Agile Government: Challenging the Bureaucratic Dinosaur

The Victorian Government’s State Services Authority is running a project at the moment on the notion of Agile Government.  It emerged from their previous work on their Future of the Public Sector 2025 project.  In collaboration with Demos, a UK thinktank, they have released this provocation paper

In the paper, they describe government agility in relation to being responsive to the needs of the community being served, being more adaptive in changing products and processes in response to broader changes in the operational environment, and shaping the external environment through policy making, taxation and service delivery. Three types of capacity are required which form an agility cycle:

  • Scan emerging trends and issues through gathering information and analysis
  • Respond to opportunities and risks by being sufficiently flexible at tactical and strategic levels
  • Shape future environments through driving change.

They also list a range of agility capabilities:

  • Outward-oriented culture to scan the external environment, join up different departments and agencies, shift resources with ease and stopping services and projects if they are not delivering a sufficient return.
  • Systems and policy alignment between strategy, values, budgeting, etc, particularly focusing on realignment when goals and tactics shift as one part of the system changes.
  • Workforce adaptability to match skills to changing tasks which could include service redesign, new capabilities and rapid deployment.
  • Fast and effective decision-making through making judgements based on imperfect information, particularly on operational matters.
  • Successful use of information such as analytical skills and the use of ICT including more responsive relationships with citizens.

For me, the agility cycle does not quite sit right, particularly with including the shaping aspect in the cycle.  Agility is about scanning and responding and having that cycle move faster.  The concept of shaping works at a different level . In one way, it is a form of responding but really it is actually something more systemic.  It brings in the notions of complexity, societal behaviour change and community dialogue – an important part of government but perhaps shaping forms part of a framework that supports agility rather than forming part of the agility cycle.

Another aspect is that agility is a relative concept.  If standard processes takes 3 years, than an agile government could be expected to do it in 12-18 months.  Also, if it would normally take 20 years to generate larger generational change, then perhaps an agile government could do it in 5 years through its various levers of taxation, incentives and policies.  The latter is more shaping, the former is more responsive. The longer term aspects of shaping have strong links to systems and complexity thinking.

All up, a most interesting paper and concept and one that the SSA are currently seeking comment upon.


2 Responses to Agile Government: Challenging the Bureaucratic Dinosaur

  1. Joe Citizen says:

    A comment containing the words pot and kettle quickly comes to mind.

  2. Henry Pym says:

    Who better to tackle the bureacratic dinosaur than another dinosaur in the form of a bureaucracy created by another bureacracy?

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