How government agencies can be more open and agile

Taking an agile and open approach to the development of digital services and information

Australians have high expectations of a digital government. According to David Hazlehurst, Acting Deputy Secretary of Innovation, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, in a recent survey it was discovered that 83% of those surveyed had interacted digitally with government within the last year. However, the survey also brought to light that those surveyed felt that those interactions, were slow and cumbersome.

Hazlehurst acknowledged while government organisations do grapple with a range of issues (lengthy procurement processes, legacy processes and infrastructure), he argued that these issues impeded government providing a great user experience, citing MyTax as a such a service.

Hazlehurst argues that governments need to redefine the way they approach tasks, by becoming agile. He described ‘agile’  as ‘changing our processes so that we deliver early, are responsive to feedback and are more collaborative.’

David Hazlehurst, Acting Deputy Secretary of Innovation, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

His team have used this approach with the redevelopment of The team changed the focus from a platform where departments could outline policy to concentrate on the needs of businesses using the site. Working in this way, Hazlehurst has learnt 5 key lessons:

1. The importance of air-cover (support from above)

Working with the user at the heart of your decisions is a departure for many senior ministers, so it can be quite disorienting for them. However, Hazlehurst argues that for digital projects to succeed, senior management must trust the process and empower their teams to do the job.

2. Your users should be in your team

Hazlehurst said that getting the projects to the level that they had would have been impossible without the consultation and feedback of the users. Your team is more than your employees, he argues, it is anyone that will use your site.

3. Develop your agile core

Take risks. It’s no use treating your important priorities as side projects. Hazlehurst said 'We committed to these projects. We started with our best people working on things we cared about and we gave them space. If we did it as a side project with a B team or C team, then we wouldn’t have got the results we did.’

4. Agile is not just ‘funky project management.’

Hazlehurst stresses that the user has to be at the core of everything you are doing, ‘without developing empathy and having the user at the centre of design, you’re going to have a subpar project.’

5. Be open

Hazlehurst says, ‘learn and share with others. The community are very generous, with their knowledge and with their feedback. Copy. Steal. Don’t think you have to do it on your own.’

The agile approach for Hazlehurst and his team hasn’t been an easy undertaking, but the rewards are great, and enjoyable. If Australia wants to provide their citizens with great online services, then they need to be open, collaborative and agile.

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