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IPPR calls for tech innovation in public services

Charlotte Jee Published 19 December 2013

User-focused iterative design, strong leadership and access to initial funding identified as vital factors


The public sector should focus on encouraging grassroots digital innovations at the frontline of service delivery to avoid some of the pitfalls of top-down IT projects such as Universal Credit and the National Programme for IT, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

In a recent report titled 'Building tech -powered public services', the IPPR argues that, given the rapid pace of technological change and public adoption of technology, it is inevitable that public services will become 'tech-powered'. Therefore, it adds, the focus should be on how to ensure the successful deployment and spread of innovation.

The growing role of technology in public services is a challenge, but its successful implementation offers significant benefits such as the opportunity to save time, boost user participation and, in particular in the health sector, encourage users to take more responsibility for their own wellbeing, the report adds.

The government should focus on demonstrating impact and producing guidelines for digital projects, overcoming resistance by ensuring that the potential of digital technology is part of public sector workers' training, and harnessing user demand by raising awareness in the public sector of the innovations that are available for them to use directly and free of charge.

The IPPR offers five lessons in particular regarding the successful implementation of technological innovation in public services:

  • User-based iterative design is critical to delivering a product that solves real-world problems. It builds trust and ensures the technology works in the context in which it will be used.
  • Public sector expertise is essential in order for a project to make the connections necessary to initial development and early funding.
  • Access to seed and bridge funding is necessary to get projects off the ground and allow them to scale up.
  • Strong leadership from within the public sector is crucial to overcoming the resistance that practitioners and managers often show initially.
  • A strong business case that sets out the quality improvements and cost savings that the innovation can deliver is important to get attention and interest from public services.

The report draws upon a number of case studies including Patchwork, a social network-style application that connects different professionals around a child or family they are working with to ensure coordinated frontline support. Patchwork was developed by London-based company FutureGov together with Lichfield District Council and Staffordshire County Council and, more recently, with Brighton and Hove City Council and Surrey County Council.

Another example is a digital pen and form system piloted by United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The system saves time by avoiding the need for manual data entry, thus removing duplication of effort and freeing up staff for other tasks.


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