Tech Net Zero discovery report
- Executive summary
- Next steps
Tech Net Zero was a 12-week discovery investigating how digital can support Wales’s net zero climate aims.
CDPS worked with the digital consultants Perago and the low carbon and digital innovation team at M-SParc on the project.
The discovery looked at:
- how digital in the public sector could contribute to Wales’s net zero commitments
- whether public servants have the right support to implement good practice
When we say ‘digital’ in this report, we use Tom Loosemore’s (Public Digital) definition:
“Applying the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations”
And when we say ‘net zero’, we mean “achieving a balance between the carbon emissions put into the atmosphere and those taken out”.
What did we do?
- public servants across Wales
- public sector exemplary practitioners
- public cloud providers
We also did desk-based research on international, UK and Welsh policy and good practice.
What did we learn?
Here, in summary, are the 6 recommendations we had at the end of discovery.
Recommendation 1 – Raise awareness
The team found that technology leaders, and practitioners, often lacked a full understanding of:
- how digital could support net zero in general
- their organisation’s net zero goals specifically
- what meeting net zero meant in their professional context
Recommendation 2 – Make net zero a priority within digital
Our research revealed a disconnect between the climate emergency and digital priorities within the public sector. Sustainability is rarely a driving force for digital teams.
People working in the public sector in Wales need to see sustainability prioritised from the top, where it will filter down to digital team objectives.
Recommendation 3 – Help people follow net zero good practice
The Tech Net Zero team found that, where there are sustainability professionals within organisations, they are not joined up with digital teams to influence and support them.
The sustainability professionals we spoke to often had a good idea of how digital can support net zero but less ability to see those ideas through to delivery.
Recommendation 4 – Measure the carbon footprint of a digital service
The need to evaluate services’ climate impact came up in our user research. The discovery team found there was no clear and easy way to evaluate the climate footprint of a digital service. Such a method was also top of the UK government Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting (STAR) team’s wish list.
Some of the people we interviewed had strong views on how to design and run services sustainably but found it difficult to measure services’ environmental impact.
Recommendation 5 – Support sustainability work across boundaries
Our research found that reducing duplication, and moving towards shared services across the public sector, were important ways to cut emissions. Both within and across organisations, teams are often siloed from each other. That lessens their ability to replicate good sustainable digital practice from elsewhere.
Working together on service delivery models isn’t a new idea (it features in Wales’s net zero route map for 2022-2026) but, done well, it could have a big impact.
Many participants talked about the perceived efficiencies and environmental benefits of shared service work.
Recommendation 6 – Make sustainability part of procurement
Our policy research and our conversations with public servants both highlighted the opportunity to procure digital products and services in a way that reduces carbon emissions.
Users said they lacked knowledge about how to make digital procurement environmentally sustainable. However, they advocated building sustainability into wider procurement policy and platforms, rather than leaving it to individual organisations to interpret.
What we focused on
This discovery looked at how a broad range of people (professionals within digital and technology, sustainability, commercial and other areas) across the Welsh public sector consider carbon emissions when making decisions about digital technology use.
We also looked at digital services, or services that could be digital, and how digital changes to these services could decrease emissions.
We used the following techniques to help us answer our research questions.
The focus of the desk research was to identify any similar user research undertaken by others. We also reviewed existing policy and guidance within Wales, the UK and internationally.
Below is a list of resources and comprehensive research findings:
Policy best practice research findings
Wales and UK best practice findings
International best practice research findings
Best practice interviews
While our public interviews used set questions, discussions with exemplary practitioners were more free form as their roles and knowledge were very different. Questions we asked in the best-practice discussions included:
- what do you consider best practice for digital and net zero to be?
- what are the barriers to public sector organisations adopting best practice?
We talked to large corporations such as Amazon Web Services and Google. We also spoke to experts at Defra, Central Digital and Data Office and the UK government’s Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting (STAR) team. In Wales, we spoke to housing associations Adra and Grŵp Cynefin, the chair of Socitm Wales and BCUHB Green Group.
User research interviews
Our primary method for qualitative data gathering was in-depth interviews.
We recruited participants from 3 main stakeholder groups. We used the same stakeholder groups as the Digital Landscape Review for consistency.
These groups included professionals within digital and technology, digital services and operational management and sustainability.
The criteria for research participants included:
- recent experience of working in digital and digital technology in the Welsh public sector
- currently in post with at least 6 months’ experience or left a role no more than 3 months ago, excluding UK central government based in Wales
- experience working with digital and technology within services, or plan to be in the next 6 months
We created an online survey to show the differences between the responses of a wider participant group and the responses from the interviews. This allowed us to view how representative the themes from the interviews are of a wider group of people.
Who did we speak to?
We conducted 30-minute interviews with 24 individuals involved in digital technology, who were recruited through:
- M-SParc, Perago, CDPS and Welsh Government networks
- promotion on social media and mailing lists
We also circulated a short survey, which got 28 responses.
The table shows the background of the participants in the 24 in-depth interviews:
|Central administration||Sponsored bodies||Health and care||Local authorities||Other|
|Digital and technology||6||1||1||8||2|
|Service or operational management||1||0||0||0||2|
We gained informed consent from research participants and explained how we’d use their information. When completing interviews, we also asked for consent to record the interview to help with gathering data.
We anonymised all research data and findings so they could not be traced back to individuals.
What we found and future opportunities
From the research findings, the following are our 6 recommendations in detail.