United Kingdom

UK will pilot AI government procurement guidelines co-designed with World Economic Forum

Photo: World Economic Forum
Photo: World Economic Forum

The United Kingdom Government announced it will pilot newly-developed artificial intelligence procurement guidelines it co-designed with the World Economic Forum.

From the announcement:

Governments want to acquire AI solutions to streamline processes and provide insights into key sectors such as transportation, healthcare and public services. However, officials often lack experience in acquiring such solutions and many public institutions are cautious about harnessing this rapidly developing technology at a time when we are only beginning to understand the risks as well as the opportunities.

Growing public concerns around bias, privacy, accountability and transparency of the technology has added an extra layer of complexity to a potential roll out on a national level. The AI Procurement Guidelines for Governments have been designed help officials keep up with this rapidly developing technology and mitigate the risks.

The guidelines were co-designed by the World Economic Forum’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team and fellows embedded from UK Government’s Office of AI, Deloitte, Salesforce and Splunk. Members of government, academia, civil society and the private sector were consulted throughout a ten-month development process, which incorporated workshops and interviews with government procurement officials and private sector procurement professionals.

The report provides the requirements a government official should address before acquiring and deploying AI solutions and services. It also provides the questions that companies should answer about their AI development and how the data is used and processed. The guidelines also include explanatory text elaborating on how to implement, key questions to ask and case studies.

More: UK Government First to Pilot AI Procurement Guidelines Co-Designed with World Economic Forum

Government open innovation labs

Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)
Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)

I’m a big proponent of the open labs concept in government, because it creates space for a more inclusive approach to innovation beyond just a position or department.

The United Kingdom and Argentina governments are working on what they call the Policy Innovation Exchange that creates the potential for a much-needed, broad-scale government-to-government open collaboration organization that addresses common issues each — and others — have.

Ultimately, what this can enable is better sharing of policies, technologies and culture exchanges, helping innovation to holistically be free beyond localized innovation bubbles.

Government labs around the world are finding ways to improve the decisions that public officials take. We are generating evidence that enables co-creation of public policies, we have an interdisciplinary perspective of problems and we prototype before implementing in order to reduce risk.

But we need to remember that our efforts are part of something bigger. Labs are changing the paradigm of thinking, designing and implementing public policies.

Perhaps it is time to move from labs learning from each other, to labs working together and executing projects jointly?

Read more about this collaboration in English or Spanish.

Digital government transformation at scale

The strategy is delivery

While several books have contributed to the knowledge share of the digital government narrative, few have effectively addressed transformation holistically from firsthand experience, and Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery does just this.

Written by former United Kingdom Government Digital Service founders and leaders, Digital Transformation at Scale provides insights into the steps to take to create a functional, sustainable, accountable, scalable organization that is a conduit for government change. The granularity of advice, such as what to do first — first team, first 100 days, first projects — to sharing the work to ensuring failing projects are stopped to promoting savings are extremely insightful and practical.

As the authors note, digital is more than just technology:

“Digital transformation is not all about technology; it is about changing the way you work. … [It’s] about building a new type of organisation around internet-era principles, not adding technical complexity to try and fix analogue organisations. It means changing how an organisation runs itself in the background at least as much as changing what its users actually see.

“The biggest change is how you deliver. Working in empowered, multidisciplinary teams. Starting with the needs of users. Publishing your work in the open. Iteratively improving what you do. Testing new services with real people. Using tools of the open internet over expensive proprietary options. Writing clearly for a wide audience. Showing prototypes and working code as a substitute for papers and meetings. Building trust between people in your organisation, and those who it works with. Designing with data. Doing the hard work to make things simple.”

GDS had all of the ingredients for success, including a mandate and full empowerment borne from a 2010 government report, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution, particularly:

  • “Absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments”
  • “CEO for Digital” with “absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APls) and the power to direct all government online spending”

Key takeaways:

  • Start small
  • Establish political cover
  • Appoint a chief digital officer
  • Prioritize culture (agile, open, flat, together, driven)
  • “No innovation until things work.”
  • Operate under the radar (initially)
  • Establish principles principles, standards, strategy and a manual
  • Focus on shipping early versions of products that meet user needs
  • Socialize work early and often
  • Exact spending controls
  • Have a dedicated team with authority to stop bad projects
  • Show fiscal impact with performance dashboards and efficiency reports
  • Think ‘platform’

In 2013, GDS had 200 employees. Today, there are more than 850 managing delivery, guidance, marketplace and multiple platforms and products. It has inspired much of the digital government organization landscape, and Digital Transformation at Scale is the playbook for anyone — from elected officials to government administrators — sincerely interested in reforming how government serves the people.

