This afternoon, I attended the first meeting of the new cross-Government Digital Leaders network. Chaired by Mike Bracken it brought together the nominated Digital Leaders from all Government departments and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the ambitious shared remit of reinventing public services for the digital age.
As the Digital Leader for the Department of Health, I joined colleagues from a diverse range of professional backgrounds – communications, service delivery, technology services and many others – in a hot and crowded room in Admiralty Arch to discuss how we, a ‘bunch of civil servants’, could make public services simple, effective and above all beautiful for the public.
It’s a compelling proposition. Take the services Government provides and redesign them from the point of view of the user, not the host department. Ensure we deliver services and transactions digitally by default, not digitally as an after-thought. In digital circles we talk a lot about user-centred design, user experience, accessibility and simplicity, but the reality is that Government services remain in large part unwieldy, inconsistent, un-joined up and unattractive to the user.
So how do we truly make ‘digital by default’ a reality for Government? Creating the Digital Leaders network is clearly a positive start. And judging by the numbers crammed into the meeting room, one that is well bought into. Following Mike’s introduction linking form, function and beauty, Francis Maude gave a scene-setting address which reinforced that digital by default – supported by assisted digital – was not an option but a requirement. In true GDS fashion we were then handed post-it notes and coloured pens to write down what excited us, what worried us and what we needed from others as digital leaders. Unsurprisingly there were many common themes. Excitement at digital being endorsed at Board level by the creation of the network; at the opportunity to re-create meaningful services for the public; at making user-centred design a reality. Worries at the level of support and engagement we would receive from departmental boards; at potentially creating chaos rather than simplicity; at not having the right skills and resource to deliver real transformative change. And a real recognition of the power of the group and the need to share intelligence and experiences, to co-create solutions and to work together, not in isolation.
Having broken the ice with post-it notes and flipcharts, we discussed a range of issues around how to structure and develop a Government Digital Strategy supported by departmental digital strategies, next steps for gov.uk and how to manage demand for digital. Alongside the common themes it was also clear that different departments and administrations have very different needs, and a clear take-away was that a one-size-fits all approach cannot work.
So a very real opportunity for the network is to take the varying customer needs and multiple contexts for the full range of Government services and identify the areas for collaboration, for rationalisation, for reducing duplication and for following a set of common, agreed principles, always starting with the user. At the strategic level, the mandate is clear and some would say obvious. But the devil is in the detail and as Digital Leaders we will need to address the complexity head-on and navigate the detail together, whilst never losing sight of the big strategic goal.
Digital within departments can be a lonely place. It’s often seen as the preserve of geeks or trendy young things and a cross-Government professional network with a mandate for real change is long overdue. It’s comforting to know that others are dealing with the knotty problems, and what also came across clearly today was there’s no quick fix. We need culture change and re-education to position policy not as a series of documents, but as products and tools that make a real difference to the public. If this is one of the things the Digital Leaders network can achieve alongside the more concrete deliverables like gov.uk, that will be real transformative change. And, as Mike says, beautiful too.
About the author: Rachel Neaman is the Digital Leader for the Department of Health
Comment by shireen posted on
Rachel I am looking for an innovative case study on how NHS is using mobile improve communciation between patients/doctors/professional staff/hospital. I am hosting ThinkDigital, forum on mobile in healthcare on June 13, and would like to showcase the work the NHS is doing in this arena. email@example.com .
Comment by Rachel Neaman posted on
Hi Shireen, I don't have a suitable case study to hand, but am asking colleagues in the NHS if they can produce something. I'll get back to you. Rachel
Comment by Supporting access to the Digital Strategy | Government Digital Service posted on
[...] services. Although we co-ordinated publication, the document was developed collaboratively with Digital Leaders, departmental assisted digital leads, and with organisations working with people who are not [...]
Comment by The Government Digital Strategy, and how it was written | Government Digital Service posted on
[...] June, the 18 Digital Leaders from across Whitehall departments have been working together to draft the Strategy. It’s not [...]
Comment by Rachel Neaman talks about our ‘digital first’ approach to health and care | Digital Health posted on
[...] read Rachel’s blog from the first Digital Leaders meeting back in [...]
Comment by Getting started on assisted digital | Government Digital Service posted on
[...] now have assisted digital leads who are driving their work and have been nominated by their Digital Leaders. We will be collaborating with them on the cross-government approach to assisted digital and their [...]
Comment by Post-it notes, performance and innovation | Stephen Hale posted on
[...] when my boss blogged about the first meeting of the Digital Leaders network it sparked these daft comments about the post-its used during part of the [...]
Comment by Rachel Neaman posted on
Thanks for your comment Marcus. You're right that Board buy-in and maintaining momentum are fundamental to success. But it's also something that everyone working in digital, both within Government and outside, can play a part in. Let's make digital by default / digital first a reality, not another Government programme.
Comment by Government creates Digital Leaders network | | www.techlivewire.co.ukwww.techlivewire.co.uk posted on
[...] Rachel Neaman, digital leader at the Department of Health, attended the first meeting of the group. In a blog post she said the network could help digital leaders identify areas of collaboration, reduce duplication and a set of common digital principles. [...]
Comment by Marcus Fernandes posted on
This is really exiting stuff. There has always been talk about joined-up Government, but no one seemed to be leading this, but GDS is. I think support from department boards will be the key hurdle as change can be a difficult thing to accept. This is a brilliant first step though, and I hope the momentum can be kept up. Beautiful.
Comment by Simon Gordon posted on
This sounds very interesting but a long way to go! I would love to meet you to show you how we have done some very innovative work on crime reporting which is being adopted by the NHS in London and the Met police. The system is called Facewatch (see our website http://www.facewatch.co.uk). If you would like to meet up please let me know. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.