A couple of weeks ago, the NSW Government Chief Information and Digital Officer, Greg Wells, talked about how we need to model the way digital organisations should operate. Our objective is to transform the way government operates, from policy, regulation and investment through to service delivery and procurement.  Last week, we also talked about our goals for digital government – delivering measurable benefits, modelling the transformation ourselves, demonstrating and enabling transformation across the NSW public sector, establishing government as a platform and establishing systemic levers to drive behavioural change of organisations.

As part of this commitment, we are establishing the NSW Policy Lab. The NSW Policy Lab will bring contemporary techniques to policy making that support the digital transformation that we’re trying to achieve. Policy is the foundation of government, establishing the ways that government interact with citizens, businesses, NGOs and itself. Policy underpins so much of what we need to achieve in terms of modernising government services.

So what does that mean?

It means that we’ll be using design thinking in our approach to policy development. Design thinking is a human centred approach to problem solving, a way that we can work with our users. This gives us a view of our work from the outside in and enables us to co-design policy that is meaningful for policy users and effective for end users. In this way, we can approach policy not just as documents on websites that we need to navigate and comply with but as a useable tool to get stuff done. We want to make sure there’s no unnecessary complexity and create a consistent experience for our users.

It means that we’ll be collaborating with our colleagues across the sector to bring data and insights into our policy development and implementation.

It means that we’ll be iterating - testing and learning as we go. The objective is to learn from what we do, test our assumptions, take what we learn from when things didn’t go as planned and change our approach to ultimately deliver a better solution. The goal is to continuously improve and understand the limitations and opportunities of what we’re developing.

It means that we are open. That we will share our journey as we go. We have a wider ambition to build the policy making community in NSW and share our learning of openness and agility. We’re interested in identifying best practice, wherever it exists, and then sharing those lessons across the system more broadly.

We are not the first to establish a Policy Lab. We’ll be modelling ourselves on the great examples around the world (UKDenmarkTaiwanFranceNew Zealand and others – we’ll be writing another blog about this shortly) as well as our local colleagues both in government, academia, NGOs and the private sector.

What are we looking at first?

As a first step, we’re looking at the policy areas that underpin digital government - technology, emerging trends, data, information. Our projects will align with the digital government strategy and make a real difference in the lives of citizens.

Our projects will be all of government and from the start think about implementation and impact: who is going to use it? What is it for? Are we adding value?

So who are we?

We are a small team embedded in the digital government team at the NSW Department of Finance, Service and Innovation. We’ve got a great multidisciplinary team with backgrounds in public policy, law, economics and analytics and have partnered with content designers, service designers and agile coaches to make a start.

We’re new and we’re learning too. By starting small, testing, learning and building our community, we hope that we’ll be able to gain momentum and grow our agenda. We know that there are going to be problems that we can’t solve on our own and we will be using this to share our journey and reach out when we need help. We’ve got big ambitions about how we can transform government in NSW and are excited to start.