Innovate and co-create with citizens online (draft)

 

Innovation budget

The Taskforce judges that successful leading high tech businesses will spend at least 10% of their budget on innovation, data reported by Booz & Co suggests as much as 13.6% for software and internet companies. Given the speed at which the internet and people’s use of it changes the government’s leading web sites need to keep pace with innovation online.  The rapid rise of social networking sites demonstrates how innovation can rapidly change people’s communication habits.  With over 60% of the population online and American studies showing that more people use the internet for news than the traditional press, it is particularly important for government sites to innovate themselves, given their central role in communications.

The Taskforce is making a range of recommendations that will require leading government sites to innovate.  These sites are in the Taskforce’s view adequately funded to innovate but by demonstrating more transparency in how they do so would aid the innovation process.  The Taskforce would like to see explicit provision made for investment in innovation, plans for such investment published and some central co-ordination to ensure that this effort is pooled and not duplicative.

Recommendation

Invest in innovation that directly benefits the public by ensuring that public sector websites spend about as much on innovation as leading knowledge businesses.  DirectGov, BusinessLink and NHS Choices should create an combined innovation pot of 10% of their budgets, focussed on improving the public experience of government websites, through outside-in innovation not internal requirements.  Annual plans on how this £10m innovation pool is to be deployed should be published and agreed by a new Head of Digital Engagement.



RSS feed of comments 14 Responses to “Innovation budget”

  1. Curiously, I’m concerned at having such a staggering amount of money on the table. Such large sums will inevitably mean considerable a bureaucratic overhead, and may only prove attractive to the huge IT consultancies… not the ’start-ups’.

    We could go a very long way with very little money; indeed, it’s conceivable that we could go further, faster by feeding relatively small amounts of money to small, agile, hungry operations.

  2. Tony Hirst says:

    “Invest in innovation that directly benefits the public by ensuring that public sector websites spend about as much on innovation as leading knowledge businesses.”

    Should government departments spend on innovative public facing/end user websites, or should the money be spent on making data and services accessible for 3rd parties to develop and deliver end-user services?

  3. Owen Ambur says:

    Funding is not the only issue and perhaps not even the most important one with respect to innovation. We can and must do better with the same or, preferably, even fewer resources — by working more efficiently and effectively together to share knowledge and expertise. The ET.gov site sets forth an 8-stage process for doing so with respect to emerging technology.

  4. This is a really meaty recommendation. Congratulations – I think it could really drive change. I also like the transparency angle (which would presumably include lots of ability for people to feedback!).

  5. Sebastian Crump says:

    Apart from agreeing with Simon about risks of it being too much budget I also think this sounds too centralised. One of the strengths of these sort of services is the trickle up effect and real user-centricity that more naturally occurs. A Head of Digital Engagement would not be able to cope the volume of potential projects and therefore potentially creates a unecessary bottle-neck. Community inspired pilots should be able to somehow tap into central support, but the ideas must be locally derived – Directgov/BusinessLink/NHS controlling it with inevitable bureaucracy will not actually deliver what I believe this report wants to IMO. So, I also agree with Tony any central money should go to freeing up data. I’ll stop repeating myself and others now.

  6. Steph Gray says:

    Outside-in innovation is useful, but perhaps partly covered by the backstage model (perhaps with a competition model?). Internal innovation is potentially valuable and should not be discounted – enabling (especially technical) staff within organisations like BusinessLink, Directgov and NHS Choices to spend 10% of their time on projects which relate to the service but aren’t mandated by line management (Google style) would be truly innovative and may generate service improvements relatively cost effectively.

