Why does everything take so long in the public sector? If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this, I would probably never have to work again. This is one of many questions I have been asked throughout my career in Local Government, both as a Senior Manager and then as a consultant.
In this blog I want to try and dispel, what I think are three major myths society feels about the public sector today in 2022.
Myth 1: The Public Sector is bureaucratic
This is possibly the most common myth and the one resold to me all the time. But the private sector can be bureaucratic too. An example: Alphabet, one of the biggest technology companies in the world (and you would think most agile), can certainly send you through the hoops if you’re applying for a role.
The reason the myth is there is because there does need to be a mechanism of checks and balances; we are not dealing with profit vs loss. Each decision made costs money, and the money is not actually ‘owned’ by the public body. It is our money, and therefore, some level of scrutiny is required. Whilst bureaucracy is often perceived as burdensome and inconvenient, it is usually there to protect us. Think of airport security checks – we all hate them but accept they are necessary.
The public sector is certainly becoming more effective and efficient in its processes and its deployment of digital technology. The Government Digital Service (GDS) is redesigning the citizen experience in a way Steve Jobs would be proud of. This ensures that when the checks and balances are made, they are made efficiently, often now ‘behind the scenes’ using Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning in a form, when a human may have had to make that check in the past.
Hand of Man Search files document in a file cabinet in work office, concept business office life.
Myth 2: The Public Sector is not innovative enough to deal with the issues faced in society today
The sector is perceived as not only bureaucratic, but also not sufficiently innovative to deal with the demands of 2022 and beyond. You only need to look at the news to see issues the government is currently having delivering passports to citizens. Also, MP’s, still need to queue up to have questions delivered in Parliament (surely there are better things they should be doing?). Mechanisms are in place though and, I’d argue, the sector is better equipped to avail of digital opportunities than many companies.
On 13 June 2022, a Digital Strategy for the UK Government was announced. In March of this year, the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession (part of the Civil Service) released ‘The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook’. Both are key initiatives and demonstrate the ambition of the sector to meet the needs of a society that has changed; one that expects to be able to do anything from a smartphone!
The UK is not Estonia (the blueprint, in my view, and, according to ‘The New York Times’; “The role model for governments should be Estonia, a country where almost every bureaucratic task can be done online”) in being ‘totally Digital’ but I believe the ambition is there for us to achieve this, where joined-up working becomes the norm.
It’s worth mentioning that Digital capabilities aren’t ever the complete solution by themselves. There’s no substitute for studying your organisation to understand actual demand – so that services can be designed to address this effectively. The good news is that the data collected by Digital solutions can actually assist in gaining this thorough understanding.
Myth 3: The Public Sector is always wasting money
Local Government, Central Government and the rest of the Sector are often accused of wasting money, whether it be initiatives for new consultations or £300,000 spent over the last three years on Civil Service Social Clubs.
Agreed, there are some things that make you raise your eyebrow and say, “not again”. But I think we should not lose sight of the successes. Whether via Central/Local Government we see initiatives that enrich our lives and our communities e.g. In London, the GLA (Greater London Assembly), in association with Public Health England and London Councils, has launched a ‘School Superzones’ initiative, which aims to help improve the health and wellbeing of children. Enterprises such as these are seen all over the country.
You can argue, quite rightly sometimes, our money isn’t always spent correctly but, when you do, please always try to see what good is being done too – there’s much more of the latter.
As you can see, the public sector is moving in the right direction but there is more work to do. Processes and innovation continually develop, as do technology and skilled professionals. But, as noted, there always need to be checks and balances and these also need to be under continuous review to ensure that they remain relevant and fit for purpose. Although not seeking profit, the public sector is fundamentally about improving our lives and communities and it needs to harness contemporary Digital capabilities to achieve this in leaner more accessible ways.
I would argue, that the public sector is the “cool space” to be in now, with more skilled, cutting-edge professionals joining the ranks, contributing to the “greater good”. The sector is no longer just seen as a place where you start your career and then retire after several decades (although that can be still the case – which isn’t a negative!), but one that can offer genuine career fulfilment where you can achieve your professional aims. Check it out – you might be surprised at the sheer wealth and variety of opportunities available.
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As you can see, the public sector is an exciting, vibrant environment, where many digital initiatives have been undertaken and are planned for the future.
If you are a leader in the public sector and want to unlock your team’s potential and digital value in your organisation, get in touch.