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ThinkPlace worked with the DTA on the future of digital government strategy

What we learned while working on the DTA's 'Vision 2025' blueprint

Australia’s 2025 Digital Transformation Strategy is about delivering a vision for all Australians to thrive in an age of data and technology. It’s the most ambitious digital strategy ever prepared for the Australian public sector.

The strategy, released recently, sets an imposing ambition: To be one of the top 3 digital governments in the world by 2025. That means setting a high bar for all Australians to get quality services and equitable access as agencies and service delivery organisations seek to make dealing with government more seamless across all areas of our lives.

In the days since the strategy was released there has been plenty of praise. But there have also been warnings that the future it envisions - one in which government agencies vastly increase the data they share with each other and the way it is integrated - will not be possible unless government organisations secure trust and social licence from the Australian people to operate in this way. That means overcoming nervousness about increased data sharing (among other things) but also making sure that no Australians are left behind in the race to a digital future.

I had the unique opportunity, as part of a ThinkPlace team, to run a number of community and internal consultations for the Digital Transformation Agency in the lead up to the strategy’s release, giving me a unique view into the areas where everyday Australians see both risk and opportunity.

Preparing and collectively designing futures where people and institutions can thrive is core to the work we do at ThinkPlace. Digital transformation in Australia truly has great power, but also great responsibility to ensure that the information of each Australian is used in accordance with community expectations and that the result makes accessing government services a better experience for all.

Here are the big lessons we learned from these sessions...

ThinkPlace worked with the DTA on the future of digital government strategy
Co-design and human-centred design will be crucial if the ambitions contained in the DTA's Vision 2025 strategy are to be successfully realised.

1.   The potential gain offered by digital transformation to improve connections between people and their communities is enormous. Imagine the ability to move effortlessly between different Government service providers without the need for awkward handovers or re-telling your story for the 7th time. When you turn 18 years old, instead of enrolling to vote, you could instead have eligible services generated on your behalf. Digital investment designed to create seamless experiences that fit with how our lives actually are lived work is going to benefit many people, particularly those most vulnerable in our communities.

2.   Digital can empower people. You don’t have to look too far into people’s lives to see the new ways communications and technologies have continued to distribute power and self-autonomy over our personal lives. With digital transformation in the public sphere, we can truly do more with the same or less resources. An over the counter Government transaction costs, on average, $17. Provided digitally, that same service can cost as little as 40 cents.

3.   Data being used intentionally for public good – having happier, healthier and high functioning societies is about far more than just creating cheaper, easier transactions online. We can literally save lives being able to see patterns and insights across population journeys whiere we currently lack the laws, technogy or capability to do now. Imagine being able to see public health intervention data, population demographics, disease burdens and community cohesion all at the same time: allowing polict makers to better realise individual and collective health goals.  


Human-centred design for digital

While all these upsides are possible and intentional, the true measure of success won’t be the time saved from having to visit a Medicare office or filling in child care rebate forms (although that will be welcomed). The true measure of success will be whether this transformation has a visible and beneficial impact on our society.

As a design practitioner, some important lessons I’ve learnt from talking to Australians about this strategy include:

  1. It will be important to empower the community and businesses through genuine co-design and not just consultation about planned changes. This will allow agencies to genuine learn how best to serve people. Being open to learning will go a long way towards ensuring success.

  2. Great ideas and policies can fail. Well-meaning policies can fail when there is no buy-in from the community and people whose jobs and organisations are affected do not feel they have taken part in the change. Government will need to win the social license of Australians in all parts of our community to gain the remit and social permission needed for many of the signature initiatives.

  3. Inclusive design needs to be thought of from the start. The breadth of diverse needs (abilities, language, literacy, access) in the digital world is paramount to designing inclusive digital services. Access, equity and accessibility cannot be bolted on as an afterthought if we are to create a digital future without creating a digital divide between haves and have-nots.

  4. At ThinkPlace, we often talk about the 4 voices of design in our work. These are: Voice of intent (who will set the intent of change), of experience (who will use or navigate this system), of expertise (who has the technical know-how) and of design (who can broker and facilitate change). This dialectic approach – getting all of the right people in the room and running the right process -- will create a win-win mindset and gain broader buy-in. Remember, experts are not just the technocrats of policy and technology but also the social sciences and ethicists.

Australian governments process about 800 million transactions a year. When you think about it, the potential to make positive impact on the lives of Australians by making these transactions easier to carry out will be enormous.

But as Minister Michael Keenan observed when launching the strategy: “Digital identity is not just a whole-of-government effort but a whole-of-economy solution.”

That means succeeding with these important and ambitious goals will require new levels of cooperation and collaboration between different levels of government, between different government agencies and between government and business, government and citizens.

“Genuine engagement across all sectors is essential to build a framework that provides rigorous standards for ensuring the security, accessibility, privacy and trust of the identity system,” Minister Keenan observed.

As long-time practitioners of co-design within government, and having experienced the process of testing this important strategy with members of the public and other vital stakeholders, I am certain that the design-led, human-centred approach we take to leading digital transformations at ThinkPlace will be the only way to ensure Australia’s marches confidently and securely towards a future as a global digital leader.

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