What's the "Uber" of the Civil Service?

There's a famous quote from Tom Goodwin about the way the world has changed recently:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

As part of my MSc, I'm being challenged to think about the nature of disruption and how it might apply to my employer - the UK Civil Service.

There are some obvious difference between the state and private companies. The state does not, for the most part, have customers. And, where people do pay money, they're mostly paying for services. Where people pay for products, it is for monopoly items like passports and driving licences.

Let's imagine (and this a blog post about an imaginary future - it isn't about proposed policy) that a new government department is created. And, in the vein of Uber et al it doesn't have any... what?

What is it that traditional departments produce to be consumed? Reports? Memos? Policy? Perhaps the answer is... advice!

Consider the fictional "Ministry of Advice". Any Member of the Government or Civil Servant can post a question asking for policy advice - and any Civil Servant across the whole organisation can answer.

Think of it like StackOverflow or Quora but for government. StackOverflow doesn't employ any experts - it provides a platform where people can ask and answer questions.

The "Ministry of Advice" does not employ any advisors.

Perhaps the "Ministry of Advice" is gamified. Civil Servants who consistently post high quality answers get points. And points mean prizes.

Yes, it would need careful moderation - as all online tools do. And, yes, the incentives would have to be aligned carefully. And - almost certainly - it would put people's noses out of joint. When it turns out the spotty kid in the basement of the Ministry of Transport knows more about electoral law than the Subject Matter Experts in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, there will be uproar.

But that's the point of disruptive innovation. We don't kowtow to established hierarchies, we rip up the old ways of doing things and allow unbridled knowledge and creativity to find new solutions.

There are a thousand reasons why this thought-experiment wouldn't work. And I'm equally sure there are dozens of better ways you could improve the Civil Service. But there's a grain of an idea here.

Could the next government department be entirely virtual?

5 thoughts on “What's the "Uber" of the Civil Service?

  1. Maybe something to explore is the difference between organisations who implement policy purely through regulation and funding, compared to those who provide platforms and transactional services.

  2. I've often thought something similar. Where are the government "A-Teams"? Who are the team's you can call on in need to parachute into your department or local authorities?

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