I’m writing this quite a while after the end of September. Ooops. My memories are vague, but through the four-week fog I remember spending many hours behind this door.
At Public Health England (PHE), home of the door, September was a month in which lots of things came to fruition. We wrapped up the consultation period for changes to the team structure and roles. I reviewed the work Scott Turton, Nathan Flowers and Victoria O’Callaghan of SapientNitro had done with us on a digital strategy, and found it very good. The team worked on the ‘tail’ content from our transition of health protection content to GOV.UK, and diligently dealt with queries and suggestions from users.
September was my last month at PHE. I’ve handed the role over to Diarmaid Crean, who is now fully installed as their permanent Deputy Director for Digital. They are in very safe hands, and I can’t wait to see where Diarmaid and the team take it next!
At the anonymous IT company, my colleagues and I switched from making the case for being more digital, to figuring out how to get going. We’re basically setting up a start-up within the larger company, building on work some pioneering colleagues have been doing over the past few months. Fun!
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.
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 www.hpa.org.uk 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.
July was all about the work of the Public Health England content team, who have been working their socks off to get our priority health protection content from the Health Protection Agency website to GOV.UK. I’ve been doing my usual stuff, which you can extrapolate from my previous monthnotes, but for this month let’s focus on the content.
There’s one place for all health protection content. Much of the content is there already and we will be adding the less-used, tail content over the next few months.
You can browse infectious disease information.
And you can see all the information about individual diseases, for example ebola, together in collection pages.
It’s not even the end of June but I’m in the mood for a monthnote tonight.
This month at Public Health England (PHE), the team and I have:
- Produced new content for GOV.UK to meet our health protection users’ needs (that one was definitely the team, not me)
- Done the first half of our short, sharp digital strategy development, with SapientNitro (that one was mainly them too)
- Welcomed new content designers and started recruiting a digital policy person to keep us in line
- Taken feedback on a proposed new structure and expansion of the digital team
- Written a long business case, proper Treasury style
- Told about 1000 people to start with the user need
- Said fond farewells to Alison Hill, deputy Chief Knowledge Officer of PHE and my boss, and Rachel Neaman, Digital Leader at the Department of Health. We will miss you!
I’m now going to be working at PHE until the end of November, which is brilliant news.
The picture is a portrait of my by two members of the team at PHE, in which I am waiting for all our 150 websites to transition. She’s got great hair but in real life, I look less patient.
In other Rebecca Industries activity, this month I took a week off to say goodbye to my Grandma and ‘happy 30th birthday’ to the fabulous Kat Kennedy. I also carried on with my work helping a big IT company figure out how to approach the digital government market, about which I will remain secretive.
This month at Public Health England we have
- finished the content allocation stage of transitioning the Health Protection Agency website to GOV.UK
- chosen an agency to work with us on our digital strategy, who we procured through the Digital Services Store (I can say who it is next month when we’ve signed the paperwork)
- started the formal consultation about how we expand and restructure the digital team
- done a lot of work with finance to make sure we have the budget we need, as always
We have had great feedback and input from colleagues. The Government Digital Service and the Department of Health are really pleased with the approach we are taking on website transition and the progress we are making. I presented the work we are doing to the meeting of Digital Leaders from all the Department of Health arms length bodies. It was fascinating to learn about what the other organisations are up to and learn from them about what we can do. In particular, NHS Blood and Transplant have similar challenges to us, and it was great to spent some time with Ceri Rose, my counterpart there.
In Rebecca Industries I have settled into my second project. I am working with a big IT company on how they can approach the digital government market in the UK. I have been struck by how similar it is to the Civil Service in some ways. People are motivated by giving the best service to the public. The organisation is dispersed and personal networks are very important. And there are some people who have got digital projects going using their skills and entrepreneurial spirit, but some people who aren’t sure how to start. That’s where I come in!
I’ve re-titled these month notes because the numbers made no sense after switching from weeknotes to monthnotes.