Digital Transformation at Scale

Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery
Andrew Greenway, Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore
232 pages
London Publishing Partnership (8 May 2018)

Building an internal digital government champions network

Jenny Cearns from GOV.UK’s Department of Health has a great post on cultivating a community of digital champions within government that mirrors what I know some chief data officers are doing around creating an internal network of data coordinators.

Both programs are aimed at creating community, efficient communications and collaboration and establishing an ongoing, modern-day education program that can serve as a solid foundation for digital awareness and momentum.

From Cearns:

“In a nutshell- the Champions help us and we help them. They’re our eyes and ears across the Department on how digitally savvy we are (or aren’t), and in the process, they get extra learning and development opportunities, whether that be a corporate objective, or a way of making their own working life smarter and more efficient.

“Ultimately being a Digital Champion is about having a ‘digital’ mindset, and by that, I mean being inquisitive and willing to try new things, whilst mindful of our work context and the security it demands. It’s about giving things a go, and thinking about how digital could benefit those we work with too.”

Developing a Digital Champions Network similar to what GOV.UK’s health department has allows for a central team to easily join forces with innovators across agencies or departments and exponentially infuse energy, awareness and action into innovation efforts such as digital and open data.

What’s great about this type of program is that it’s inclusive and scales potential for impact.

Full post: “How to be a Digital Champion

Doing/done: The beauty of GOV.UK’s ‘What we’re working on’ updates

GOV.UK’s occasional “What we’re working on” post is an excellent example of how government can share regular updates on recent accomplishments and what will be worked on next.

While GOV.UK doesn’t do it consistently, the simplicity (bullet points) of ‘What we’re working on’ gives clarity into its work, better insight into future developments and provides a sense of momentum (internally and externally) that government isn’t just a stale bureaucracy. Other ideas for inclusion on correspondence like this could be output data, such as number of forms processed, to show the breadth of impact.

I’d love to see other examples like this. If you have any, please feel free to send them to me at luke@govfresh.com.

GOV.UK updates digital service standards

GOV.UKThe GOV.UK team has updated established protocols that serve as the foundation for ensuring government digital teams provide high-quality citizen services.

Effective June 1, the refined Digital Service Standard pares down the number of points from 26 to 18 with a focus on user-centered design, open technologies, agile development practices and stronger emphasis on assisted digital support.

The standard is somewhat similar to the U.S. federal Digital Services Playbook and its 13 “plays” created to “help government build effective digital services.” The difference between the two being UK’s standard is a requisite, whereas the U.S. version is simply a guidance for best practices.

“A transactional service must meet each criteria to pass the Government Digital Service assessment,” GOV.UK states in the update. “If a service doesn’t pass it won’t appear on GOV.UK.”

Updated points:

  1. Understand user needs. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.
  2. Put a plan in place for ongoing user research and usability testing to continuously seek feedback from users to improve the service.
  3. Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with decision-making responsibility.
  4. Build the service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the manual.
  5. Build a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis and make sure that you have the capacity, resources and technical flexibility to do so.
  6. Evaluate what tools and systems will be used to build, host, operate and measure the service, and how to procure them.
  7. Evaluate what user data and information the digital service will be providing or storing, and address the security level, legal responsibilities, privacy issues and risks associated with the service (consulting with experts where appropriate).
  8. Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or provide a convincing explanation as to why this cannot be done for specific subsets of the source code).
  9. Use open standards and common government platforms where available.
  10. Be able to test the end-to-end service in an environment identical to that of the live version, including on all common browsers and devices, and using dummy accounts and a representative sample of users.
  11. Make a plan for the event of the digital service being taken temporarily offline.
  12. Create a service that is simple and intuitive enough that users succeed first time.
  13. Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK including using the design patterns and style guide.
  14. Encourage all users to use the digital service (with assisted digital support if required), alongside an appropriate plan to phase out non-digital channels/services.
  15. Use tools for analysis that collect performance data. Use this data to analyse the success of the service and to translate this into features and tasks for the next phase of development.
  16. Identify performance indicators for the service, including the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs) defined in the manual. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.
  17. Report performance data on the Performance Platform.
  18. Test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it.

