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Report advocates digital ‘Lego blocks’ for public services

28/03/18

Green paper and manifesto claim new approach to building services could produce annual savings of £46 billion

Government should look to develop a “Lego block” approach to building public services, adopting a set of standard “plug and play” parts that reflect those used by internet business giants such as Amazon and Netflix, according to a new green paper on the future of services.

Lego blocksIt has been produced by a group of academic and former Government advisers, including Jerry Fishenden, Mark Thompson and Will Venters

They describe the report, Better Public Services, along with an accompanying manifesto, as a call for the biggest modernisation of public services since the Beveridge Report of the 1940s.

It claims that the overall approach could provide savings of up to £46 billion a year that could be redirected into frontline services.

One of the key features is the Lego block approach, through which public authorities would make use of a “digital commons” of shared common components before building any bespoke products.

These would be based not on elements of digital technology but common processes in public services, such as licensing, booking, registration, payments and case management, which could be configured rather than designed from scratch to meet specific needs.

They would be commissioned primarily by people in charge of services rather than central government and made available on GOV.UK – connected to the Digital Marketplace – on which they would be accessible to not just public officials but citizens and businesses to encourage innovation.

Dynamic market

“Over time it should become a living open architecture for government, as well as a marketplace for procuring services that responds dynamically to government behaviour,” the report says.

The blocks could also be used in developing a service pattern for licensing applications.

It says this approach should develop through an evolution rather than a big bang and advocates it should start with a small pioneer group to see what works, what problems arise and what value it produces. It can then be tested, iterated and improved in the open.

It would also need a cross-party agreement on a Public Value Index to assess the progress. The report likens this to the analysis of economic data by the Office of National Statistics.

Manifesto co-author Jerry Fishenden said: “We need to radically rethink our ideas about public value and where the public sector can best focus its resources.

“The existing large scale local reinvention of administrative and management functions, processes and systems creates little or no value for frontline workers or citizens. It takes precious resource from the frontline, preventing services from joining up properly to deliver better outcomes for citizens and public sector workers alike.

“Our taxes provide the essential basis for investment, but the return on our collective investment as a nation, in terms of better public services and outcomes, is frustratingly opaque.”

Internet plumbing

Co-author Dr Mark Thompson, senior lecturer at Cambridge Judge Business School, added: “Our government and political class need to respond much more effectively than they have done so far to the opportunity presented by the open culture, standards and shared plumbing of the internet.

“This is a fantastic chance to modernise the way our public sector works, directing significant resource away from massively duplicated administrative and managerial functions and back into frontline services.”

Image from report, CC BY 4.0

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