Tom Cochran, not to be confused with Tom Cochrane the singer, wrote an article on May 10th, that talked about “Digital Transformation for Public Sector: Galvanize to Revolutionize“. Tom currently works for Acquia which “provides the leading cloud platform for building, delivering, and optimizing digital experiences“, but he used to be the Deputy Coordinator for Platforms (Deputy Assistant Secretary) for the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Information Program. He also used to be the Director of Digital Platforms for the Executive Office of the President under Obama. So he’s got some experience working with the government.
One of the things he talked about was govCMS, an effort by the Department of Finance for the Australian government to standardize on a single platform for the Content Management needs of the Australian government. It seems to be a well respected platform that is being adopted by Australian government agencies but, and here is the key point, it is not mandated by the government.
It is important to note that it is not mandated that any Australian Government Department or Agency must use the govCMS platform. In fact, the team driving the project at the Department of Finance has declined two attempts at mandating it because they want people to want to use it, not to have to use it.
That is a key thing to remember, “… they want people to want to use it, not to have to use it“. And that is how you build a brand, that is how you build followers, and that is how you gain respect. You don’t force people to use it, you build a product, a service, that is so good people want to use it. Granted, within government you do need to mandate some things, but major initiatives? Sometimes you need to let those things grow organically.
When asked how to “innovate more, and better” the response was a list of bullet points:
- Innovation requires risk and failure
- Focus on a minimum viable team
- Focus on a minimum viable product
- Communicate and collaborate
- Address culture problems
- Let technology enable
- Take action
- Provide guidance
- Empower decision makers
- Experiment and try things
A couple of those bullet points are normally problematic in our environment: culture and guidance.
Our culture is guided by our risk aversion, guided by people who are too concerned about their pension plan to make waves, guided by an intense desire to “stay under the radar”. You don’t want to be the tall blade of grass that gets lopped off when the lawnmower comes by. There are pockets where things are different, but by and large, the government is behaving as it has always done with little desire for meaningful change.
Guidance is the other area that struck me as being relevant. Tom’s comments were that “Governance is about guidance and support not control. There should be enough governance to make sure people don’t stray too far off the field.” Our culture makes us want to take control, but that is precisely what we shouldn’t do. Guide people to the right decision, don’t force them. This goes back to the Department of Finance for the Australian government declining the attempt to mandate usage of govCMS. The team understands that they will get better results if people come to them willingly. They are providing guidance and support.
And that is what the UK Government Digital Services and U.S. Digital Services provide to their respective governments and what Ontario has done with their Chief Digital Officer role that they staffed in March. These groups guide the other departments and ministries, they assist with new projects and initiatives, they act as a mentor. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.