How the UK is raising the open government bar and setting a new standard


I’ve been collecting links (below) from the UK’s Government Digital Service blog for a while wondering when they’ll stop executing their great “beta” work on GOV.UK, but they continue to outdo themselves.

As Simon Dickson writes, “Betagov not afraid of public commitment.” See also Alex Howard’s “With GOV.UK, British government redefines the online government platform.”

Many will appreciate UK ICT Futures Programme Director Liam Maxwell’s quote in the Guardian:

“For years we spent on IT systems built for bureaucrats, they were not built for people.”

Here, Maxwell outlines the role of IT in open and efficient government:


Government open source procurement toolkit helps dispel myths of OSS

The British government’s Cabinet Office has published an Open Source Procurement Toolkit as part of its ongoing information and communications strategy.

From the site:

The purpose of this toolkit is to ensure that there is a level playing field for open source and proprietary software and that some of the myths associated with open source are dispelled.


Government spending cuts: Who knows best?

The recently announced UK Government Spending Challenge, has this week, invited members of the public to send in their ideas on how to get value for public money.

The UK Spending Challenge was announced last month, but was initially only open to public servants. As Chancellor George Osbourne explained above, the response from public servants has been impressive. It has yielded over 60,000 ideas in just two weeks:

A couple of weeks ago, I asked people working in our public services for their ideas, and an amazing 56,000 people got in touch. It just shows how people respond when given a chance. We’re already putting into practice many of their ideas.

Now I’m asking the general public for their views. Tell us where’s the waste. What should we cut out. What can we improve. What’s working really well that we should be doing more of. You let us know. You can get in touch via the Spending Challenge website, or by going to the Democracy UK section of Facebook.

Your Government needs you. Please get in touch.

The 60,000 ideas will now be analysed by a central government team who will ensure the best ideas are taken forward as part of the Spending Review. The conclusions of the Spending Review will be published on 20 October 2010.

UK’s Spending Challenge versus US SAVE Award

The opening up of this Challenge to the public coincides with President Obama’s launch of the 2010 SAVE Award. The competition was announced on Thursday with the launch of a new Ideascale site where .gov workers can submit saving ideas and vote on other suggestions from Federal employees.

The site has already received 2,000 ideas, with the current most popular being an expansion of telecommuting, transportable security clearances and the donation of surplus government property to schools.

There’s quite an interesting contrast between the top ideas on the US SAVE Award site – which is currently restricted to Federal employees – and those available on the UK Spending Challenge website which is open to the public. There is however, noticeable similarities between the ideas submitted by UK Public servants and their US colleagues. For example, transferable security clearances are highlighted on the SAVE Award and were also suggested by public servants through the Spending Challenge site.

Some of the most commented upon public ideas, however, on the UK site relate to benefits, immigrants and membership of the European Union. These ideas relate to larger strategic policy areas, rather than the relatively nuanced ideas on improving government efficacy proposed on the SAVE Award site and by UK public servants.

One of the top public ideas on the Spending Challenge relates to the website itself and suggests it should itself be ‘shut down’ to save money. In this vein, it’s interesting to look at the government’s collaboration with Facebook and their involvement in the Spending Challenge.

Facebook: ‘public engagement for free’

On announcing the Facebook tie-up Prime Minster Cameron participated in a video chat with Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg. He said :

We are really excited about having Facebook involved in the Spending Challenge…

There’s enormous civic spirit in this country where people want to take control and do things in a different way. We are giving people an opportunity with Facebook and I am sure that they will take it.

He went on to echo some of the thoughts outlined by the idea that the Spending Challenge site itself should be ‘shut down’ to save money:

Normally if Government wants to engage with people we’d probably spend millions of pounds, even billions, on our own website, and with your help we’re basically getting this public engagement for free.

That’s quite a good start for saving money.

The Spending Challenge site is based on an Open Source theme and Delib’s Plone-based Dialogue App platform. While this emphasises the government’s reuse of Open source code, the site is not without its criticisms and failings.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes has described the collaboration as “the largest public engagement project ever launched by the British Government”. As part of this the social networking site will ask its 23 million members in the UK to submit and vote on ideas for where cuts can be made.

The Downing Street press release is vague on Facebook’s specific involvement, however, except to say:

The social networking site will support the Treasury’s Spending Challenge by providing a dedicated space for Facebook users to come up with ideas on how to make savings in public spending.

