We’re holding a #BureaucracyHack in July - this post looks at another theme we intend to explore on the day.

Luke Slowen
Mar 15 · 5 min read
Is it possible to speed up delivery with good governance?

We’ve been working with colleagues across government to plan a #BureaucracyHack day in July — we’re looking at problems we think could be usefully hacked on the day. James set out the overall plan in this post:

Prateek and I have a hypothesis – reducing duplication in technical and data governance can speed up delivery.

X: Wait, what…? Governance can speed up delivery? Not slow it down?

Us: Yes, speed it up. We think just enough effective, collaborative, supportive, good governance should enable you to find solutions to problems that people have already solved. And applying them to your problem should save you time. The principle of re-use, before buy, before build.

X: But I just want to get on and deliver. Governance gets in my way.

Us: Too many people experience bad governance in their work – blockers, disempowerment, disproportionate effort… the list goes on. Let’s unpack this a bit…

What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?

In government, where we need to make sure every pound of taxpayer’s money is spent wisely and in a transparent way, governance is a necessity. It’s no different for private sector organisations – it’s how we ensure we make the right decisions and hold people to account.

But in the public sector, every penny wasted is one that’s not going towards a someone’s education, providing healthcare, supporting vulnerable people… all the good things we do in the civil service. So we’re naturally cautious – governance is our safety net, our comfort blanket.

Similarly, governance and assurance around developing a new service is necessary, to ensure we’re building the right things for our users and in a way that makes the most sense for our organisation. That we’re working effectively within our budgets, making sensible decisions around data and technology, and always thinking about delivering the best experience for our users.

There is often a need to satisfy multiple people, forums and boards that you’re going about things the right way. This is particularly apparent when working across organisational boundaries — between, say, professional disciplines such as policy and digital, or across different departments. We see the greatest barriers occur when timings, processes and priorities aren’t aligned.

And all of these stakeholders have slightly different viewpoints, interests or concerns. Having to engage with people, explain and satisfy these needs, often on separate occasions, takes time. Which can detract from the team’s delivery. It heightens the perception that ‘governance slows down delivery’.

In the worst cases, it encourages disengagement from the governance and assurance that should be there to help.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Our friends Cate and Henry at Hackney Council have already started solving some these problems, by streamlining their processes and being open about ‘governance so good, people prefer to use it’:

And there’s some great pointers to good governance practice in Richard McLean’s post:

User research recently conducted in the Department for Education (shout out to Mark Dalgarno and the harmony team) proposed a series of recommendations around co-designing processes to improve overall governance.

As part of the One Team Gov #BureaucracyHack day planned for 3 July 2019, we want to build on all this good work and test our hypothesis. We plan to focus in on technical and data governance, where our users are telling us they experience the most pain – duplication of effort, lack of technology direction and inconsistent use of common data models, for example. We’ll facilitate a hack around these sorts of questions:

  • What is our understanding of the different types of governance (e.g. technical, data, information security) and why we need it?
  • What are the common pain points in these processes?
  • Are there particular behaviours that lead to disengagement with technical governance?
  • What are the technical standards and legislation that we must adhere to?
  • What’s the impact of governance on risk appetite within delivery teams?
  • Does technical governance limit our empowerment?

We think our hypothesis passes our five tests for a good, hack-able problem:

  1. Could be solved (or prototyped) in roughly a day (if we break it down and prioritise) – day-sized ✔️
  2. Can be easily grasped without too much domain knowledge – approachable ✔️
  3. Leads to a real difference – makes time for public servants to create more value – tangible ✔️
  4. Is a problem we can actually do something about – actionable ✔️
  5. Happens in lots of different places in the public sector – structural ✔️

We’ll ask people to bring with them examples of good / bad governance processes, so we can develop user stories for improvements that we can prioritise and hack on the day. We’ll need to make sure users, practitioners and stakeholders of technical and data governance are present, so we can prototype and test as we go. We’ll aim to have some meaningful and usable outputs by the end of the day, but we might need to continue working on the problem beyond that.

Ok, what do I need to do?

Hold 3 Jul 2019 in your diary. We’ll be at the Tomlinson Centre in Hackney, London. Sign-up details will be available soon.

And please share your thoughts on this topic (in the comments 👇 or on twitter: @lukeslowen and @prateekbuch), to help us shape the agenda for the hack day. Don’t forget to tag with #bureaucracyhack and #HackTheSystem.

You can also read about some of the other themes we’re exploring here:

Hope to see you at the hack day. Thanks for reading!

(PS. This is my first proper Medium post – let me know what you think? Be gentle!)


UK policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and others working out how we can make government more effective. #oneteamgov

Thanks to Prateek Buch and Sam Villis

Luke Slowen

Written by

Tech, strategy, architecture @educationgovuk, music, bass, motorsport & comedy. Introvert. All views my own.


UK policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and others working out how we can make government more effective. #oneteamgov

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