In conversation with Kevin Cunnington
GDS has achieved much under your leadership, but how do you plan to continue supporting digital transformation across local and central government?
I am proud of the UK’s status as the world leading e-government. Through transformation, collaboration and innovation, we have been able to maintain our international reputation. This work goes hand in hand with the work we are doing to support digital transformation across local and central government.
Together with the IPA, GDS recently published the 7 Lenses of Transformation which guide an organisation through it’s transformation journey. The 7 Lenses were developed in collaboration with colleagues across government who have first hand experience in leading large scale transformations and supported by external experts. In summary, they are Vision, Design, Plan, Transformation Leadership, Collaboration, Accountability and People.
Building capability across the Civil Service is a vital part of transforming how government works. To this end, GDS runs the GDS Academy in 4 different locations across England. It has so far trained over 8,000 civil servants in digital skills. Colleagues in local authorities are also able to attend.
In terms of collaboration with government departments, what areas do you think need improvement moving forward?
I meet with departments every week, and I’m always keen to hear feedback about how we can work better together. We identified that GDS needed to take a more joined-up approach to working with departments and, I’m happy to say, we have already made huge progress in this area. Sprint 18 was a great way to showcase this collaboration.
We have set up a new Strategic Engagement Team, their mission is to improve the relationships between GDS and departments. The team has created a new Account Management system where an account manager can see and coordinate the work that GDS is doing with a government department or agency. The account manager spends time with the department, to understand their strategic plans, needs and priorities.
We want to make sure we give more consistent advice to a department, and can work with the department to understand if our support is in the right place. It also helps us capture where we should be learning from what a department is doing. We welcome collaboration.
We’re also talking to government departments about what we want to do together, in the coming years, as we prepare for a possible future Spending Review.
There are, of course, other things which help better collaboration across government, especially in delivering services. The Government Service Standard, a set of 18 criteria to help government create and run good services, our suite of common components and open standards mean that departments aren’t wasting time and money developing solutions that we already have. All of these efforts mean that we are making things better for everyone: colleagues in government and citizens too.
How does GDS engage with citizens to ensure that services it develops remain user focussed?
User research is vital. Understanding the people who use a service benefits citizens and government too. Every single service team across government is in direct contact with the people who use their service.
Understanding the needs of a diverse range of people helps us design better services and products. Making services accessible is a legal requirement and our duty as government. GDS is working to raise awareness of accessibility and provide guidance, resources and support so that the whole of government finds it easier to make services barrier-free.
We’re also thinking of citizens in the future. We are undertaking work which will prepare GOV.UK for the future. Buy sorting out the fundamentals – organising and structuring content, we can help to ensure that government is understandable for humans and machines.
The homepage of GOV.UK will become much more dynamic, surfacing high priority content.
Data underpins all of our work. We want to make the very best public services and we know that better access to good data is vital.
We’ve just built a data warehouse, so we can start to combine user feedback, traffic, search queries, publishing activity, and measures of content quality such as length and reading age to draw out useful insights.
Using our taxonomy, we’ll also soon be able to generate reports by whole topics, or specific sub-topics like “having a child, parenting and adoption” to tell us, publishers and senior leaders in Whitehall about where users are succeeding or failing, and where the gaps are in our service provision.
We want to drive open, trusted and ethical approaches to data and support innovation and improving our data science capability to make better use of data.
There is concern that digital has lost momentum as a result of Brexit absorbing more resources. To what extent do you think this is the case?
I really believe that exiting the European Union is an opportunity to create long-lasting digital transformation across government.
Around 30% of the most critical EU Exit issues have a significant Digital, Data and Technology component. Delivering on EU Exit is a priority for us.
GDS is running central recruitment for the first time for technology architects and developers because we know these will be in demand during this time. There are now 20 trained delivery managers in seven departments.
We are prioritising our GDS Academy courses for the most EU Exit affected departments and for the scarcest skills.
I think that if anything, it has accelerated the need for change. To some extent, EU Exit-related programmes have taken priority but we have been able to manage this to help ensure the very best outcome.
Kevin Cunnington is the Director General of the Government Digital Service, and will be speaking on ‘Pursuing the government’s digital transformation strategy’ at the Public Sector Show on 26th June, at ExCel London.