Government as a Platform – technology, data or business model?

by Eddie Copeland

What exactly is Government as a Platform (GaaP) and does it have a future?

This was the topic I was asked to address during a speech at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Platform Society conference on 22 September 2016.

In my talk, which you can listen to via SoundCloud, I argue that the term might be understood in three different ways:

Technology – much of the dominant narrative surrounding GaaP has focused on the technology. I point out that the way the UK government tends to use the term ‘platform’ does not necessarily match the way technology is used in well-known private sector examples such as eBay, Android or iTunes. In each of those cases, the platform is something on which people outside the organisation can deliver products or services of value to the organisation’s users. That contrasts with the Government Digital Service’s approach of building common core components that can be reused and reassembled to deliver multiple different services, an approach that might better be termed “Government as Lego”.

The video you can hear played during the talk is this one, by GDS:

Data – many tried and tested ways of delivering public services more effectively and efficiently require joining together data from multiple public sector bodies. I therefore make the case that cities should think about government as a platform in terms of platforms of data; a subject I have blogged about extensively before.

Business models – government can also be inspired by the business models associated with some ‘platform’ businesses, which often act as peer networks connecting people with something to offer to those that need it. I give the example of GoodSAM – an app that augments the power of UK emergency services by alerting a network of volunteers when someone nearby them is experiencing cardiac arrest. Family-by-family – an initiative from South Australia – is another case study. Instead of having a programme akin to the UK’s Troubled Families initiative, Family-by-Family provides training to help families who have been through hard times and recovered to support other families in their communities.

Overall, I argue that if GaaP is to be a meaningful concept at all, it needs to incorporate all three of these elements.

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