Definitions: quotes and themes on ‘government-as-a-platform’

Richard Pope
Nov 27, 2018 · 4 min read

Written by Richard Pope and Malika Mehrotra HKS MPP 2020

We’ve been looking at how people have talked about the idea of government as a platform since the original Tim O’Reilly article in 2011. Broadly, the definitions fall into six categories, which hopefully the quotes below typify.

The aim here is not to pass judgement on the pros and cons of them. Instead, the objective is to look at the breadth of how the term is being used. It is also important to note that the quotes almost certainly don’t the totality of what the people quoted think about the subject. Again, the aim is to illustrate the variety that exists.

Coproduction of policy and services

A digitally empowered and ubiquitously connected community is smarter than 1,000 policy wonks. While there is a role for experts in government as a platform, there is a much more significant role for the non-expert population in co-creating solutions. — David Bartlett , Opening Government: Transparency and Engagement in the Information Age

Government as a platform: The extent to which governments use technologies (and data) to harness the creativity of people in groups and create collaborations to jointly address policy challenges — Digital Government Review of Sweden, OECD 2018

Better accountability

The metaphor of the government as a platform is rooted in the digital environment. …This model offers two roles for government: one as accepting feedback from citizens (users) and integrating that feedback in the form of real-time change to policies and programs. The second model involves government opening aspects of its policy making suite of tools and engaging civil society in those individual stages. — Public Policy Forum, Discussion paper: Open policy making in a digital age

The distinction here — and government’s choice — between a blueprint for GaaP that supports participation versus one that supports mere access, is critical. The former is about democratic re-invigoration, and the latter is about — well, just technology. Participation is much more disruptive to existing modes of organising within government. — Mark Thompson, Government as a platform, or a platform for government? Which are we getting?

Government as a platform to build upon

wholesale digital services — opening up data and systems to business and non-profit intermediaries — is the massive opportunity that every government executive and public sector entrepreneur should be seizing to make government smarter and more effective. Wholesale digital services are what Tim O’Reilly calls “government as a platform.” — Aneesh Chopra and Nick Sinai, Wholesale Government: Open Data and APIs

To reclaim the role of innovator, governments may need to work out how to scale this tiny example of the platform approach [Estonia] in practice. — Helen Margetts , In a digital society, governments should innovate with the best of them

‘Government as a Platform’ models of digital era governance, sometimes known as ‘Government 2.0′, encourage external users, whether citizens, software developers, or other businesses, to co-design government digital services. Governments, facilitating access to government data in open, machine-readable formats, can in turn encourage wider digital innovations that internal public service employees might never dream of — Sarah Barns, Smart cities and urban data platforms: Designing interfaces for smart governance

But it also opens government up to a host of other services, effectively turning government services into a “platform,” where many different players — public and private — can collaborate to deliver better outcomes, competing to build better and better services around a common set of standards, rules and principles. — David Osimo, How Local Government Reform is Key to Europe’s Digital Success

Better public services

Government as a Platform is a new vision for digital government; a common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services. — Mike Bracken, Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation

Going back to the need we were here to deliver against as operational civil servants — to support our colleagues in making better services for the population; of trying to live up to one take on Martha Lane Fox’s fourth point of ‘going wholesale; of answering the question of how do you transform government at a pace and at scale? — Ben Welby, interview September 2018

Removing silos

The shift to a shared platform culture will require strong leadership at the government-wide and agency levels. Agencies must begin to look first to shared solutions and existing infrastructure when developing new projects, rather than procuring new infrastructure and systems for each new project. They must also share ownership of common service areas, both within and across agencies, instead of creating multiple websites on the same topic — Executive Office of the President, Digital government: building a 21st century platform to better serve the American people

Siloed approaches to transformation don’t work. Reinventing the wheel every single time we build a service has led to far too much duplication and waste. That’s not good enough.” — Mike Bracken, Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation

New institutions for the digital age

If you want a natively digital nation, or a state, or a city, or whatever, my message today is you actually need to be bold enough to create some new institutions; institutions that are of the internet, not on the internet. — Tom Loosemore, Making government as a platform real

If you were to create government today, you would not build it around large, free standing Departments of State. Instead of a series of siloed hierarchies, you would structure it as a platform responding to the needs of the end user … Government as a Platform will not happen without clear direction from the top. It is time to reboot. Government 2.0 is overdue. — Francis Maude The Smart State: Redesigning government in the era of intelligent services

The quotes above show a lot of breadth. It is also clear that some things are conspicuous by their absence: governance, ethical implications and security for example. So, the question is this: can we get towards a working definition that encompasses all of this while remaining useful?

If you think we’ve missed a relevant quote, please get in touch

Richard Pope

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