Along with this the government says Facebook will be its “primary channel” for communicating with the public about spending cuts. Interestingly, the reference to WikiLeaks on the Spending Challenge site (highlighted in a previous blog) is no longer active. The entire paragraph where it says it will “monitor a range of blogs, social networks, forums”, has been removed from the site suggesting perhaps that Facebook will be the only platform upon which the debate over spending cuts will be monitored.

The primary question regarding the tie-up with Facebook is whether it provides an appropriate platform for informed debate on government spending and how to improve its efficacy.

Facebook comments

Many commentators have pointed out that the tie-up with Facebook is rather nebulous and currently very limited. In a blog post on techPresident, Nancy Scola notes how their current involvement appears simply to be a link to a government website: “Somewhat confusing matters: Facebook’s involvement in the Treasury Spending Challenge seems limited to, at this point, linking from its Democracy UK page to, yes, a custom-made official British government website.”

Andrea Di Maio, a Gov 2.0 analyst at Gartner, suggests that adding a Facebook channel will not broaden the debate:

So at the end of the day Facebook will be no more than a channel to point to the Chancellor’s Spending Challenge site. Whoever believes that the sheer presence on Facebook will broaden and rebalance participation of UK citizens in this contest is wrong.

People who have an interest (and often a vested interest) in participating in the Spending Challenge will do so with or without the Facebook page.

The quality of the comments and debate on Facebook regarding the Spending Challenge launch does not instill confidence in its use as a debating platform. The Register notes the number of “bewildering” comments and “spam posts” the page has already received.

Reading through the 491 comments this has already received, highlights the difficultly the coalition will have in stimulating constructive debate on such sensitive issues as spending cuts.

Difference in Ideas

There is a clear and noticeable difference in the ideas on the SAVE Award site, in comparison to those on the Spending Challenge site.

The SAVE Award site is only open to Federal employees and consequently has a strong focus on operation efficiency within agencies. As Jeffrey Zients, OMB deputy director noted:

The basic premise here is that many of the best ideas exist on the front line. Those doing the work on the front lines have the best ideas on how to make changes.

George Osborne published a sample of ideas put forward by public sector workers in the first phase of consultation. These ideas represent many good suggestions for improving back-office services for public sector organisations. They include merging back-office services for public sector organisations, switching off office computers over the weekend and better mobile phone contracts (an idea President Obama highlights in his SAVE Award video and expected to save the Government $10m).

In opening up the idea platform to the public, however, the UK government has shifted the focus away from those ‘working on the front lines’ of government services. Thus, the ideas posted by the public have primarily focused on major public policy questions e.g. reform of the welfare state or immigration policy. These are not ideas for which governments will change course because of an online debate. Rather they represent principles upon which political parties are elected. There is a danger, therefore, that public involvement in the Spending Challenge will morph into a policy debate, rather than the operational efficiency debate for which I believe it was intended.

Generating great ideas in the Public Sector

As part of the doing what works program, the Center for American Progress (CAP) recently released a report called Capital Ideas: How to Generate Innovation in the Public Sector. It analysed 24 ways in which Governments and Organisations are generating great ideas in the Public Sector. These were arranged under five themes:

  1. Unleash the creative talents of government employees
  2. Setup dedicated teams responsible for promoting innovation
  3. Divert a small proportion of your budget to harnessing innovation
  4. Collaborate with outsiders to help solve problems
  5. Look at an issue from different perspectives to notice things your wouldn’t otherwise

The Spending Challenge was initially focused on unleashing the creative talents of government employees to suggest ideas to cut spending. However, its current focus on collaborating with outsiders risks diluting the initiative from producing concrete frontline ideas that could reasonably be implemented, to a policy discussion the outcome of which may-be too nebulous to result in any government action. This has the potential to increase public cynicism in such endeavors if no specific ideas are acted upon.

The essential difference between the Spending Challenge and the outside collaboration examples CAP highlights, is the absence of any specific problem for the public to solve. The challenge of how to ‘re-think government to deliver more for less’ is far too broad and can result in a paradox of choice with the effect that ideas representing the lowest common denominator rise to the top.

The Capital Ideas report highlighted Innocentive, DC’s Apps for Democracy, and Social Innovation Camp as successful examples of collaboration with outsiders. All these focused on specific challenges, for which an experienced minority could focus on.