  7. Tony Hirst says:

    Another take on 10% time might be to allocate “spare capacity” so that developers can respond to events in a timely fashion by creating “good enough” sites to cope with a particular, possibly transitory issue, yet still add value in that time.
    For example, the schoolclosures website in response to #uksnow

    Web content isn’t just about words anymore. Web publishing isn’t just about posting text or photos. Increasingly it’s about posting data that has value as an individual datum as well as aggregated, data that is increasingly useful at scale (and that can, in turn, often be usefully segmented and used in recommendation services); and it’s also about publishing applications that can be quickly made to collect or filter data on a particular topic or for a particular reason (which I guess is where the need for on-call developer capacity comes in?)
    Taking the public sector as a whole, could ’slack capacity’ be used to create a virtual rapid web application development service, cf. volunteer firemen, RNLI volunteers, or RayNet? devNet, maybe?!

  8. Paul Walk says:

    “The Taskforce judges that successful leading high tech businesses will spend at least 10% of their budget on innovation, data reported by Booz & Co suggests as much as 13.6% for software and internet companies.”

    Successful private sector high-tech businesses know the value of the sunk investment or loss-leader activity. Of that 10-13.6% investment, how much is wasted entirely? Private enterprise bears this cost because:

    a). it is culturally able (even expected) to gamble with capital investment
    b). it takes steps to derive value from the failed developments through existing ‘corporate memory’ – essentially learning from mistakes.

    I wonder if government is culturally and organisationally equipped to manage such high-risk investment?

    In the light of this comment, I’d like to echo Tony Hirst’s earlier question in comment #21:

    “Should government departments spend on innovative public facing/end user websites, or should the money be spent on making data and services accessible for 3rd parties to develop and deliver end-user services?”

    This is the crucial question. If the money is ’spent on making data and services accessible for 3rd parties to develop and deliver end-user services?’ then the risk becomes both distributed and diluted. If the money is spent developing ‘ innovative public facing/end user websites’ then the risk of sinking large sums into failed ventures is significant.

  9. Owen Ambur says:

    It seems to me answer to this question is debatable: “Should government departments spend on innovative public facing/end user websites?” Aspects of the debate include priorities on the allocation of public resources as well as the propriety of using public resources to compete with the private sector.

    On the other hand, the answer to this question is clearly yes: “Should the money be spent on making data and services accessible for 3rd parties to develop and deliver end-user services?”

    Government agencies simply have no business failing to make their public records readily available in readily reusable (nonproprietary) formats (e.g., XML).

  10. Lee Bryant says:

    At this point in the report, I am really impressed by what I have read so far. There are, of course, bigger problems such as the unreliable cycle of shiny ideological policy mantras (e.g. ‘choice’), funding, outsourcing, fear of media and attitiudes to risk in general. But these ideas, if implemented, would be very welcome steps indeed.

    I agree that the main issue here is not for gov and quangos to spend 10% on directed innovation, but rather for government to make available open data that people closer to the ground can use to build better services, and then the 10% can be an innovation fund to support those (like some of the organisations you quote in the previous section) who succeed. This will almost always provide better value than blowing NHS Choices-sized amounts on generic consultants.

  11. The Taskforce should be clearer on what it thinks the benefits and outcomes of the Innovation budget would be.

  12. Phil McAllister says:

    I find that Steph has already made my 10%-time point far more eloquently that I was going to myself.

    A couple of suggestions that I might make are:

    1) we create a place where people within government web teams can pitch their ideas for 10% time and others pitch in on projects they are interested in.

    2) that we consider how to engage smaller teams in driving innovation. Perhaps a government ‘hack-day’ once a year that we could also open up to interested members of the public.

  13. James Munro says:

    I would like to support previous comments which argue for the release of data, as well as or instead of finance, to stimulate innovation in this area.
    I also support the view that the process for supporting innovation is as important as the resources available. The process should aim to ensure that any resources available are distributed rather than centralised. Resourcing small committed teams with a strong public service ethos seems likely to produce more innovation at lower cost than giving the same resource to a large commercial consultancy.
    There is a risk that providing this much resource in a thoughtless way could discourage – or even destroy – innovative enterprises, rather than stimulating the thriving ecosystem that we need.

  14. Whether we explicity spend money on innovation or not, there’s something to be said about making sure that we have intelligence on innovation and we can adopt, adapt, scale-up as appropriate – and that takes resources, too.