- Create digital services,
- Better manage and share data across departments, and
- Collaborate with external stakeholders from industry, research, community and local business.
Current challenges such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis demonstrate the need for governments to move towards digital solutions. Public health pandemics, climate change impacts, changing demographics, and citizen and business demands are all driving a need for governments to reimagine themselves as platforms that connect and enable collaboration.
Governments need to:
- Engage with citizens and businesses digitally (via online and mobile) to cultivate trust, ensure participation, and focus on equity
- Share data and facilitate other stakeholders to share data as well, while respecting data privacy concerns and industry commercial-in-confidence needs
- Use resources more sustainably (i.e. the old adage, do more with less).
- Stimulate innovation while balancing regulation.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are a way to enable different systems to connect. But they are more than a technical concern. APIs make it possible to better shape the use of technology so that solutions address policy goals and societal and economic problems. APIs enable collaboration amongst different stakeholders by creating a level playing field and opening data and services in standardised ways. APIs help create products and services faster because they allow existing digital components to be reused rather than be built from scratch again. APIs could play a huge role in addressing equity by allowing instant analysis and insight into whether government actions are inadvertently causing negative impacts on specific populations or in specific areas.
In order for APIs to be a policy enabling technology, governments need to take a cohesive, whole-of-government approach to APIs rather than just building APIs for a specific use case, such as for sharing real-time transport data or exposing weather data. When these are done as isolated projects, they are helpful for building some products, such as route planners or weather apps, but are less useful in driving outcomes towards wider government policy goals such as reducing CO2 emissions from traffic congestion or leveraging weather data to future-proof the agricultural sector.
In move to a more cohesive API approach, governments need:
- Policy shepherds and digital government leads who can map policies, stakeholder networks and principles and who can ask "can APIs help us achieve these goals?"
- Metrics that can calculate the value being contributed by APIs to reaching goals faster and more equitably
- New skillsets in collaboration action, ecosystem facilitation and design thinking so that digital government works effectively in a platform model.
The 5 Wins Digital Government Data Model
Platformable collects data and analyses government actions by using a 5 Wins model. This model has identified 5 key stakeholders who should see benefits from government API activities, 4 enablers and 3 domains.
- Governments themselves: APIs should help governments be more efficient, build solutions faster, and reduce duplication
- Citizens: APIs should help citizens interact more easily with government (when and where they want) and more seamlessly (having to repeat themselves less often), with less waiting times and less paperwork. Trust should be increased because citizens see a clear feedback loop and that their engagement is valued, and because decision-making (including spending) is more transparent.
- Community and research: Community groups should be able to provide services and support their constituents with greater information access and less bureaucracy. Researchers should be able to collaborate and share their results with policy-makers more easily.
- Business: Business should be able to reduce paperwork, meet regulations responsibly, pay taxes easily, and be supported to become local economic powerhouses. Industries should be able to work together in standardised ways where possible and compete on a level-playing field.
- The API industry: Because governments are big organisations, their use of APIs will helps peed up the maturity and industry knowledge so that everyone can benefits from learning how governments implement new technological solutions.
To ensure these benefits are shared, government API systems need to support 4 enablers:
- Regulation: Regulation can help facilitate appropriate use of APIs and reduce the risk of negative detrimental impacts, such as privacy exposures or industry monopolisation
- Developer Experience: Making APIs easily understood by internal and external stakeholder developers will be essential to ensure the efficiency and other benefits of government APIs are realised.
- Standards: API standards, standard data models, and data glossaries can all help ecosystems to work collaboratively and speed up development. This will also help new businesses scale their products and services to other geographies and markets.
- Security: Best practices in API security and data privacy will need to be implemented in a Government API Framework to give all stakeholders confidence and to reduce the risk of threats.
Unlike private business, governments implementing APIs are not taking a profit-motive stance. Three domain considerations also need to be applied in the Government 5 wins data model to ensure that API activities are creating the appropriate outcomes for government:
- Engagement: APIs in government settings should enable engagement by all stakeholders.
- Sustainability: APIs in government settings should help enable governments to introduce sustainable practices where resources are used within limits and infrastructure does not provoke high energy consumption or create costly builds.
- Equity: Government API activities must conduct impact assessments and measure differential outcomes by key sub-populations, business size and location to ensure that this technology does not inadvertently widen systemic inequalities.
Platformable's Product Range
Platformable's Digital Government product range seeks to support governments to analyse and implement best practices for API-related activities. Our product range includes:
Platformable produces three main sets of products:
- Tools to help digital leaders systematically map API opportunities to policy goals
- Assessment instruments to help digital leaders understand when NOT to use APIs
- Templates to map and engage with key policy implementation stakeholders
- Systems to catalogue relevant dates, milestones, and key performance indicators of relevance, and
- Resources to analyse existing activities and pinpoint opportunities to add value.