The real opportunity to collaborate with outsiders and transform the way that the public sector does things, requires posing concrete problems requiring specific outcomes. These can be affected through either product or service innovation, but where possible should be substantiated by evidence-based reasoning. The worry is that opening up the Spending Challenge initiative to the public without reference to clear problems, degenerates it into an idea free-for-all with all the associated online comments we’ve come to expect from such initiatives.

For more check:

UK government launches Spending Challenge: ‘Help us get more for less’

UK Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a consultation exercise on ways to reduce government spending. Together with Nick Clegg he has written to public service workers asking them to share their ideas on where to make spending cuts.

A Spending Challenge website has been launched to solicit suggestions from Britain’s 6 million public sector workers. The challenge states that “Every single idea will be considered and the best ones taken forward by departments, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office”. Ideas will be analysed through a five step process:

  1. All ideas considered by cross-government team
  2. Serious ideas go to ‘champions’ team in Cabinet Office/Treasury
  3. Most promising ideas sent to departments and Treasury spending teams to be worked up
  4. Selected ideas reviewed by Ministers
  5. Spending Review announced October 20th

The rational for the challenge is laid out in Cameron’s letter:

The biggest challenge our country faces is dealing with our huge debts – and that means we have to reduce public spending.

Reducing public spending will require innovative and challenging ideas, best developed by those working on the frontline of public services:

We want you to help us find those savings, so we can cut public spending in a way that is fair and responsible. You work on the frontbench of public services. You know where things are working well, where the waste is, and where we can re-think things so that we get better services for less money.

[…] Don’t hold back. Be innovative, be radical, challenge the way things are done. Every serious idea will be considered: by government departments, by the Treasury, by our teams in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office – and passed to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to make sure we don’t miss anything.

While the website states the government “will look at every single idea that comes in”, however, there is no guarantee any of the suggestions will make it through to the final Spending Review report in October. This will set detailed spending plans, with budget cuts of up to 25% over four years for many government departments.

The Spending Challenge will be opened to the general public from 9 July. A summary of all submissions will be published later this year.

Partner with Wikileaks

The Spending Challenge site will also monitor social media as a means of fulfilling its mandate to find innovative ideas for saving money. This represents a recognition that some of the most “out of the box” suggestions may be outlined by on blogs and forums, rather than a newly created government website:

Although this process allows you to submit ideas anonymously, we respect the fact that some people will not want to contribute directly to a government website. As part of this exercise, we will monitor a range of blogs, social networks, forums and also http://wikileaks.org.

Save Award similarities

The UK Spending Challenge has many similarities to the Obama Administration’s SAVE (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Award. On launching last year’s competition President Obama called for “a process through which every government worker can submit their ideas for how their agency can save money and perform better.”

David Cameron’s recognition that public sector workers often have the best ideas was outlined by Jeffrey Zients, chief performance officer and deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget, when he said it was important to listen to the voices of those on the front lines:

In the government and in the private sector, it is often those in the front lines that have the best ideas and who know the most… We are looking for ideas that save money, improves the way the government operates by lowering costs, simplifying processes, streamlining processes, getting rid of unnecessary red tape and that has an impact on citizens’ lives. It could be a wide range of ideas.

The competition was seen as a success with over 38,000 ideas being submitted in the three weeks of the competition. Given this, the SAVE Award was turned into an annual event with President Obama issuing his own “spending challenge” to government workers:

I’ve issued a challenge to every man and woman who works for the federal government: If you see a way that government could do its job better, or do the same job for less money, I want to know about it

Saving through Open Source

The twitter reaction to the launch of the new site has been generally positive. The initiative is one of the latest examples of the coalition seeking to harnessing the collective ideas and experience of those working outside of central government.

As a nod to this the website itself is based on a WordPress theme developed by Simon Dickson for the recent Programme For Government site. Seeing the government use Open Source tools for the website, and reusing previous themes, demonstrates the spirit of the spending challenge.

The extension and reuse of such open source technology throughout government could help to bring down the cost of government websites. The axing of many government websites has already been proposed by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, but ideas from the public on reducing the costs of current sites e.g. through using free templates such as Govfresh’s Gov 2.0 theme, would be welcomed – especially when some current sites have a per visit cost of £11.78.

The winning idea from the US SAVE award is expected to save $2 million for 2011, and $14.5 million between 2010-2014. Any similar savings arising from the UK Spending Challenge should help establish the power of consultation with the public as a means of saving money and improving government efficiency.

Further reading