GEOPOLITICS: UK – Digital government during the coronavirus crisis
By Institute of Government
www.GEOPoliticalMatters.comWith the coronavirus crisis accelerating the digital transformation of public service delivery and government use of data, the government must learn quickly from what has, and has not, worked if it is to effectively serve citizens during and beyond the pandemic.
This report also warns that the opportunities offered by better use of data and technology could be squandered unless the government is more open about how it uses and shares people’s data.
Decades of investment in expertise, digital tools and practices across government have helped civil servants to create new services and adapt existing ones. In addition, clear political direction, and partnerships with external suppliers, allowed HMRC to quickly build three new services to support furloughed workers and the self-employed, and also helped the DWP to ensure Universal Credit could cope with unprecedented demand. The civil service also adapted rapidly to remote working.
However, failures in the roll-out of the government’s contact tracing app, and the use of its A-level algorithm, show how excessive enthusiasm for new technology can cause more problems than it solves if ministers don’t think through how new systems will operate. The pandemic has also confirmed that Verify, the government’s favoured system to verify citizens’ identities, is not the long-term solution to digital identity in government.
To ensure it builds on the successes and learns from the failures of the first phase of the pandemic, the report recommends that the government:
- Clarify the roles and responsibilities of the chief digital officer, chief data officer and new chief executive of the Government Digital Service – all positions it is currently recruiting or about to recruit
- Ensure data expertise and capability is shared across government and not in isolated pockets such as the Downing Street data science unit
- Clarify its plans for digital identity
- Be more open about use of citizens’ data and engage the public on plans for sharing data
Understand where technology can support its aims, rather than starting with the technology itself
About the Institute for Government
The Institute for Government is the leading think tank working to make government more effective.
We provide rigorous research and analysis, topical commentary and public events to explore the key challenges facing government. We offer a space for discussion and fresh thinking to help senior politicians and civil servants think differently and bring about change.The Institute is a registered charity in England and Wales (No.1123926) with cross-party governance. Our main funder is the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts.
The charitable objectives of the Institute are:
- The advancement of education in the art and science of government in the UK for the benefit of the public and on a non-party political basis;
- The promotion of efficient public administration of government and public service in the UK by providing programmes of education, training, research and study for the public benefit and on a non-party political basis.
Practical research and learning
Central to our approach is the integration of our research and learning programmes. Our research focuses on the big governance challenges of the day and on finding new ways to help government improve, rethink and sometimes see things differently.Our inspirational learning and development programme provides a range of opportunities to help ministers, senior civil servants and their teams to govern and lead more effectively.
To help ministers, special advisers and top officials to develop further the skills and behaviours required to govern effectively, and to help opposition parties to become better prepared for political transitions and government. See our Professional development page for more details.
Our events support our research and learning programmes and provide platforms for leading international experts to exchange ideas and share new thinking on effective government.
We provide practical advice from people with in-depth experience of working inside government to support senior decision makers to improve performance.
The Institute was awarded Think Tank of the Year at Prospect’s 2019 Think Tank Awards.
We were winner of the best UK economic think tank award at Prospect’s 2018 Think Tank Awards. More about the Institute for Government