By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine
A digital accelerator is helping Scotland to match public sector problems with entrepreneurial answers, according to deputy first minister John Swinney.
Speaking at Socitm’s President’s Conference in Glasgow on 9 May, Swinney highlighted the CivTech digital accelerator project as a key way Scotland is using technology to improve government.
‘What started as a pilot programme in the Scottish Government has now grown into a flagship innovation programme,’ he told the event. ‘The CivTech model exposes policy-makers to cutting-edge approaches towards innovation and puts young tech entrepreneurs on the public sector’s radar.’
CivTech pays entrepreneurs to pitch solutions to public sector problems, as well as providing access to senior staff and training. Speaking later, CivTech’s head Alexander Holt told the conference that of the nine businesses that took part in the scheme in 2016, eight are still in operation, having created the equivalent of 30 full-time jobs. They have worked with a range of public sector organisations, including Scottish councils.
Holt said that a standard procurement exercise can take 30 months to deliver results, and relies on organisations knowing what to ask for. ‘How can we procure what we don’t know exists?’ he asked, adding that procurement legislation is more flexible than is commonly thought.
Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer, told the event that the UK capital hopes to improve innovation and collaboration through a new Smart London plan, due this summer.
As well as innovation, the conference also examined citizen and community engagement, including a presentation on how Sweden benefits from its high level of trust in government; ethical uses of automation such as artificial intelligence, with Maryvonne Hassall of Aylesbury Vale District Council discussing that council’s work; and cybersecurity, with Professor Bill Buchanan of Edinburgh Napier University discussing how technologies including smart contracts could revolutionise public services.