This post first appeared on Criterion Conferences blog:

What if public services were available and delivered where and when you needed them? What if some longstanding and complex public policy problems were able to be reduced or even solved? What if far fewer people ‘fell through the cracks’ between health, education, welfare, and justice public services? What if public services could be customised to your individual needs?

While these questions are not necessarily new, what is new is that the digital economy provides new tools and methodologies that offer new answers to old questions. And to new and relevant questions like ‘what if communities were able to design and deliver their own services’.

The tools of the digital economy start with people, rather than technology, so services can be designed around user needs and underlying problems. The tools include:

  • methodologies for deep understanding of and insight into users, including design thinking and co-design
  • ways of working based on testing and learning, the idea being to lower risk by progressively testing potential solutions so it’s possible to change direction (or stop) before much time and money is spent
  • technology which is radically faster and cheaper to deploy (for a very basic example – I can and have launched a website in an afternoon with no coding experience)
  • new digital business models including crowdsourcing and platforms

Because the key to success is starting with citizens – understanding the real problem we are trying to solve and what else is happening in the citizen’s life around the service or problem – collaborating across agency boundaries is critical. Government agencies have long understood the answer to many issues crossing agency boundaries – think about a youth offender or a mentally ill elderly person in public housing to name just two of dozens of potential examples.

By the way, it’s also important we build a community of people across Australia and even globally who are working in this area. Digital government is very new, there are no natively digital governments and globally digital government is still in the early stages, although we can see some signposts of how to approach the opportunity.

The key question is ‘how’ – how do we get started, and then how do we scale our efforts? The NSW government has already begun to innovate public services – both within agencies, and on a cross agency basis. This will be supported by an Innovation Policy, including digital government, recently announced by the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, the Hon Victor Dominiello MP, which is currently in development.

It’s an exciting time to be in the public service, we have real opportunities to deliver positive change for the citizens and states.