Public servants live in the same world as Uber, Air B'n'B and Netflix; but you would be forgiven for thinking that public sector innovation stopped in the days of the horse and cart. There are some notable efforts to innovate within the public sector (the ATO has been delivering great services online for over 15 years) but for the most part it seems as if government is one of the slowest adopters of new technology that can be found.
The recent efforts from the ABS to move to an online census demonstrate some of the barriers that public servants face when trying to make significant change. There are some serious questions that need to be asked about the process and contingency planning used by the ABS, but for the most part the move to an online census was a success that saved the Australian public over $100 million. These positive aspects of the census are struggling to be seen however; in an environment where the very public and very foreseeable denial of service attack brought down the census on the very night we were being encouraged to jump online.
Public servants who choose to champion innovation within their roles do so at their own risk and often with a lot of push back; but they do so frequently and most often without celebration or fanfare. Examples like EzyReg, The Line (a social media campaign to address domestic violence) and the national electronic conveyancing scheme are great examples of process innovation and game-changing disruption within the public sector that have largely gone unnoticed by the general public. In some ways that is exactly how we want our government to embrace change- slowly, surely and with as little interruption to the public as is possible.
We may not transform Government overnight to become the next Facebook or Skype; but change is happening and there are many benefits for the community. Technological innovation in government will result not just in better experiences for people but often in real savings that can be reinvested into things that really matter- better healthcare services, stronger schools and real solutions to problems like homelessness and domestic violence.
Government won't ever fit into an easy to install app- but it is getting just a little bit better every single day.