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The essential need for early-stage GovTech innovation to enhance public services

Early-stage GovTech innovation is now emerging as a powerful force driving positive change and transforming the way governments deliver services to their citizens. The need for true innovation beyond digital transformation in public services is becoming increasingly apparent.

By harnessing the potential of technology and innovative approaches, GovTech innovators are attempting to help reshape public services for a better future, creating more efficient, citizen-centric, and effective systems.

Embracing true innovation means moving beyond traditional methods and exploring new possibilities to enhance public services and address societal needs – it moves past digital transformation to disrupt limitations, build novel infrastructure, and bring about step-change improvements to people’s lives. Above all else, it requires local government leaders to have a forward-thinking mindset that actively seeks out cutting-edge solutions, embraces change as an opportunity for growth, and provides easier engagement for innovators to discuss with them the possibilities.

There needs to be more focus on the discovery, exploration, co-creation and adoption of technological advancements and novel approaches in the early stages of development to address governance and public service challenges. By investing in this innovation at an early stage, governments can unlock a multitude of benefits such as streamlined processes, increased citizen participation, improved decision-making, and cost savings.

Furthermore, early-stage GovTech innovation acts as a catalyst for positive change, driving governments to become more agile, responsive, and citizen-centric in their approach. It empowers governments to proactively address societal needs, stay ahead of emerging trends, and shape a better future for their constituents. This is what citizens want. Now.

“Early-stage GovTech solutions can leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, natural language processing, cloud infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT) and novel data analytics to streamline processes, automate tasks, provide insight, create value, and significantly enhance the overall quality of public services”

Gary Todd, Centrakin

The impact of early-stage GovTech solutions

There are more than 700 distinct lines of business in a Tier 1 local authority, and many of these remain untouched by innovation – even those that have adopted digital transformation practices. Early-stage GovTech solutions can leverage emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP), cloud infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT) and novel data analytics to streamline processes, automate tasks, provide insight, create value, and significantly enhance the overall quality of public services.

Many governments worldwide are now starting to embrace early-stage GovTech innovations to revolutionise service delivery. Obvious examples include digital platforms and council websites that enable seamless online transactions, eliminating the need for cumbersome paperwork, but this is mainly digital transformation rather than innovation.

Smart Cities initiatives are also leveraging IoT technologies to enhance transportation systems, optimise energy consumption, and improve urban planning. Such low-hanging fruit is the tip of the iceberg when considering what is possible and how many innovators struggle to get heard. Unfortunately, much of the available innovation will be left on the table if barriers are not addressed – including local government risk-aversion, supplier suspicion, gatekeeping, lack of engagement with early-stage innovators, fear of sustainability issues with small SMEs, and fear of failure/damage to individual or organisational reputation.

All these barriers are often justifiable and understandable. But the result will inevitably be a lower innovation level than in other sectors and a steady degradation of unaffordable public services – which many of us are already experiencing in the Western world. The answer is active engagement with early-stage GovTech innovators at a much greater level.

Empowering Communities through GovTech Innovation

Citizen engagement lies at the heart of effective governance. GovTech innovations provide avenues for increased citizen participation, enabling individuals to actively contribute to the decision-making process. Participatory budgeting initiatives, Open Data initiatives, online portals, mobile applications, and social media channels enable citizens to voice their opinions, provide feedback, and participate in public consultations. Crowdsourcing platforms allow citizens to collaborate with government entities in problem-solving, idea generation, and co-creation of public services.

And yet, there is so much more that can be done here too, if only innovators were openly engaged, welcomed and supported. This might come across as a rant but experience demonstrates even those responsible for innovation in local government – with Innovation in their job titles – are often reticent to give consideration to innovator voices outside of the organisation or beyond larger tech companies, particularly where novel and unproven ideas are presented.

This closed mindset will not foster positive outcomes in the public sector. If this is not you – you are indeed a local govern innovation leader with an open mindset – then I would love to speak with you.

“The missing link throughout these opportunities and outcomes is a lack of investment in business-led, small SME and early-stage innovation across local government, the very innovation that would lead to significantly more of these cost-savings”

Gary Todd, Founder, Centrakin

The economic benefits of early-stage GovTech in public services

GovTech innovation also has the potential to generate substantial cost savings for governments. For example, the digitisation of documents and processes significantly reduces printing and storage costs. Implementation of data analytics enables governments to identify cost-saving opportunities, optimise service delivery, and prevent fraud and waste.

Various governments have experienced tangible economic benefits through early-stage GovTech innovation. For instance, smart energy management systems have led to reduced energy consumption and cost savings. Digital tax collection systems have minimised revenue leakages and improved tax compliance rates. These examples illustrate how GovTech innovation can be a catalyst for economic growth and fiscal stability.

The missing link throughout these opportunities and outcomes is a lack of investment in business-led, small SME and early-stage innovation across local government, the very innovation that would lead to significantly more of these cost-savings. Proof is always sought, social validation is always needed to prove that this never-before-attempted approach has worked elsewhere. ‘Who else is using this?’

Few in local government want to be the first and risk failure. The only way then to address this is to collaborate across localgov, to share the risk, to have many early conversations and discuss the possibilities with the willing in order to assess the best potential solutions and work with more innovators, from within and without, to create the early-stage ecosystem that welcomes the journey that innovation offers. The outcomes will not leave anyone disappointed and will create more value than any white elephant project that has sunk billions of taxpayers’ money over the years.

Citizen-centric public services

The time has come for governments to embrace the opportunities presented by early-stage GovTech innovation. By doing so, they can create a future where public services are efficient, citizen-centric, and responsive to the evolving needs of communities. It requires a collective effort to nurture an ecosystem that welcomes innovation, empowers innovators, and fosters a culture of openness and collaboration. With a commitment to early-stage GovTech innovation, we can shape a better future and build public services that truly serve the interests and well-being of citizens.

Centrakin is a GovTech Innovation Agency based in Bournemouth (UK) and a strategic partner of Empact Ventures.

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