Demming: Digitisation won’t erase public sector “stuckness”, without attitude change

EPL Infrafred Sauna

Congratulations to the Ministry of Legal Affairs (MLA). I received my digital marriage certificate in four days without leaving my home.

Unfortunately, we have to start the process all over because there’s an error. The name of one of the witnesses is incorrectly spelt.

Having gone through the application process I was not required to put in the data—this was done by MLA. In the handwritten (analog) version, the name is spelt correctly. How can the digital version have an error?

Time to digitise…

I understand human error but what’s the process implemented to correct, eliminate or reduce human error? What’s the system that ensures the product delivered to the customer is acceptable?

Digitisation should lead to improved efficiency, better services, enhanced decision-making capabilities, and a satisfied public. What’s keeping us back? Our minds and attitudes are what’s keeping us back.

We talk about digital transformation all the time, but we continue to invest our resources in structuring structures without making sure both structure and people are properly matched.

People are the most important factor to transform our paid-for-with-hard-earned-taxes nation. The tax-paid leadership must communicate the necessary mindset transformation by demonstrating continuous behaviour change.

How do we reform the public sector?

The only way public sector employees will “buy in” to the significant change that’s needed is if they see their leaders at all levels changing their behaviours. Remember the cliché: “people do what you do, not what you say!”

The leadership must invest in the upskilling of the entire public service to help us all adapt to new technologies and ways of working.

We also can’t upskill by tossing new skills on top of old; some excavation work is needed to replace all of the unhelpful attitudes and habits our people have so carefully acquired and hoarded (like Gollum and his precious ring) throughout their lifetimes.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) at the BPTT Technology opening in 2019.
(via OPM)

Think of the gains of delivering a certificate quickly, with all the elements involved, which were totally and completely undone because an error was allowed to occur—the supervision process missed the error entirely.

Converting a broken analog system to a digital one is still maintaining a broken system. The world has transformed successfully from analog to digital in the public sector. What’s our problem?

We are still in the mode of “…dah not mih job…” and “…dat good enough…”

Digitization, if done correctly, is a fantastic opportunity to confirm data from the traditional records, and to update or correct them as needed.

It would be lovely to have a reset button to hit to foster a culture of learning and innovation. There isn’t one. There has to be careful, well-advised consideration, and surgical education implemented to repair the problem.

A public sector employee (right) conducts a transaction in the movie Zootopia.

In addition, our leaders must demonstrate the capacity to foster that culture of learning and innovation. It’s time for a new leadership that walks the talk of a changed mindset. We have so much potential but we are stuck. This MLA incident is just one example of our “stuckness” and the decades of failure of our leadership.

It’s easy to say: “Time to move on!” But moving on without properly repairing will ensure that the stuckness keeps us stuck.

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About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a communication strategist, political commentator and event planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing business communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise is a member of the HOPE political party.

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One comment

  1. Digitisation must be accompanied by some attempts to transform the culture/mindset of those charged with the responsibility of service delivery (inclusive of their managers/supervisors) . Failure to achieve this may see us possibly worst off than where we are currently.

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