Digitally enabled services are inherently opaque. Digital public goods could set new standards for transparency, but only if there is an investment in tooling, exemplars and civil society capability.
Digitally enabled public services are different from analogue ones. Someone visiting a physical government benefits office should broadly speaking, see the same service being provided if they visit a separate benefits office somewhere else in the country the following week. People’s experiences may differ, for example, due to means-testing, but broadly speaking, they differ within a common framework. The rules can generally be understood by reading publicly available guidance or law…
Can we guess potential models for the creation of digital public goods? Given usability is key to adoption, how will it be monitored?
If digital public goods are going to have the effects hoped for, there will need to be clear routes for their creation, maintenance and adoption. Otherwise, there is a risk of ‘performative openness’, where source code is published in the hope that it is reused. Or because it is seen as the ‘right thing to do’.
So, what might the routes be for creating digital public goods that meet genuine user needs?
It is obviously early days…
The behaviours associated with open-source and commercial platforms could play out in population-scale services
It’s a cliche to say the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Normally it’s a cliche used in the context of the adoption of particular technologies, but it’s true of the affordances and the behaviours and that sit around technology too. As digital has moved from the periphery to the centre of public and private life, we have seen this play out again and again.
A few examples.
A digital public goods approach could prevent every government having to build and maintain everything themselves. But without thinking about the whole ecosystem, they could create a new set of silos.
The principle of ‘small parts loosely joined’ is an established approach to designing technology. It’s nicely summed up by the so-called Philosophy of Unix — a set of norms and approaches that describe how software should be designed. Among other things, it includes these three principles:
Write programs that do one thing and do it well.
Write programs to work together.
…. Design and build software … to…
Technology creates new contested spaces. Without a focus on digital public goods, governments and civil society could find themselves locked-out and locked-in.
It is becoming customary when writing about digital to reference how COVID-19 has changed the role of technology and data in government forever. Only time will tell if that is true in any strategic sense, or if it has entrenched a series of tactical responses that will need to be unpicked. Less cited is how COVID-19 has highlighted the power that technology companies have to shape and make policy.
Professor and researcher Jonathan Albright has compiled a dataset…
Digital public goods could serve as building blocks for modern digital societies. These essays explore how to focus that effort on foundational platforms, long-term development, transparency, and how digital public goods will move questions and practices that were once the domain of technologists to that of politics and policy-making.
How should we think about the problem of the digitisation of the state?
Is legacy technology the norm? Should problems like the American federal government sending paper cheques through the post for COVID-19 relief, or the fact that UK government payments generally take 3 days to process, be front of mind…
Lockdown rules differ across the UK and are set by different, overlapping layers of government — UK, devolved, local. The result is it’s hard to understand what the current rules are for any given location. GOV.UK lists the rules for England, set by the UK government only, not those set by the devolved administrations or local authorities.
Business over a certain size have been made to write risk assessments about the measures they are taking to keep staff and the public safe. They have been asked to publish these, but it seems few have, and those that have are mostly…
I just listened to Rishi Sunak’s announcement about the first steps towards restarting the economy and getting people back to work. I can’t comment on the economics of it (beyond the size of the numbers), but I think there are a few digital policy gaps that will need filling:
The UK government’s aim to use digital to grow the economy as we learn to live with COVID-19 is probably the right one. But will policymakers go looking in the right place for growth?
The old policy framings of regulation vs deregulation, central vs local, public vs private are increasingly invalid. A focus on ‘more digital’, or ‘more data sharing’ could mean a growth agenda fails on its own terms.
The real opportunity of digital is in the reduction in administrative burden across every part of society. The automation of the mundane everywhere. The move from transactional to real-time. …
To respond to the COVID19 crisis, dedicated teams across central, local and devolved governments are developing new services and making changes to existing ones, all at great speed. This includes everything from transactional services like the NHS’s “Get an isolation note” service, to complex federated efforts like “Get coronavirus support as a clinically extremely vulnerable person”. Shortly it could include contact-tracing services that raise significant civil liberties and equality…