Innovation and changeGovernment TechnologyAI and blockchain are ‘most popular among emerging technologies in government’

AI and blockchain are ‘most popular among emerging technologies in government’

Progress being held back by projects often being undertaken in silos, creating the risk that departments may be ‘reinventing the wheel’

Emerging technologies have started being tested in both central and local government to help support transformation, efficiency and EU exit programmes, according to the results of a survey conducted by the GDS.

The in-depth research found that departments are exploring new technologies using prototypes, proofs of concepts and pilots to create better public services, improve internal processes and see what’s possible. Some departments have set up dedicated innovation and data labs to do this on a small scale. Centres of excellence are established to provide guidance and best practice for a specific area or technology focus.

Disruptive technologies such as AI and distributed ledger technology are receiving specific focus, the survey found, as they have potentially wide-ranging process, policy and regulatory impacts on automation, identity, decision making, privacy, security and trust.

More sharing required

The research did, however, highlight a number of negatives that are holding back digital adoption.

For example, some findings are not widely communicated and there is opportunity to do more to share lessons learned. If not, there is risk of duplication, hindering reuse and of missing chances to jointly collaborate on common problems. In relation to emerging technologies it will be important for GDS to document best practice and update the Digital Service Standard and Technology Code of Practice as they are adopted across government.

The use of AI and distributed ledger technology are good examples. Several departments are investigating these technologies but are often doing so independently and in a piecemeal fashion. The Office for AI and the AI and blockchain communities of interest groups are starting to address this, but GDS should do more to support and resource coordination and facilitate efforts from the centre to join up.

The survey recommends that technology innovation is further fostered between government, academia and the private sector, to build on work already in place. This includes technology-based research and development grants, funded competitions, joint academic programmes (for example the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Strategic Collaboration Funding, GovTech, Open Innovation Team Digital Government Partnership) and collaboration with government-backed accelerators and hubs (for example Geovation, CivTech). The GDS-led GovTech Catalyst team has built strong links with these accelerators and Innovate UK, who launch GovTech competitions to the market.

Increasing importance

The report goes on to highlight how other countries have national innovation strategies, and international bodies and foundations like the OECD, UN and WEF emphasise the increasing importance of innovation and disruptive technologies to governments.

The government’s Industrial Strategy challenges government to focus more on investment in research and development and innovation. Investment in technology innovation will be one important way that public bodies respond to this challenge. It’s encouraging to see recommendations on individual disruptive emerging technologies like AI, for example in the AI Sector Deal launched by BEIS and DCMS. The new GDS Innovation team has a key role to play in supporting BEIS and DCMS and government’s overall ambition to be a world leader on AI by leading on driving adoption of AI and other emerging technologies in government, to transform public services and improve public sector productivity.

GDS is in a good position to do this as it already provides advice and support on technology policy, service design and assurance to departments. GDS Innovation leads the cross-government GovTech programme which asks tech companies to make innovative use of emerging technologies to solve public sector challenges.

With GDS’s commitment to transformation and innovation, its deep DDaT engagement and its technical assurance, delivery and data science capabilities – GDS Innovation should lead work with departments to better coordinate, share best practice and drive technology innovation in government.

Recommendations and route forward

The report makes a number of recommendations on next steps for GDS Innovation to lead and better coordinate technology innovation and the adoption of AI and emerging technologies in government. The full list of recommendations can be found here.

As the report’s authors say, technology innovation is vital for the public sector. The current picture across central and local government shows lots of positive activity but also that much of it is uncoordinated and fragmented. GDS Innovation plans to help by sharing results, resources, best practice and working collaboratively on common blockers.

This survey is a starting point for GDS Innovation. During 2018-19 the team will work with other Cabinet Office functions, departments and the devolved administrations to develop a first ever innovation strategy for UK public services with a view to publication in spring 2019.

An interesting visualisation of the report data can be viewed here.

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