enable our ambitious plans and strategic outcomes to be realised?

We are on the cusp of real change. A time to challenge and scrutinise what we do and how we do it more effectively in an inclusive way. An opportunity to share our collective expertise, knowledge, experience in the sector and embrace the technological advancement that we are witnessing to make a difference – what an exciting proposition!

About the author

Nadira Hussain is an experienced ICT and change management leader with 25+ years, and has worked primarily in local government; leading the ICT service, managing wider teams including digital, business improvement, transformation and customer services. Nadira has implemented numerous complex change programmes across shared services to deliver new operating models, efficiencies and service improvement. Nadira is the Director of Leadership Development & Research at Socitm, and sits on the Institute of Government & Public Policy's Advisory Board.


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Article written by
Danielle Chapman

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