So much has been written about the incredible moment of opportunity facing the public sector as the country moves out of the COVID-19 crisis. Particularly with pandemic-driven accelerated technology investments and new federal funding to support enabling technologies, governments are using a changing, challenging context as a springboard for future stability.
While governments can emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position, the question remains, who owns this transformation? Gartner research offers one answer: the public sector chief information officer (CIO).
“For many years government CIOs have faced a litany of challenges – transient and inconsistent political leadership, financial austerity and advancing citizen expectations, to name a few. The disruptive start to 2020 has amplified these existing challenges and brought with it new ones. Even so, the opportunity has never been greater for government CIOs to help lead their organizations through this period of uncertainty, and in the process becoming a world-class government.”
The Role of the CIO
CIOs are, indeed, uniquely positioned to drive digital transformation. While elected officials may be focused on external issues and responding directly to resident concerns, now is the perfect moment for CIOs to leverage their skills and elevated roles to facilitate the data-driven strategies that meet the challenges in all service areas while also informing and supporting smart policy.
Specifically, CIOs can drive successful progress beginning with human-centered design.
In many respects, it is most useful to think of human-centered design as user-centered design. User-centered design, in practice, eliminates barriers to adoption and is outcome-focused. It entails working with citizens, not just for them.
In fact, the Partnership for Public Service cites human-centered design as one of eight core technical competencies of a 21st-century workforce.
“The fundamental principles of design — placing users at the center and building empathy to understand their needs — are proving to be uniquely suited for identifying and tackling some of the most complex problems in government and building trust and confidence in our institutions,” said Kyla Fullenwider, the Census Bureau’s first CIO.
This is already happening in practice around the country, as CIOs lead the charge in solving emerging issues. For example, Virginia is addressing the opioid crisis by bringing the departments and the data that traditionally worked in silos – such as homelessness, workforce transportation, health and more – together.
The human-centered approach is in using a centralized data platform to make verified, actionable information accessible to myriad stakeholders including community-based organizations, medical professionals, social services professionals, law enforcement and research institutions, along with agencies. The platform features a centralized administration of the portal to enable data governance and granular access permissions to foster collaboration in a secure environment.
Transformation Through Collaboration
Collaborative, evidence-based solutions hold the promise of solving problems, but ad-hoc data sharing agreements can be ineffective due to lack of trust among different parties involved. Centralized data governance and centrally controlled and secure access to the data for different users helps to overcome hesitation around data sharing, making the case for user-centered, outcome-focused strategies.
In addition, an intuitive navigation for users to discover and access the data they need, rich metadata documentation and search capabilities and visualization tools seamlessly enable a data-driven culture to address the problem at hand.
Prioritizing user experience promotes proactive innovation and collaboration. When CIOs drive human-centered design, more collaborative and resourceful governments emerge. In recognizing the continued challenges facing governments in 2021, it is important to note that successful policies are nearly impossible to execute without the technology to inform and enable them. Now is the time for CIOs to use their elevated platforms to transform operations to solve problems and enhance performance, service and growth.
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Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Content Manager, Editorial with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations and create connections between governments and those they serve.