The Ministry of Possibilities is an original idea — it has no Minister either. Instead, it is managed by Cabinet. The Ministry of Possibilities is the world’s first virtual ministry with the whole of Cabinet as a crew. Inside this unconventional Ministry in the UAE, government systems of the future are built using squads of agile sprint teams that design disruptive solutions to problems using a form of iterative, first-to-market development model. The Ministry co-opts talent from federal and municipal corporations, avant-gardists, captains of industry, and the private sector to tackle snags.
Built to bring into fruition alternative ideas and convert ambition into reality, this unusual model has launched several projects, including the provision of proactive public services; reducing wait time for government purchases from 60 days to 6 minutes; uncovering the talent in every child; and fostering a new generation of government practices. The ministry also debunks bureaucratic structures, explores behaviour incentives, and engages in skills discovery and talent management.
With Next-Generation Boards that include digital natives and design thinkers, the Ministry of Possibilities executes joint assignments where no dream is lost. Everything is collected using Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Data Sciences. In neighbouring Digital Dubai emerging technologies are used to recreate user journeys of everyday experiences for residents and visitors making them more personalized, seamless, efficient, and impactful.
Unlike steel and glass edifices, “Digital Offices” are open to the public 24/7—and remain open during public-health crises like the Coronavirus pandemic, and natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Occasionally, private-sector companies appear to be ahead of the curve. But they manage few nomothetic customer journeys each day, in stark contrast to the sheer volume and complexity of government customer journeys every day for thousands of ideographic services.
But, citizens now see no reason why accessing public services should not be as liquid as shopping from e-shelves. Citizens wish to be able to quickly find the most relevant services, using a universal access credential. They want information that is clear and momentary. Citizens expect to complete every transaction via digital channels—ideally, through a single digital journey. Here, the long-lasting struggle to digitize public services in Germany is of heuristic utility.
Using a Use Case approach, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany has clustered 5,900 transactions into 575 distinct services. From this taxonomy, the government of Germany has painstakingly distilled 55 distinct “User Journeys”. Government services in all countries are managed by different divisions, departments, agencies, special purpose companies, and geographic and municipal units. With each having legislative autonomy and legacy strains.
Modalities of writing draft estimates for budgets have also resulted in digitization programs and projects that remain indigenous to departmental silos. It is therefore no elementary task to motivate heads of divisions to contribute to integrated service journeys via a shared digital channel. This requires dedicated effort, focused on Digital Reimagination if the aim is to significantly impact user experience. Paper Forms, for instance, can be simplified with digital versions requiring fewer fields and less time to complete.
They can be re-imagined to pull information directly from databases governed by an Open Data Policy that requires the authorization of the citizen before personal data can be accessed or shared. Push notifications can use simple language to reduce waffle knowing the diversity in digital literacies. Documents can be uploaded using mobile phones with inbuilt scanners. A Whole-of-Government approach can link touchpoints within a single user journey and offer digital status push notifications. Implementing these changes is not pedestrian and requires countless actors to collaborate. Ahmed Zaki Yamani reminded us that the stone age did not end because we ran out of stones. Digital public services are imperative in Post Corona notwithstanding the enduring dual challenge of the working-knowledge and culture of bureaucracies. Civil servants are trained to adhere to formal legal procedures enshrined in Regulations and Schedules. They uphold and promote fairness, justice as equity, and a level playing field. This limits the possibility of “out of the blue” forays which inevitably terminate in misadventures. However, that mind-set is less helpful when it comes to creating digital products, that require more informal collaboration within and across public authorities.
The judicial dark tower slant insulates the service from the establishment and makes employees with advanced digital skills more attracted to private sector opportunities instead of government appointments. Automating case handling with sprint teams can also reduce backlogs, reduce the number of repetitive tasks and free up resources for other priorities—another advantage in the wake of COVID-19 when promptness and resilience are paramount. Despite these hindrances, the key to success remains a coordinated, whole-of-government approach.
Trust trumps technology. New methods of working unlock countless capabilities, but without trust, big-change is impossible. There is no ceremonial seat for any stakeholder. From inception, there is absolutely no need for “buy-in”. What is needed is regard for the wisdom of every stakeholder. An impatient future is ahead and every interaction builds and reduces trust. Trust is fragile. Digital leadership requires the team to think about the risks the people bringing the change are taking on. There will be no shortage of trepidation…