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Digital transformation provides new capabilities for governments to pursue the concept of subsidiarity, where services are delivered at the lowest level of competency. This means services are delivered at the closest possible level to the citizen. This approach to government service delivery can enable community services to be more effective.


The SAP Institute for Digital Government believes high-quality service delivery, supported by collaboration between different levels of government and non-government actors, is an example of the subsidiarity principle enabled by digital government. Last year I ran the politics and civil society course at a local university. This always provides me with an interesting insight into millennials and their observations of the world. The course covers a number of political ideologies but also covers the role that civil society has to play and its interconnectedness with government. Many students are always surprised to realise that government is not the sole actor in public service delivery.


In a healthy functioning state the government, private sector, and civil society all play important roles in shaping demand, developing state policies, and delivering services. The relationship amongst these actors shifts in relation to the health of the democracy, the level to which the state consolidates or weakens, and as citizens become more assertive. In recent times, healthy federal governments like Australia have increasingly shared the responsibility for service delivery with local governments, in a variety of intergovernmental public arrangements that aim to increase the accountability and responsiveness of service delivery; and with the third sector – a range of community not for profit groups and associations.


As governments continue their journey of citizen-centricity, they need to create new service delivery models to meet people’s needs and increase community satisfaction. In a strong and healthy democracy like Australia we transfer significant service delivery functions to local councils and to the third sector in the spirit of these services being ‘on the ground’ in recognition that they understand the needs of communities better (the subsidiarity principle).. They have a closeness to the people that the public sector can find it hard to deliver on its own.


What needs to be explored more is how the third sector can be strengthened in the digital space and how partnerships between the sectors, including the community, local government and commercial, can drive innovative use of ICT to develop new service delivery models. Amidst the digital disruption, many governments around the world are struggling to innovate to better meet citizen’s needs and expectations.


The focus is very much on how they can implement cloud and manage services solutions, use big data effectively and be mobile responsive. However, transformational and innovative business models are lagging behind in the digital race. In some cases, despite their efforts to be citizen centric, federal governments find it difficult to develop and implement a coherent partnership approach to their service delivery.


Instead they look at how they can move forward in isolation. An alternative business model to achieve success in the digital space could be to start looking at government service delivery within the complexity of the community it operates in.


I recently ran a digital innovation workshop on the hospital of the future with service delivery as a key theme. Although we came up with some great ideas it would have been significantly improved if we’d have participants from the community sector and a broader representation from the commercial (beyond ICT) and all levels of government.


Working together is indicative of a strong civil society and something within our realm to address. The digital world offers new opportunities to pursue subsidiarity. This is possible through enhanced forms of collaboration between all the actors from the policy level, through to the competent delivery level. We can now  bring together government and the service delivery actors, be they commercial players, the third sector or other government agencies, in the early stages of exploring new policy proposals. As they collaborate the potential for innovation to occur is increased, through the combination of people all seeking address the same societal issues.


Build social capital and innovate through partnership! It’s an idealistic view that my students would embrace.


To find out more about the SAP Institute for Digital Government visit www.sap.com/sidg, follow us on Twitter @sapsidg and email us at digitalgovernment@sap.com. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/supporting-a-stronger-civil-society https://www.canberra.edu.au/coursesandunits/unit?unit_cd=8716

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