Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IT, productivity and culture

On the LSE Politics and Policy Blog there is an article highlighting how the productivity of the Department for Work and Pensions fell for much of the last two decades. The explanation is not the traditional Aunt Sally of allegedly lazy or incompetent public servants – it’s more complex than that as well as relevant beyond Whitehall.

Policy churn, organisational change and personnel turnover at ministerial change partly explain the dismal performance at DWP. More significantly, Patrick Dunleavy and Leandro Carrera suggest that a conservative mindset hindered the adoption of IT for improving productivity:

Three main organisational culture problems inside DWP prevented top officials even considering a shift to digital-era governance. First, senior officials with little or no IT background themselves did not believe that the poorer households and individuals receiving welfare benefits would ever get Internet access. However, in 2008 they discovered to their surprise that 51 percent of DWP ‘clients’ were already online with broadband Internet access.

Second, for years top civil servants saw the web as merely a place for posting static billboards of information and had no conception of creating a more interactive Web experience. Third, internal organisational power over policy on IT was concentrated among officials (aged in their 40s and 50s) running the big-budget mainframe computer systems, who saw web processes as a financially trivial (and hence organisationally irrelevant) sideline.

While these issues may be particularly acute in parts of central government, some of those attitudes can be found throughout the public and third sectors.

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