Civil servants still unaware of GDS's Government as a Platform plans – survey

Key government plan to create common digital platforms still needs explaining to civil service staff, new study finds

By Rebecca Hill

14 Jun 2016

Almost three-quarters of civil servants say they haven’t heard of or don’t understand Government as a Platform, according to a new survey.

Government as a Platform aims to bring government departments’ digital platforms closer together so they can use the same systems, rather than solving common problems from scratch.

The government invested £450 million in the Government Digital Service, which is leading GaaP development, at the last Spending Review. Initiatives include a system to notify citizens over text and e-mail called GOV.UK Notify, and an identity verification system known as GOV.UK Verify.

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However, a Feburary 2016 survey of 2,101 civil servants – commissioned by software firm Northgate Public Services and carried out by CSW’s sister organisation Dods Research – found little awareness of, or confidence in, the government’s plans.

Some 43% of respondents said they hadn’t heard of Government as a Platform and a further 31% said they didn't fully understand it.

A further 6% said they were worried about how it would affect their work in the future and 8% said they did not think it was a realistic goal.

Additional comments submitted by respondents indicated that success would depend on how it was implemented, Northgate said, with responses emphasising the difficulty of getting departments to work together.

One response from a higher executive officer at the Ministry of Justice read: “It has potential benefits but much more preparation [is needed]…if the full benefits are to be realised.”

Those working in IT or digital teams – 227 people – were also asked about what additional platforms they wanted, which included a single process for grant applications, fraud management and debt recovery.

The survey also indicated an overall lack of confidence in the government’s digital plans – 33% said they were somewhat concerned and 13% said they were very concerned. A further 34% said they were somewhat confident, while just 7% said they were very confident.

"There is strong emphasis on assisted digital for customers to ensure there are no exclusions. There is no equal treatment for staff, who are simply expected to get up to speed" – Home Office official

Concerns centred around poor planning and a lack of skills, while those with more confidence tended to mention the importance of digital champions and effective leadership from senior management.

Moreover, just 22% of respondents felt that their organisation’s data was easy to share – a key aim of the Government as a Platform initiative – while just 26% felt it was accurate.

Despite these concerns, respondents tended to think government would make savings through digital transformation, with 39% saying they were very or somewhat confident this would happen.

This is in comparison to 25% who said they were somewhat or very concerned, and 15% who were neither confident nor concerned.

Respondents were also asked what policy priorities they felt the government’s digital transformation agenda would help with, with 58% saying it could help automate more services. Just 5% said that they didn’t believe digital could help.

The results indicate that servants are generally not concerned about the effect digital would have on their work overall – 63% said this was not a worry for them. Some 29% said it was a worry, with these concerns being related to future changes to roles and job cuts.

However, less than half of the respondents felt that digital inclusion was being managed effectively for staff or services users – 46% and 42%, respectively.

“There is strong emphasis on assisted digital for customers to ensure there are no exclusions. There is no equal treatment for staff, who are simply expected to get up to speed,” read the additional comment for a Grade 7 employee at the Home Office.

Commenting on the results, Sue Holloway, director of services strategy at Northgate, said: “Digital disruption is all the rage, but government is not a machine; it’s a collection of individuals and teams that won’t work tomorrow like they do today.”

She added that government needed to remember that it was “always personal” and that it should make sure staff are engaged throughout the process.

“If you take your eye off the people affected by a change you won’t achieve the outcome you want, whatever type of change it is,” she added.

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