Open government has become one of the most innovative and significant political initiatives of recent years, incubated in the US but with notable achievements here in the UK too.
The core characteristics of open government centre on transparency, participation and collaboration.
The role of technology and the CIO is pivotal to all of these by delivering transparency, greater accountability and improved efficiency. And, facilitating economic opportunities by making government data and operations more open.
By aligning their information strategies with public policy, CIOs play a key role in helping automate and simplify the release of public data.
But open government is about far more than just data: it is also about opening up business rules and processes. The true power of open government lies in its ability to help reform the effectiveness of public services, opening them up to public scrutiny to improve transparency, user engagement and feedback.
CIOs can help shape the services needed to underpin this more frequent and collaborative participation, driving greater and more diverse expertise into government decision-making and the design of public services.
It is perhaps in the area of collaboration that the greatest potential exists, with the ability to generate new ideas for solving complex problems of public policy by fostering co-operation and co-design across government departments, across levels of government, and directly with the public.
It’s a return to first principles, moving to address that most fundamental, but rarely asked question: “What is the user need?”
More effective, real-time feedback mechanisms from the frontline, from public employees as well as citizens and businesses, enable policy to be better connected to the reality of what is happening, and needed, on the ground.
By focusing on citizens rather than organisational needs in their design and operation, CIOs can help public services operate in a more timely and more relevant fashion, removing redundant bureaucratic and frictional costs and improving the overall quality and experience of service provider and recipient alike.
The challenge now is to deprecate a model traditionally focused on Whitehall’s organisational needs in favour of one focused on the user, with a concerted move away from old legacy systems towards much simpler and more streamlined information and technology services.
This will require the significant redesign and simplification of IT and related business processes, reducing costs whilst improving the user experience: an objective that needs to be delivered through a set of risk-managed steps that transition swiftly from the current world to the new world.
The results will have a direct and beneficial impact on citizens’ and business’ experiences of public services.
CIOs are uniquely situated to make this happen, bridging the divide between information systems, operational processes and public policy.
They can help to deliver routine participation and interaction between government and citizens on a scale previously impracticable.
Alongside their traditional thought leadership role in all things information-related, CIOs should increasingly be unleashing the true power of information to enhance and improve our public services based on real-time insight into user need.