We're planning a teaching session on digital for Will Cavendish our new DG for innovation, growth and technology. He’s passionate about the need for digital transformation in the health and care system and I’m delighted and excited about this. But before we jump into 'what's next', Stephen Hale and I want to take a few minutes to share with him where we’ve come from as a team and some of our achievements to date.
When planning our presentation it occurred to me that this week is also my 2 year anniversary of turning civil servant as part of the DH digital team so I’m feeling doubly reflective. I never set out to join central government, in fact it hadn’t even occurred to me. I actually landed at DH on a 10 week contract because I’d quit my previous job, had my plane ticket booked to Nepal and needed some money over the summer. But I re-joined the team with no hesitation as soon as I was back on UK soil.
In 2012 the DH digital team was 13 people, mainly focused on comms and engagement, and they were spending a lot of time working around the ancient, expensive content management system and contract arrangements we shared with Directgov.
My first project as a civil servant was to move DH to GOV.UK. We went live the same week as the health and care system reforms came in, which created NHS England, Public Health England etc, and it was also the same week as the website managed service contract expired. No pressure then!
It was a fun project and the first time I’d worked with GDS - which was refreshing but not without a few hairy moments. As a team we embraced the principles of user need, we challenged the status quo, we communicated clearly, we listened to feedback and we saved £1.3million. I’d call that a success. I wrote about that on the GDS blog.
Over that first year the digital team shifted its focus more towards policy engagement, running some sustained engagement campaigns, with Anna Hepburn and Claire Rhodes making waves with integrating digital into dementia policy and the care bill consultation respectively.
And we built things, using G-cloud for the first time to bring in small businesses for development and hosting.
We also produced our first digital strategy. Reading that back reminds me how far we’ve come. We’ve gone from wanting a ‘digital press office’ to having digital fully integrated into the work of whole comms division. We also stated that we ‘don’t have any transactional services’, but actually what we didn’t have was proper visibility of the work of the department or our arm’s length bodies (ALBs). All that changed when GDS introduced its digital spending controls and we were required to approve all spend on digital. That was an eye opener and the ripples haven’t yet stopped. We now do a lot of work with teams from right across health and care, helping them to plan and deliver their projects in line with best practice standards like the Digital by Default service standard. And the quality of what we see is definitely improving.
As a team we've done a LOT of work to build digital capability, through our Champions network , top of the office coaching and targeted training sessions.
To do all of this we've grown organically, bringing in 1 or 2 new people at a time. The biggest organisational change for the team came when we were split across 2 directorates last year, with Stephen Hale heading up comms and engagement and me heading up the team working with our ALBs. That was positive in that it pushed us into formalising our ways of working, something that has become more and more important as the team grows. Now we only take on projects if they fit our agreed shared priorities.
We’re still not a big team. There are 21 of us right now and we have 11 vacancies, many of which we’ve been recruiting to recently, including a new digital services team that will lead the redesign of some of our transactional services. Service redesign is not something we focussed on as a team in the past but last week we went live with our first replacement service for staff, an intranet that is much simpler, clearer, faster - and also a whole lot cheaper.
So what’s next for the team? We have about 25 projects of different shapes and sizes on the go at the moment, and plenty of ideas for the future, some of which will hopefully come off. Watch this space!