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Public policy and digital insights from @babgi

Gilles Babinet

French digital champion was host of a webinar on 10/11 about changing the politics through digital during the French month of innovation.

Here some keys of this really interesting interaction.

- Gilles is not a fan of 'dématerialisation', this is the act of simply digitising a process in the administration, without changing it. It creates a digital nightmare as a result. This is digital transformation without organisational transformation.

- He indicates that both citizens and politics have a very weak digital culture. This is in part because administrations are often managed in legalistic and therefore over cautious.

As an example he puts the discussions around COVID19 mobile alert app

- very low maturity in discussions of a systemic way (here a global pandemic)

- no counter powers that are in place for a good debate

- need for pedagoci approach and methods to implement that determine succes our failure

The transformation will happen through territory, user centricity platforms, opening of data and introducing projet modus methods inter alias:

1/ at administration level that is in charge of the territory, where real actions can take place and where policy can be rewritten (did I hear re-code?)

He acknowledges the structural difficulty to put in place transversal actions, and that these take tremendous efforts to put in place due to the administrative silos.

2/He believes that it is key that the government starts acting as a platform, gets out of its vertical silos, and therefore to change its internal structures. 'The world is flat', meaning that platforms have put user in the center and became horizontal: this is in pure contradiction to the actual structure of the public administration.

3/ The third key is the opening up of the data: no more ownership per silos, the user is in charge.

4/ Fourth is the internal processes, like moving into project modus, iterative processes etc.

Is it a fatality?

- Well the models exist outside of public administration and can be a source of inspiration. (MC Donnalds digitisaton case

- We need to put aside from the organisation a multidisciplinary team that tackles the problems with a methodology (service designer and facilitator, to down and bottom up). Participants need to still have a support within their administration, but be 'outsourced' temporarily to the project at least one day per week. There is a need for a right balance. (investigate an improvement of 'lanceur d'alerte?'). One project at a time, and at a certain moment the change cannot be undone.

- we need to engage with the end users (the citizens in co-construction) and at the same time have an engaged SPONSOR within the organisation

What is needed to be put in place:

0. a vision an more than that to avoid dematerialisation

1. a tech infrastructure

2. governance (move to project modus)

3 human capital

both on soft and hard skills

no fear of doing reverse mentoring (young digital native that works together with higher placed person)

also look at digital coders in 5-7 years and how to organise the competency at internal level

and make it possible to have a career that switches between private and public, and where the skills are kept up to date.


- AI and the need for coders

This is just an essential element, and there is a real lack of coders, and an important competency is needed: a lot of people need to be retrined

- New government structure : silo structures need to be stopped and completely reorganised

- Bottom-up creation and less top-down roadmaps

- Organisation that is characterised by risk aversity and compliance to norms makes innovation really difficult; need of other ways to rewrite the laws.

Other takeaways:

At the same time Gilles Babinet announced the launch of a book on the topic and also a MOOC starting in December 2020.

Some references mentioned during the webinar:

de Marco Iansiti (Auteur), Karim R. Lakhani (Auteur)

by John P. Kotter (Author)

My own mirror feedback:

- Both Gilles and also the president Macron have a good view on the bottlenecks to change. One important one is that you cannot ask to public (and competent) servants to break down a vertical structure that they have used to make their own career a success; even if there is individual will, the system will make it impossible. Therefore the 'central' power services of the government are so resistant to change, that they will not be transformed, merely made obsolete and no longer relevant.

Therefore it is interesting to see that Gilles looks at decentralised and territorial entities, that are already in contact with end clients, face the changing societal pressure and needs, and that have to reinvent themselves + in France with the politics of 'decentralisation' have had to create newer types of public service methods.

And Macron has correctly targeted the transformation of the elite ENA (école nationale d'administration),

This education school that has created its own internal clan within the top of the administration, and is there to keep the status quo. Therefore reforming th ENA, so that young graduates are more keen to work horizontal is a long term strategy that will work and more than a symbolic gesture

- The central services will need to go on retirement soon.

Not talking also about the status quo of the trade unions, albeit otherwise organised in France than in Belgium that only focus on the 'droit acquis'.

- dématerialisation; this is a new crisal insight for me, and Gilles managed to put the right woridings on this. I have seen countless IT projects doing this mistake, IT departments doing everything to keep the end user hostage.

- And often these processes are 'hard-coded' in law, amendments, and judicicial case law. Laws are written without digital transformation in mind. It reminds me of my statement in 2019, that the state council would need to be able to check if laws can be read by AI and computers,so that implementation of it becomes crystal clear for the end user and that justice is there equal for all.

- culture and telework: the longer telework is happening, the more entrenched 'administrative' usages are being diluted. And it creates an opportunity for a kind of a 'reset'. This is already happening when an administration changes a building (the hardware) and at the same time changes organisations (the software) . Mmmh let's see how to create this 'reset': forget old habits, adopt annd learn from new practices and integrate them. The ones that are resistant to change need to be put into a kind of a 2007 bad bank, like happened when Dexia failed. This 'bad bank' will be written of over time. To be elaborated...

Looking forward to reading the book and hopefully have Gilles intervene at an upcoming TOKVIL event.

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