The DTO isn't a design studio

2015-11-07

I missed the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) "open house" a few weeks ago. It was shame I couldn't be there, as the significance of the event isn't lost on me.

The announcement, then launch and finally the tangible establishment of the DTO this year with Paul Shetler's appointment (quickly followed by some other well regarded characters from the GDS, like returning expat Leisa Reichelt) is something that has been long anticipated since the Gov 2.0 Taskforce in 2009. Finally, we are bringing together a team of people - and resourcing them to the tune of $95.4 million in their first year - to help drive digital transformation in Australia's federal government based on principles of human-centred design and modern web era technology practices.

This by no means suggests that nothing has been happening in the meantime. In fact, looking just at my home state of NSW we have seen significant pockets of innovation at the state government level. Probably the best known example has been the creation of ServiceNSW, but other examples can found right across the state government. All the things the DTO stands for are there if you look, they just haven't been very evenly distributed.

From this perspective - and bearing in mind we appear to be reaching peak "hackathon" in both the Australian business and social sectors right now - it is easy to be distracted by the bling of post-it notes and sketch diagrams on the walls the DTO. I use these visual thinking techniques in my own practice, but if you think the challenge of digital transformation in the Australia government is they aren't hacking or brainstorming enough, you are mistaken.

The challenge for Australian governments is the same for any of our large institutions: A lack of engagement at leadership levels and a lack of capability where the work needs to get done. Add politics to the mix and you have a recipe for an uphill battle. But this is where the DTO can becomes a game changer, if we give them our support.

When we look as the DTO as an agent of change, not just a funky design studio, the very fact they held an open house in their Sydney office is more significant than the program of work or the techniques they are using. The DTO is already changing the rules, because that is what it needs to make this digital transformation happen.

Stepping back from the open house itself, the DTO's engagement process as a whole, including their use of online channels: their blog, YouTube, and Twitter, is absolutely refreshing and well overdue in my opinion (and sure, there is a strong GDS flavour to the DTO's playbook, but that was only to be expected).

The way I read it that the DTO's job isn't to be the IT department for the federal government. They aren't even a startup and this isn't about hacking our way to better government. Its about being champions for change, except these champions are going to roll up their sleeves to work with agencies to demonstrate how they can be better. We tried to bootstrap this process through the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, then the DesignGov pilot, but we need the DTO to complete the job.

That's actually what excited me most when I visited GDS in London in 2013 (thanks to an introduction from a former Headshift colleague working there) - hearing how redesigning gov.uk was really just the tip of the iceberg of their vision for change.

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