Co-design will be heart of Scottish Government digital strategy

Finance secretary Derek Mackay outlined his vision for more ‘co-design’ of digital government services, insisting collaboration with micro businesses and even individuals could revolutionise the way public sector services are delivered.

Speaking at the annual ScotsSoft technology conference in Edinburgh, Mackay said he would like to see increased engagement between government and smaller firms who are able to solve government challenges in creating the digital services of the future.

Mackay said he wants to see a “digital first” approach adopted widely across the public sector, and spoke of the need for reform to ensure services are fit for the 21st century, and said the devolution of powers to the Scottish Government following the Smith Commission process has created opportunities to design better services from the outset.

He said: “Whatever we are designing that is new we want it to be digital first. It has worked well in areas such as Revenue Scotland which is far more efficient and streamlined than the previous systems that we may have inherited. Some of the operating systems for HMRC, frankly, some of those systems are creaking and will find it difficult to adapt to changing and emerging policy. But we have a wonderful opportunity with a fresh start to design things in a user friendly way, with a blank page almost to ensure we get it right from the outset.”

Mackay cited the Scottish Government’s recent CivTech initiative which has sought to engage smaller firms who previously found it difficult, in procurement terms, to win business from the public sector by solving common policy problems using technology.

He wants to see more of that kind of collaboration spread across the public sector, which has in recent years increasingly been opening up data in a number of ‘hackathon-style’ events.

“I think we have to do much more around co-design,” he said. “All my years of experience in government, in local government and parliament has taught me that – I think there is much more room for co-design and collaboration at the outset to enable us to get the best possible solution from the start; it’s not the awarding of the contract that’s the most important it’s the design of it in the first place.

“That’s why I was particularly enthused by CivTech in terms of that approach, with the private sector, individuals and micro businesses coming together with the public sector facing a challenge.”

In front of a technology audience at the EICC Mackay outlined a number of themes which form part of the Scottish Government’s digital strategy, including using policy levers to get better connectivity across large swaths of the country, fulfilling the annual demand of getting 11,000 people into digital roles, and creating the right ‘digital eco-systems’ for the public to use, such as the MyGov.Scot website.

He said the MyGov.Scot project was a great example of how the public sector could remove “duplication” and streamline services.

However, on the question of whether Scottish Government should have a specifically titled ‘Digital Minister’ – which came from ScotlandIS chair Alistair O’Brien, Mackay backed away.

“It’s a fair point but you’ll understand it touches across a number of ministerial interests,” he said. “By sharing some of that responsibility with other cabinet secretaries it keeps them all interested in the agenda.”

He said the national digital strategy passes in front of every cabinet secretary to ensure they make it a “priority” within their portfolio.