9. Follow the money

I’ve always said that if you want to understand priorities about digital in the public sector, it’s simple: follow the money. Where there are many claims and plans and conferences and blog posts and strategies and good things said, the measure of commitment is money. Follow this through, and how you purchase – or procure – digital work shapes how that digital work is delivered. 

How does language work in procurement? Well, it’s pretty much absent. There are general procurement frameworks in Wales but there are no digitally specific frameworks. The Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework recently saw the first Welsh language opportunity. For this, an English language only form was filled out in Welsh. 

The digital marketplace (both in terms of Digital Outcomes and Specialists and G-Cloud) is a public framework. Were funding available to offer this as a bilingual service across the public sector and beyond in Wales and organisations began to expect Welsh language, or bilingual Welsh and English language opportunities to be included, how much business would pass across it? I’m prepared to bet it would be more than one bid. 

Even if a bilingual framework for digital services in Wales isn’t possible, could we not develop some common approaches to requirements for bilingual development? For example, when I set out last year to include a bilingual approach from the outset in the design of a new Welsh Government digital service I included the following criteria in the first round of the Digital Outcomes and Specialists opportunity wording:

  • “Made available to the user bilingually, in the languages of Welsh and English;”
  • “Working within a Welsh context, and of designing and developing bilingual services for users;”

The second round also included a scored question on bilingual development. I had to come up with that wording because I couldn’t find any other examples of this, and I’m sure it can be improved. Some common wording made available to people developing services available to the people of Wales for use in procurement exercises could drive a major change in the way that services are developed. 

Please note that I’m not suggesting creating new frameworks or approaches here. We all know the risks involved in creating new frameworks. I’m suggesting that existing approaches could allow for Welsh language and bilingual Welsh and English language opportunities to be added. I’m also suggesting that common ways of assessing and scoring responses to questions about language in service design at the procurement stage would have a far greater impact on the services provided to users than approaches that assess work when it’s under way or, worse, complete. 

At a minimum this might help avoid the situation I once found myself in where I had to score an answer on accessibility and bilingual provision for software where the details on language provision contradicted the commitment on Accessibility given in the same answer. (If you’re curious: all I need say is WCAG v2.0 level double-AA and client-side JavaScript to provide text in the chosen language!) 

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