Government is constantly challenged by the need to deliver cross-agency collaboration. It’s been a target of different administrations down the years but is still an elusive goal. Yet, such are the potential benefits of ‘breaking down the barriers’ in terms of operational efficiencies and better agency collaboration that it remains an objective worth pursuing.
That is the vision – but there are a raft of issues making it difficult to achieve. Today, when agencies come together to share documentation, what typically transpires is an unstructured process, characterised by project stakeholders being forced into a protracted and fundamentally insecure series of email exchanges.
Government agencies acknowledge the need for things to change. However, they are hampered by internal processes, and a lack of access to the right technology – particularly in terms of identity systems required to authenticate users. Indeed, this latter issue is one of the biggest barriers to greater collaboration. Let’s take a typical example where two government agencies want to work together and there is a requirement for people from department A, let’s call it the education department, to gain access to data and systems in department B, in this hypothetical case, the finance department, to shape future policy.
In such a scenario, the finance department might want to allow somebody from education to access one of their systems but not all of it, just one specific portion. Equally, finance will typically want to limit access to authorised personnel. So, how can it do this in a way that allows rapid access but also fine-grained control? It is clearly impossible for finance to be held responsible for the access control decisions made by education staff members, so it will need to delegate responsibility to its partner agency.
What’s Missing Today?
Existing systems simply fail to deliver the kind of tight, structured approach to access control called for. Typically, there is a manual on-boarding process but no efficient means of accommodating users changing roles or leaving the organisation. When people move on, it is critical that system access is revoked. With current systems, it is difficult for organisations to monitor and control this procedure, and often it simply does not happen.
That’s why the ability to transfer risk and liability and delegate access control is key in overcoming technical challenges and in giving both stakeholders reassurance about the process and confidence in it going forward. In our hypothetical situation, both parties would have access to a single source of the truth. If any authorised person left, they would be removed from internal directories and unable to log onto the new platform.
These clear benefits can be further extended by building an ecosystem or online portal behind this, enabling all parties to share documentation, resources and insight to solve a specific problem or improve the likely end outcome. To make this work, you first need a provider who can effectively ‘straddle’ the different technical environments of the collaborative partners and create a secure ecosystem, effectively a place sitting in between all of the stakeholders, in which each organisation can get its own staff to participate.
The above scenario is based on a hypothetical situation where two agencies engage in a long-term collaboration. However, there are also many government use cases where multiple agencies or departments need to come together temporarily to deal with an urgent issue or solve a short-term problem.
There might be a need for police; social workers and healthcare teams to join forces to address an urgent case of suspected child abuse, different agencies to collaborate to provide a rapid response to widespread disruption caused by snow or flooding or broader cooperation between different groups from the NHS to police to border agencies to engage with a global crisis like the spread of Ebola. Traditional approaches to IT are typically too slow and cumbersome to make a differences in the tight timeframes required here. By the time the order has been put in by the IT department, the crisis is often over.
It’s a classic case when secure portal technology and ecosystem thinking can really help. After all, the approach can effectively pre-qualify all of the members of the group being brought together and then portal and ecosystem technology can be quickly brought in to provide a secure space to exist between people in these groups and last for the duration of the crisis or event concerned.
There are clearly a broad range of situations where portal and ecosystem thinking can help achieve the elusive objective of joined-up government and address many technical challenges that face government today in turning this vision into a reality. The benefits are compelling and yet take-up of the approach within government remains limited so far.
So what’s the problem? There is clearly a process of education that needs to take place. At Mvine, we have so far struggled to find anyone within government who fully gets the problem or is set up to do anything about it. So, the question is who is in charge of inter-governmental working? Who is prepared to step up to the plate and take on that responsibility, implement the ecosystem approach to drive enhanced collaboration and help achieve the elusive goal of truly joined up government?