My thoughts on the Department of Health Digital Passport

Dave Briggs wrote about the Department of Health (DH) Digital Team’s work on a digital passport and asked for feedback. It’s part of their work to increase the digital capability of all staff in the department. The aim is to: “equip [DH’s] people with the confidence they need to be able to do great work, using the best tools and approaches available to them”. This is my feedback.

I really like the idea of having a clear set of digital things everyone is expected to know and do. I like that it is a simple list. I think it covers a sensible range of topics and I like that it focuses on useful things people would need to know to deliver their objectives, rather than learning about digital for its own sake. One of my bugbears is the attitude that digital isn’t something you need to plan, monitor or involve yourself in the delivery of, it’s just something that you don’t give much thought to and chuck over to an agency. The passport shows that this isn’t the case.

There are three things I’d change, though.

1. Put users first

This one might sound semantic but is really important to me. The line about users should come before agile. If you understand your users, you have a chance of doing a good project without using agile (though I’d recommend you do work in an agile way). If you don’t understand your users, you might as well go home, whatever way of working you choose.

2. Shift the focus from understanding digital, to being able to think and talk about how it can be used

Lots of the parts of the passport are about ‘understanding’ digital. I think it needs to go further, from understanding digital to thinking and talking about it. In my experience, many people are easily able to understand digital in principle, but don’t know how to talk about it or how it can be used. This limits their confidence. I’ve had many conversations where colleagues eagerly agree that they “need to be more digital”, but it all gets a bit uncomfortable and fizzles out when the digital people start talking about it in more detail, or suggesting ideas, and the colleagues can’t take the conversation, and so the project, further.

3. Emphasise being able to make digital delivery happen

The list talks about getting support and guidance inside and outside DH. I think this could go further to equip people with a bit more understanding of how they can make digital delivery happen e.g. in-house digital team, suppliers, what you might be able to start doing within your team. This might help shift the idea that digital is something you automatically put out to tender, or that it’s something only a few people within the department can do.

My second and third suggestions make the passport much harder to achieve and teach. But I think they would make it more impactful.

Good luck to Dave and the team in refining and using the digital passport. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Monthnote August 2014

August was quite the month. Here I define ‘August’ to include the first few days of September.

In my previous monthnote I wrote about the work of the Public Health England digital team to transition the Health Protection Agency website to GOV.UK. This month it came to fruition. We have switched off the HPA website, though it lives on in the National Archives, and GOV.UK is now the place to find health protection information. Over the rest of September the team will transition the ‘tail’ (lower priority) content. Mahesh and Suzanne have written more about what the transition involved. When the dust has settled, I’ll write about what I learned during this project.

This is an amazing achievement by the team. Liz made some delicious cakes to celebrate.


I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of typing in and getting re-directed to the PHE section of GOV.UK. For a few sweet moments I’m going to forget about the other 135 sites that need transitioning.

Elsewhere, I persuaded a major IT supplier to government to start delivering digital projects for public services, and doing it properly. Or more modestly (and accurately), I did a presentation the senior management bods said ‘yes’ to. I really hope I can be involved in the delivery of this, because the opportunity to have positive impact across central government is huge.

I also did a short project with NHS Blood and Transplant. My role was to support the digital team managers to start an ambitious digital transformation programme for blood and organ donation. Together, we built a roadmap for the next 12 months, including a timeline that works for the agile digital team and the waterfall programme management team, and people and budget requirements. I love planning, so it was fun.