Data is the catalyst for the digital public services of tomorrow

2nd July 2021

Steve Thorn, Executive Director, Civica on how data is the lynchpin of great public services

Digital technologies have completely transformed the relationship between citizens and the private sector. From one-click deliveries to virtual reality house viewings, our experience and our expectations as customers would be unrecognisable to any previous generation. Private sector services are becoming faster, more personalised and better able to anticipate our needs as citizens - before we even know we have them.

Digital transformation isn’t, of course, confined to the private sector. Government has made great strides to exploit the transformative potential of digital technologies to deliver better services for citizens and communities. The COVID19 pandemic saw a rapid and unprecedented acceleration here. From home-schooling to virtual GP appointments, digital technologies allowed life to carry on with some semblance of normality during one of the greatest crises we’ve ever faced.

Transforming the relationship between citizen and government

As we emerge from the pandemic and look towards the future, Government’s vision is clear: the future of public services is digital. Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez, in a recent speech, spelled out government’s ambition to radically transform the relationship between government and people. To improve people’s experience of government and, through this, change people’s lives. This is a bold ambition but eminently achievable.

While public recognition of the government’s exploitation of technology is strong, there is still a way to go for our public services to become truly digital.

In our recent report with techUK, we showed how the COVID pandemic has led to an increased use of digital public services. It found that 44% of citizens believe public services make good use of digital technology to enhance their lives. Almost 20% of surveyed citizens have a more positive view of public service delivery since the onset of the pandemic, with21% using digital public services more.

Data is the lynchpin

True digital transformation can only be achieved with robust, reliable and accessible data. The good news is that Government departments and agencies already have a wealth of data at their disposal. How this data is collected, managed and processed is, however, key. A common data model for government with core data standards, reference data and policies will help enable easier, more ethical sharing of data, as well establishing a more joined up and interoperable data infrastructure across government. Advanced algorithm design, smarter data analytics and increased AI adoption will further unlock the value of this data, supporting decision making by governments to improve public services for citizens.

Winning the trust and confidence of citizens

As citizens, we are becoming ever more conscious of both the power and the risks associated with data. We’ve all marvelled at the pace and scale of the data-driven UK COVID vaccination programme with millions of people vaccinated in just a few short months. We’ve also, however had numerous examples of what happens when sensitive data such as credit card details is mislaid or abused.

Public trust, therefore, is crucial to government’s ambition to deliver world class digital public services. Involving citizens more closely in how their data is collected and used is vital in this regard. Civica recently worked with the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to develop a next-generation digital platform that empowers patients to take control of their own health and wellbeing. Using citizen data in a more joined up, transparent way can lead to better connected and smart services.

The digital public services of the future will be data driven, smarter and more personalised. But that future need not be far away. How far away that future is, will all depend on how well we exploit the transformative power of data.