Can Government ever be agile?

Can Government ever be agile?

Paul Canning writes about the changing and shifting priorities of central government in relation to ‘eDemocracy’, and specifically the possible demise of the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy (ICELE), which  is – or was – a government funded ‘National Project‘.  I believe Paul’s point is that this is not so much a case of government being particularly capricious in this instance as being devoid of any real understanding of what is happening in the egov world.  I’d agree with all this, and the execellent summary of why IT projects fail that Paul writes about in a separate blog.

But while government blunders about in ever-decreasing circles, with huge monolithic ‘e-projects’ that will take years to deliver any benefits, (and more likely be canned when costs get out of hand), there are surely some opportunities for the small/entrepenurial consultancies and individuals in the Web 2.0 space to fill the gaps with what may start out as tactical solutions but could ultimatley be part of core strategy.  I admire MySociety for taking this approach, and maybe this is an example for other practitioners in this space.

I just wish that Government would realise they don’t need to create enormously complex governance structures for what should be agile e-gov projects. But perhaps ‘agility’ and ‘government’ is after all an oxymoron!

See also comments on this debate from Dave Briggs .

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6 thoughts on “Can Government ever be agile?

  1. Agreed. I was involved tangentially with ICELE (and it’s previous incarnations), and use some of their software to run a community website, but MySociety is a lot more practicable.

  2. Well, you know what they say about an elephant being a mouse built to government standards…

    I share the frustration, but also envy the freedom that developers outside of government have to build and operate however they choose.

    To be fair, I think government is legitimately held to particular standards of scrutiny on aspects such as open procurement, IT assurance, accessibility, risk management and value for money among a plethora of others. So it’s easy for a small task to become a big one as the layers of considerations build up, the stakeholders multiply, vendors gild lilies, and the perception of risk grows. And the outcome can be not only a loss of momentum and enthusiasm, but seemingly perverse results in terms of procurement, interoperability and value for money.

    I’m not sure how we overcome this. As a starting point, I’d love to see a condensed, practical ‘toolbox’ guide to the applicable rules that government teams can follow to stay on the right side of the policies without losing their enthusiasm. But the bigger challenges lie in engaging IT and procurement with the concept of agility itself.

  3. Steph – points well made and agree that government projects come under a lot more scrutiny than those in the private sector. Where I think they could do better is in undertaking better risk assessment for projects and strip out some of the governance layers for low risk projects.
    They could also slice up large projects into smaller discreet deliverables rather than the monolithic approach they take now (thinking NHS online patient records here, and ID scheme). They are also notoriously bad at communicating across and within their own departments, which ends up with many wheels being duplicated. I’ve had a recent example where I received two separate but similar requests from the MoJ for setting up communities of practice. Neither requester was aware of the other’s project. I had to put them in touch with each other – and that was within just one department!

    The frustrating part of all this is that there are lots of bright and innovative staff working for gov who can see what needs to change, but are suppressed by the layers of career civil servants above them. There are no easy answers.

  4. Hi Steve

    here’s the post
    http://paulcanning.blogspot.com/2008/06/icele-and-how-out-of-touch-gordon-is.html

    Was mainly connecting ICELE’s collapse to how No. 10 and GB are pioneering Twitter etc. as an example of how out of touch the leadership is with the grass roots.

    The two points I made on the thread which started this were:

    1. How much money has been wasted on this and other national projects? Is anyone other than Public Sector Forums paying attention?

    2. This just highlights for me the absence of any national central point of reference for egov. It’s splintered all over the place, so no one actually working in the area has ‘heard of’ most of the worthy stuff.

  5. Hi Paul,

    I don’t want to raise any false hopes, but ‘e-government’, which morphed into ‘Transformational Government’ about 18 months ago is now part of the Digital People project project, headed up by the COI. This project at least seems to coordinate across all gov departments. However, I doubt very much that GB knows much about it.

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