How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
I’m a partner at Public Digital, a consultancy set up by the founders of the UK’s Government Digital Service. We help large organisations and governments around the world understand and implement digital transformation.
Very often, the teams I work with know they need to change the way they work, but they don’t know how to get there. We’ve been in their shoes before, and we know what works. So we help them start their transformation and keep going. That could be by building leadership commitment and understanding of what it means for the business, or by hiring the right person or team to deliver. Often it means starting by delivering something small, in a new way. Technology is a part of that, but the right team comes first.
What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I’ve loved working with the Gob.pe team in Peru, who have made amazing progress in the last year. After building a beta of what is now the Peruvian government’s single domain, they’ve gone on to redesign 20 government websites and migrate them to gob.pe. They’ve also set up a platform to publish government contracts online, and lots more.
They are a small team with an incredibly positive attitude, and exemplify that approach of just getting started, and building a movement from there.
In a very similar way to younger companies in the private sector, we’ve found that countries with less legacy infrastructure like Peru have an amazing opportunity to accelerate fast and leapfrog the rest of us. Estonia, which is always cited as the most exciting digital government, used this advantage well after restoring independence in 1991. I’d love to work with the next Estonia, or maybe I already have!
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?
A theme from the last few years: fix the basics. If the CEO is talking about blockchain, but at the front line employees are faxing documents around, something has gone a bit wrong. Earlier this year, before I moved back to the UK, I was working in the product team for a brilliant New Zealand software company called Xero. Xero gets a lot of things right, but something I really appreciated is that it was so easy to collaborate: not only with the people right next to me, but with teams around the world. That’s because they invested time and money into using (secure) internet era tools and platforms. And that means we could focus on the work: building great services for our users. I think there’s a lot others can learn from that, particularly in the public sector.
“Fix the basics. If the CEO is talking about blockchain, but at the front line employees are faxing documents around, something has gone a bit wrong.”
What interests you for 2019?
Through my work in the UK and New Zealand Governments, and now Public Digital, I’ve become part of an amazing international government community that share ideas, experience, code…and sometimes even a little healthy competition. While benchmarks like the UN e-Government survey give an indication of trends and who to look to for best practice, it’s still very hard to really know where the great digital public services are, and to actually see them. So this year I’m interested in bringing more light to this, and finding great services in unexpected places.
What is one quality that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?
I’m driven by a strong sense of mission and values. I’m at my best when I can see that what I’m working on is contributing to a bigger cause than myself. That has helped give me resilience through difficult moments in my career: I remind myself what really matters, refocus, and move on.
Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?
Podcasts power me through the day. Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time on long haul flights, or commuting, and podcasts power me through. I always listen to Reply All straightaway. It’s a podcast about the Internet, and it’s compelling, funny, and human.
My favourite episode from this year was The Crime Machine, which takes a deep look into why a computer system in New York designed to reduce crime has become part of a broken system with all the wrong incentives.
Emma curates a newsletter for Public Digital about internet era ways of working in the public and private sector.