’In the beginning, the internet was good.’ – Jia Tolentino


As technology increasingly embeds itself into every aspect of our lives, we are living and reliving arguments about its propensity to do good, its ability to empower us, and simultaneously its effect on our ability to give anything or anybody our ‘sustained attention’. For every polemic debate on technology good vs technology bad, we find ourselves somewhere in a modern-day grey and the delicious possibilities that this offers.

Government has recognised this and responded to the need to deliver a Smarter State for citizens. This includes an imperative from Government to embrace innovation, harnessing it to transform the provision of public services in the interest of all people. The demand from citizens is for public services to be swift and accurate, matching their use of tech in the rest of their lives. The common goal is for this technology to be designed and delivered so that democracy is truly participatory: inclusive, accessible, empathetic and representative.

In all this, concerns about the ethics of AI, deep thinking about how justice must be embedded in every algorithm that might determine a citizen outcome, have become commonplace in public discourse and debate. In parallel, then, to the ‘what’ and ‘how’, we must also ask ‘why’ and ‘what if’. There are suggestions that the state should fashion an equivalent ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for tech to uphold specific standards, underpinned by a chorus of ‘do no harm’.

Today’s public services – and tomorrow’s – are shaped most efficiently and effectively when digital leaders across the private and public sectors collaborate. With Government setting the agenda for change, it is our role as industry to respond through sharing our expertise and battle scars and to focus together on a shared horizon and common outcomes.

It is incumbent on us not simply to harness all that is new in tech, but to be brave, to change mindsets and to drive innovation. Embracing SMEs and Start-Ups at the cutting edge of the ‘new ’ is important – the GovTech Catalyst Fund is welcome.

We must recognise that innovation is not the sole preserve of the private sector, and government has a strong track record in being a catalyst for original ideas and driving their adoption.

What is important is the creation of entrepreneurial sector partnerships that will make a sustainable difference: both adopting new technologies and designing for the future.

What do I mean by entrepreneurial partnerships? It means Government dynamically driving change and it means the industry continuing to put their heft behind the State’s calls to be pioneers. It also means creating (and embracing) different workforce models – teams that work across boundaries, empowered with the tools and capability to be entrepreneurial and innovative at their core and beyond outdates silos. Crucially, the Workforce of the future must have endless flexibility built in, for it to be rapidly adaptive – to stay relevant, productive and socially mobile.

No one department, no one firm and no single geography or sector has all the answers. Building the Smarter State requires us all to form a diverse, thriving GovTech ecosystem in which competition and openness allows invention and innovation to be modular, agile and to thrive safely. It might just be one of the leadership questions of our time.

*This blog was first published by TechUK on 6th September 2019

Shaheen Sayed

Senior Managing Director – Technology Lead, UKI

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