Collaboration crucial for the future of the UK public sector

Virtues of collaboration are evangelised by many and disputed by few. Working with others brings new ideas, drives innovation and creates space for better ways of working. Collaboration can act as a force multiplier, where the parties are greater than the sum of their parts. It must be a key component as the government creates future public services.

The coming decades will bring significant challenges for the public sector as it strives to deliver more value for money. Major advancements in digital technology mean citizen expectations are rising and there is the belief that public services should give the quality of user experience provided by consumer brands. Citizens want seamless end-to-end services, which are modern, affordable and improve their lives.

This will have to be achieved within relatively tight budgetary constraints. The government spending review arrested the decline in departmental budgets and local resources, but it didn’t provide an across-the-board increase, so we must accelerate public services transformation through the smart application of digital technology. Quite simply, the smarter state is the only one we can afford.

Strong leadership is as crucial as better tech

Earlier this month, techUK held its fifth annual Building the Smarter State conference, when we brought together senior civil servants and tech industry experts to explore how to harness emerging technology. At the heart of this year’s conference were the twin themes of people and places, looking at how public services are designed and delivered, the workforce delivering them and the citizens they are designed for. The persistent message throughout the day was the need for collaboration.

The challenges public services face cut across agencies and localities. More and more public services are recognising a multi-agency approach is needed, as well as close working with industry as partners. This means being part of a diverse, inclusive and innovative ecosystem. Ultimately, it is about putting the citizen at the heart of the service, cutting across departmental and agency boundaries to improve outcomes for the people and the place.

Technology has an enabling role in making this place-based approach a reality, driving seamless integration of services, allowing greater self-service and empowering citizens to manage their own situation.

However, technology is the easy part. Leadership and culture are essential in creating an environment for people and agencies to feel confident and empowered to break down silos and share information. Discussions at the conference also addressed how we equip and train the public sector workforce to meet the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.

Collaboration is key

Our efforts to ensure the principles of industry-government collaboration are instilled throughout the tech sector and civil service do not stop with this conference. In October, we will launch the second cohort of our Tech Connect initiative for early-professionals in the public and private sectors to work together to drive innovation in public services.

The programme, in partnership with the Government Digital Service and sponsored by HM Revenue & Customs’ digital chief Jacky Wright, brings together early-professionals enrolled equally from the digital, data and technology fast stream and from tech companies.

It is a digital skills programme where teams identify and design solutions for public sector challenges, giving private sector participants insight into how government works and providing civil servants with an appreciation of how innovation can work in real time in a commercial, agile environment. Working collaboratively across the public-private divide will give participants a creative freedom to bring their ideas to life in new ways.

At techUK we do not want collaboration to be a buzzword. We want the public sector to come to us with their challenges, such as preventing homelessness and tackling violent crime. By working together we can solve the pressing challenges facing our public servants as they work in communities throughout the UK.