Wales launches digital strategy

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez March 24, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Wales has been slowly but surely building its digital capability in recent years and has now launched a comprehensive digital strategy ‘for all of Wales’.

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The Welsh government has this week launched its ‘Digital Strategy for Wales', which has a ‘six mission' plan and aims to provide citizens with modern and efficient public services. 

The launch of the strategy follows a number of initiatives in recent years aimed at building up digital capability across the country. These include: the launch of the Centre for Digital Public services; the appointment of new Chief Digital Officers for local government and the Welsh Government; plus a number of multi-million pound investments in digital across areas that include health, education, infrastructure and inclusion. 

The document states that the strategy is for ‘all of Wales' and is aimed at anyone creating, designing or using digital tools and services. Interestingly, the Welsh Government isn't adopting a central control approach to the strategy, but is instead hoping all areas of government will work together to achieve the goals laid out. 

Announcing the strategy, Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, says:

Digital change has accelerated in recent years and now offers us a range of new tools for solving old or novel problems. In essence, digital offers the potential to make our experience of the world better: enhancing people's lives, strengthening the delivery of public services and the work of government, as well as helping businesses to adapt to the future.

The purpose of this Digital Strategy for Wales is to take a look ahead and set out a national vision for jointly adopting a digital approach across Wales. I want to ensure people in Wales experience modern and efficient public services supported by good, ethical, use of data. I want to stimulate innovation in our economy and support businesses to develop the resilience they need to succeed. 

I want to provide the people of Wales with the confidence they need to engage in their communities and in modern society. I want learners of all ages to have the knowledge, experience and skills to benefit from an increasingly digital and changing economy.

As noted above, the strategy includes ‘six missions' for delivery, which the government says will require a change in culture to achieve and will be adopted with a long-term view of success. The six missions are outlined below. 

Mission 1 - digital services

The key aim here is to deliver and modernise services so that they are designed around user needs and are simple, secure and convenient. The government wants public services that are designed to meet user needs to become the norm, working within a common set of standards and service patterns. 

Services will also be developed as bilingual from the outset, recognising that people may need access to services in either English or Welsh. 

The Centre for Digital Public Services, which launched in 2020, will play a central role in improving capability, embedding standards and supporting public services. 

The strategy hints that a shake up of current contracts could be in the works, as plans to revisit current systems, platforms and services is prioritised. 

The outcomes that the government hopes to achieve include: making services available online wherever possible; data being used to develop insight about public services; services will be built to be open and accessible; and services will have a consistent ‘look and feel'. 

Mission 2 - digital inclusion

The Welsh Government wants to equip people with the motivation, access, skills and confidence to engage with an increasingly digital world, based on their needs. 

The strategy outlines the risks of digital exclusion and says that the government must engage with communities to better understand the barriers to accessing services online. 

But for people who cannot, or decide not to, participate digitally, the government must continue to apply the principles of user centred design and provide alternative ways to access public services. The aim is that these alternative access routes will be as good as those offered online. 

The long-term hope is that fewer people will be digitally excluded, that people will feel more supported in developing digital skills, and that public services can be used by everyone, either digitally or through other channels. 

Mission 3 - digital skills

The Welsh Government is also making it a priority to create a workforce that has the digital skills, capability and confidence to "excel in the workplace and in everyday life". 

It has created a Digital Competence Framework tha Tim's to help develop young people into "enterprising, creative and critical thinkers" by emphasising the importance of digital from an early age. 

Similarly, the government is recognising the role will play in changing the shape of the jobs market and has made a commitment to support life-long learning. This is particularly noteworthy given that by 2030, it is estimated that 80% of the workforce will have left compulsory education. 

Mission 4 - digital economy

The strategy aims to drive "economic prosperity and resilience by embracing and exploring digital innovation" The government states that digital will play an important part in the short-term recover and ongoing longer transformation of the Welsh economy, post-pandemic. 

The belief is that digital innovation creates new prospects for businesses, attracts future investment and talent, improves job quality and supports the flexibility of work. 

The government says that it wants to see a coordinated push to drive forward investment in research, innovation and skills, working with industry clusters and academic collaborations to make this happen. The strategy states:

To achieve our ambitions around high quality digital public services we need a digital economy that can support our public sector, but also a public sector which understands how they should work with the market to deliver what they need in a responsive and flexible way.

Wales must look ahead in order to develop strengths in the digital trends of the future. The higher education sector in Wales is developing proposals for a Data Nation Accelerator, bringing together its capability with industry and the public sector to fuel innovation in the areas of artificial intelligence and data science. Proposals of this nature can be important to Wales' future ambitions but will require a commitment from UK funders for them to be realised.

Mission 5 - digital connectivity 

Wales is also prioritising investment in fast and reliable infrastructure. However, the strategy notes that digital connectivity and telecommunications policy is the responsibility of the UK government and for which the Welsh Government receives no devolved funding. 

However, the strategy still aims to support service delivery wherever there is the case for it and is focused on "ensuring that the UK government fulfils its responsibilities in Wales" 

It notes that some parts of Wales still cannot access superfast broadband, whilst elsewhere the commercial rollout of gigabit broadband is gathering momentum. As such, the government aims to use ‘levers at its disposal' to support the country in getting the connectivity it needs. 

Mission 6 - data and collaboration 

Finally, the strategy talks about the opportunity of better use of data for public services. The Welsh Government wants to improve the services provided by working with stakeholders to make sure that all data is used and shared effectively, has consistent standards, is protected, and "gets where it needs to go". 

This includes the use of data to support more automation and the use of AI, the strategy states, whilst making sure that this is done ethically and with integrity. The government believes that this can help deliver savings, take away the burden of repetitive tasks and help people focus on adding value. 

The strategy also outlines plans to develop and use common data standards wherever possible and use technical standards, which allow data to be seamlessly shared from one system to another. 

My take

There's lots of good stuff here and plenty to like - particularly when looking at the long term focus of the strategy, rather than prioritising short-term success, and the emphasis on digital inclusion. Obviously the focus on designing for user needs and better use of data is what you'd expect to see too. However, whilst there is a clear outline of what outcomes could look like, I think we need a bit more clarity on what is actually being measured here - perhaps with some targets. Clear measurables can help to focus minds and give all those involved a better understanding of what is trying to be achieved, as well as provide a mechanism for the government to be held to account. 

 

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