What does transformation really mean?

There’s a lot of talk about transformation. People who use services don’t care if something has been ‘transformed’ or not. They just want to do something. So when we talk about ‘transformation’, we’re already speaking from an internally-focused perspective rather than outside-in.

Much of the time, when people talk about transformation they aren’t talking about the kind of major cultural shift in approach that actually changes an organisation’s course.

The word is more often used to describe our intention to improve something. Or perhaps to use an approach that is quite different from ‘how things are normally done round here’. And it probably takes a lot of hard work and commitment to do.

Be clear about what you’re doing

It’s better to ask what it is we are trying to achieve. In which case, the answer is unlikely to be ‘transformation’.

It’s then best to explain our intent, using plain English. It could be things like: we’re

  • making it easier to access data so it’s faster to build good services
  • redesigning a service to work across multiple departments so it’s easier for someone to use
  • improving confidence and accuracy in decision making to give better value for money
  • identifying how services could better meet policy intent
  • creating the right conditions for good services to happen, by changing culture, values, approaches, technology and processes

Change is hard

Setting out to make more ambitious change is hard for a large organisation like the Home Office. It’s easy to get stuck in a continuous cycle of transformation.

Someone sets out a grand strategic vision. Programs of work are set up. Things change and now that vision is suddenly out of date, so someone sets out a new vision. And so the cycle continues.

This thinking reveals the belief that there can be a single end state, which will be achieved when the transformation is done. But history suggests that we’ll never get there because something unpredictable or semi-predictable will happen before we do. Change is a constant.

What we’re doing about transformation

In government we believe in orienting organisations around end-to-end services that relate to what people actually need to do. Real user needs remain the same, regardless of changes to technology, policy or existing services. You could say it’s a more ‘future proof’ perspective.

We design and iterate services in a way that achieves policy intent and organisational goals as well as to better meet these user needs. And we focus effort on making the building blocks of these services, that make it easier to change quickly and improve.

We know we won’t get services perfect first time, so we take an approach and structure ourselves to continually to work on them. The transformation will never end, and our work will never be done.

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