Note — Sep 30, 2018

Making Government as a Platform Real

Long read (26 min) by Tom Loosemore, one of the founders of the “legendary” Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK. It’s an edit of a talk he gave for Code for America soon after leaving GDS. His big lesson? “We weren’t bold enough. We weren’t nearly bold enough. Not even close.” Which, considering their accomplishments and influence around the world, is saying something. He runs us through the original mission of the service and his version of “government as platform.”

If you want a natively digital nation, or a state, or a city, or whatever, my message today is you actually need to be bold enough to create some new institutions; institutions that are of the internet, not on the internet. […]

If there are going to have to be new institutions, we need to understand what shape they are, how they would relate to each other, what ways of working they might adopt? What would the institutional architecture look like for an accountable, digital nation? Not a nation that’s simply digitised existing paper silos, but a natively digital nation. […]

Data is the new foundation of our digital nation. It should be authoritative, canonical, easy to test and check, and have integrity. And for personal data, only available to services that have gained the consent of the user or citizen. […]

This points towards a very big idea. That government provides APIs, platforms, standards and data which not only improve public services, but which can also be relied on by a jurisdiction’s  private and 3rd sectors. Government providing a solid, reliable suite of Internet-era infrastructure on top of which both public and private value can flourish.

Government as a platform; not just government on a platform. […]

The biggest cost is the political capital to challenge existing institutional silos, closed mind-sets, and entrenched power bases. As a politician or as a senior civil service leader, you are going to have to cause a lot of pain for a lot of people to be able to realise this dream. Very few will take the risk. That’s what’s holding us back.