At Public Health England, the team put 6 advisory committees onto GOV.UK
- Committee on medical aspects of radiation in the environment
- UK Atmospheric dispersion modelling liaison committee
- Administration of radioactive substances advisory committee
- Committee on mutagenicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment
- Committee on the carcinogenicity of chemicals in good, consumer products and the environment
- Committee on the medical effects of air pollutants
We are on track to move 15 sites by our deadline of the end of July. As part of this project, we have decided what work we are going to make lower priority, and we are starting this new way of working soon.
We received and reviewed some proposals for our digital strategy work, through the Digital Services Store. We are going to decide the preferred supplier next week.
I changed how I use my time, because we have lots of things to do and there is no time for extra talking! I now only take meetings if they are to do tangible work with people. This has made a big difference to my working life and I may never go back.
And as ever, I did lots of work with finance and HR so we have the people and money we need.
In Rebecca Industries news, I started work on my second project, which is working with a large IT company. Together, we are figuring out how to approach the digital market in government. After 5 years in the public sector, I’m very pleased to be doing some private sector work again.
In March at Public Health England (PHE) we:
- welcomed two new starters into the team, Wolfgang Wiedner, who joined us from Amazon to be programme manager for moving our websites to GOV.UK and NHS Choices, and David Madden, who joined us from the BBC to be product manager for Longer Lives. They are whipping us into shape!
- started working with NHS Choices on the first health content for citizens that we are transitioning to them from our websites
- planned and wrote content for some of the 15 sites we are transitioning to GOV.UK by July
- increased our communications to colleagues in PHE about how we will be working with them and just what exactly this ‘user needs’ business is all about
- put out a request for proposals to work with us to develop a digital strategy, using the Digital Services Store. Big thanks to Paul Wieser and his team at the Crown Commercial Service for all their help with this
- did lots of work with finance and HR so we have the people and money we need
In Rebecca Industries I didn’t do much, I just worked at PHE and wrote this note. Naughty me.
At Public Health England (PHE) in February we
- started transitioning our first 15 sites to GOV.UK and NHS Choices
- put to bed 2 potential new websites
- did A LOT of relationship building inside and outside PHE
- worked with the Government Digital Service to get a shortlist of candidates to be the permanent deputy director for digital (that’s the job I’m currently doing on an interim basis)
- welcomed two amazing new people to the team, Dean Hanley and Kirsty Fleming
- started to talk more about PHE’s work in digital. I spoke at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo, our Chief Executive and Chief Knowledge Officer talked to e-health insider about our ambition, and colleagues won an IXDA award for Longer Lives
And in Rebecca Industries I
- made good progress with a couple of new projects, which should bear fruit in the next couple of months
- got some business cards. Only took me 4 months
I’m going to do monthnotes not weeknotes. There aren’t enough things that happen in a week that I can talk about publicly here, but there are in a month!
In January, with colleagues at Public Health England, I
- got our digital plans signed off in full by the National Executive (board). This is a huge milestone and I’m so happy that, in the words of our Chief Executive Duncan Selbie, ‘the public health system is going digital’
- gave a talk to the Department of Health about working in an agile way
- helped a bit on a user research project that the digital team is doing
- did a lot of work on getting the right people in the right places, doing the right things. This is now having results!
- starting to understand better the opportunities for digital in public health interventions and population health, through which I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about lots of interesting projects and products across the health system
And in Rebecca Industries I
- took part in the first DSRPTN event at the British Computing Society, which was about leadership in the 21st Century. It was great to share the stage with fabulous fellow digital consultant types, and to have an interesting conversation with people from many different backgrounds
- had some great meetings about potential future projects in the private sector, the public sector and charities (fingers crossed!)
- started a roving campaign of squatting in other people’s offices on Friday, my Rebecca Industries day. Last week, techUK. This week, GDS. Next week, who knows! I’ll reveal all in my February monthnote.