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PA IN THE MEDIA

The VAR revolution

This article was first published in Local Government News

Football fans will know that one of the most contentious talking points of the group stages of the FIFA World Cup has been the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). For the uninitiated, the VAR is an extra referee (plus several assistants) who can advise, via video replay, of major refereeing decisions in a football match.

The digital agenda and the rapid proliferation of technology across public services mean there will only be more technology-enabled change programmes in the coming years. And, as with VAR, it’s the way change is brought in that will be the decisive factor in its success.

Technology often enables better outcomes, rather than being an outcome itself. For example, implementing a new care records system might increase functionality, but that doesn’t mean the quality of care will necessarily increase as well. Similarly, many thought the introduction of VAR would end controversy in the game. However, far from being a panacea that settles every debate, VAR has added a new talking point to the referee’s subjective, human decisions.

The innovative Argenti telecare partnership, led by PA Consulting, has transformed peoples’ lives by using technology to remotely care for adults. We find the right technology to deliver the most benefit to each individual, focusing on their needs.

The success of this work, first in Hampshire and now spreading to other councils, depended on an outcomes-first approach that looked to empower people to live as independently as possible. Only when we defined the goals did we turn to the technology that made them a reality. This approach doesn’t just follow the shiniest new piece of kit, but applies the most appropriate technology, old or new, to deliver lasting results. For example, we have recently trialled Amazon’s Alexa. The consumer device is used to remind individuals to take medication, make calls to the hospital in an emergency and in turn gives family members or carers piece of mind that their loved one is safe.

Much of the debate around VAR has focused on the lack of clarity about its application, rather than the technology itself. This suggests the primary issue is the infrastructure of rules and expectations built around the technology and those who use it.

There are key lessons for public services here. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen new IT systems introduced only for staff to quickly revert to old ways of working, use the new system inconsistently or find workarounds. In many ways, implementing the technology is the easy part. It’s driving the changes in behaviour that enable that technology to work effectively that takes the most careful management.

Technology-enabled change significantly disrupts how people work. In this context, there will always be sceptics who need to be won over. Perhaps the problem with VAR at the World Cup has been its lack of testing in less important international games. With the fans’ limited exposure to the technology on such a big stage, confusion has been magnified. So, it’s important for public services that are introducing technology-enabled change to start small and build a compelling evidence base in a low-risk environment before scaling fast.

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Contact the author

  • Toby Hayward-Butcher

    Toby Hayward-Butcher

    Government and Public Sector expert

    Toby delivers and manages complex change projects across several areas of public services, with experience of managing risks and benefits

    Insights by Toby Hayward-Butcher

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