Social Digital Government: Driving Transformation through Systemic Fusion of Government and the Third Sector

Better integrating services from the Third Sector will provide real solutions for greatly improving healthcare and tackling previously intractable, deep social needs like poverty and homelessness.

A milestone evolution for the trend of Digital Government will be an expansion of it’s scope, growing beyond simple transaction automation to a holistically transformational framework for “Social Digital Government”.

As the title suggests by better integrating services from the Third Sector this will provide real solutions for greatly improving healthcare and tackling previously intractable, deep social needs like poverty and homelessness.

This corresponds directly with the news the UK Government aims to build digital in civil society: It has emphasized their role as part of a broad Civil Society Strategy, acknowledging that in some instances organisations such as charities, social enterprises or commercial companies will be better placed than government to provide solutions to social issues.

Mastering how these are blended into a single service delivery platform is the essence of Social Digital Government.

From Transactions to Social Networks of Care

The social part has a double meaning. There is the social dimension of the policy agenda and then also the fact this will be best achieved through the ‘socialization’ of technology.

In the same way many enterprise applications adopted social media features into their functionality, so government workflow applications can do the same, achieving another essential principle of Open Government design, literally opening up processes to be an accessible, online collaborative community rather than locking them within a single application and behind a corporate firewall.

Typically Open Government has always had a technical bias, focusing on the mechanics such as open data or open source software, but it is this modernization of the most core building block of enterprise systems, each individual process unit, that will yield the transformation that brings real impact to the citizens they are intended to serve.

Since the very first mainframe the mental model of IT system design and the BPM it enables has been hard-coded into a mode of always codifying interactions as an entry in a structured database, thus forcing each interaction to be defined through a form-filling exercise that reduces the human experience to a narrow one dimensional transaction. Current Digital Government practices simply digitize that same effect.

In contrast social networks have become so popular because they express the rich content that defines real people, and so applying the principle to process management better ‘humanizes’ the enterprise architecture. Whether it be welfare support or hospital treatment, it is personal communities that provide the actual value of service delivery: Doctors, nurses, family and friends, and even peers – other patients undergoing the same treatment, is the best configuration of resources that achieves the best outcome.

Shifting from transactions to these ‘Social Networks of Care’ as the base unit of design is a win/win for both Public and Third Sector. Most if not all social organizations are too small to master IT effectively and struggle to implement technologies like customer and workflow management, and would be far more productive being an integrative part of this broader ecosystem; in turn governments will deliver better citizen outcomes when they can dynamically assemble the right team mix for each workflow case from across this diverse and skilled resource pool.

Integrated Practice Units

What’s especially powerful about this approach is that it’s mirrored and complimented by cutting edge management science defined by legendary guru Michael Porter, author of Competitive Advantage and other keystones of modern business thinking.

In his latest work the ‘Shared Value Initiative‘, he describes a framework intended to unite businesses, government and social organizations towards common goals that span across commercial and social needs. In his TED talk and this Harvard guide Michael explains that Shared Value represents the intersection between social and business needs, and when addressed together maximizes the success of both.

The central building block of this approach is what he calls ‘Integrated Practice Units‘, a formal, organizational version of Social Networks of Care. Again the goal is to unite multiple resources from across many disciplines and organizations to achieve the best pattern of experts and resources that achieves the best outcome.

Achieving the best outcome for citizens at the lowest cost is the essence of the Value Initiative. This may sound obvious however the primary flaw of government is that it is intensely ‘siloed’, rigidly departmental in a way that causes the lack of ‘joined up working’ that results in many people ‘slipping through the cracks’. These inefficiencies inevitably push up costs, resulting in poorer service outcomes for higher costs.

In his Harvard article Strategies for Fixing Healthcare, Michael describes the practices applied to Healthcare, how it’s an approach of’ integrative policy making’, a whole systems approach that identifies interconnecting impacts and causes, and addresses them at a whole system level. He explains that the traditional departmental or single policy goal approach only constitute “local optimizations”, ie they might improve the patient throughput for one section not the total journey.

Like the public sector whole, Porter highlights that most healthcare delivery is typically organized departmentally, with costs and resources tied to departmental units and decisions made via it’s management hierarchy, causing these local optimizations. Michael describes situations where management programs may be designed in a piecemeal fashion, such as emphasizing one goal that is too narrow, such as ‘Increasing Access to Care’ or just cost-cutting without appreciation of the impact upon the ability to achieve the desired goals. Without a holistic design perspective these can be interpreted in such a way as to be counter-productive to the overall system goals, and so the Value Agenda provides a means for regulating this aspect and instead building all activities around a core goal of patient, citizen or customer-centric measures for management.

Socio-Economic Duty

These challenges and the science are not restricted to Healthcare and can be applied to any large, complex enterprise scenario including all the Public Sector, and in Scotland recent policy initiatives provide the ideal context for its application. As Holyrood Magazine reports the ‘Socio-Economic Duty’ obliges government to achieve better social outcomes as a consequence of their procurement but often this can end up as a additional exercise, ‘tacking on’ a token project simply to tick that particular box.

Instead Social Digital Government directly embeds the ability to meet this need into the very DNA and core operating model of the machine of government itself, inherently achieving compliance with this legislation simply as a natural function of their day to day activities, enabling progressive governments like the SNP to harness technology to deliver on their vision for a socially transformed Digital Scotland.

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