PASC 10: Politics must lead technology

The tenth of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

10. How well does Government take advantage of new technological developments and external expertise?

Local government is unlikely to much capacity for developments or purchasing external expertise. Government is too abstract a concept here. People identify opportunities where services might be improved by the use of technology.

Very rarely does technology inspire the development of new or improved services. Most technology experts respond to the commands of service and business managers. They often do not have the big picture that takes in all the process and governance constraints. Many are attracted to the technology itself, not the underlying objectives or desired outcomes, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles is sure to have trouble.”

So government should look at principles first. Adopting principles could become policy. Unless there is a policy to ring-fence innovation, standards development and skunk works, then it is difficult to analyse the potential value of new technology. It may be fundable in central government, but virtually impossible in local government.  Once again, this demonstrates the need for IT policy and leadership from the very top.

The final point is, who has the power take advantage of new technology? Very few, is the answer – and they are not the technologists.  Are People empowered? From a previous blog, Quarkside noted:

“Power seems to be a prime motivator for all our politicians and senior officials. That’s in both central and local government. There’s Power to develop policy, Power to spread ideas and Power to influence more Powerful people.”

Politics turns out to be the prime mover for taking advantage of new technological developments in the public sector, not the technology. Read Philip Virgo’s blog for more insight.  For example, unless there is political pressure for federated single sign-on across all departments, agencies and local authorities, it will not happen. The technology is already available.


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