One month in: “digital by design”

Tom hiding out under a tree!

I owe Ed Cross a big favour. With a day before the deadline he pointed out a job advertisement that he himself was applying for, and said, “have you seen this?”

I had a hunch, when I read the job description, that hiding behind the rather obtuse job title of “Public Information and Creative Services Manager” was a rather more interesting and challenging role. So despite the risk (moving from a permanent post to a one year fixed term contract at a time when the public sector is facing unprecedented upheaval and funding cuts… doh!) I rolled the dice, took a bet, and fired in the application fifteen minutes before the midnight deadline.

And – following a successful interview, working out notice, taking holiday, (apologising to Ed), etc. etc. – here I am as a fully fledged and enthusiastic member of the newly formed Public Information and Access Team. One month in and I am still finding my feet, but I thought it worth putting down a few thoughts and observations as a newcomer.

Tom hiding out under a tree!
Tom hiding out under a tree!

Firstly – what a cracking and talented team I have joined! By bringing the web team together with the publication team we have a depth and diversity of skill to really deliver on the digital agenda. By combining technical, design and content skills with a healthy dose of innovation, an absolute focus on the customer journey and a whole lot of passion I think we have the ingredients to really make “digital” work hard for Devon County Council.

That’s not to say we’re not already doing some good stuff. Carl Haggerty and the team have been hard at work migrating and re-formatting content from a horribly out-dated legacy publishing platform to an adaptable, open-source (i.e. free) WordPress platform.

But Devon County Council is looking to save a further £100m+, there is an ever more complicated public sector landscape, and the public rightly have high expectations about accessing information, data and services online, 24/7, on services that they ultimately pay for. In this context it is critical that digital delivery becomes the fundamental core of how the authority delivers information and transactional services.

With this in mind, and trying to keep this first post brief, there are some key challenges on the agenda. However, perhaps the priority task, aside from delivering an excellent day to day service, is to make the argument for digital:

Task 1: Build the business case for digital with real numbers and real examples, to help persuade services that adopting a “digital by design” philosophy can only pay dividends – for them, for the public (a.k.a. “customers”) and for the authority.

If anyone reading this has a good example please get in touch – there appears to be a remarkable lack of digital case studies from the public sector with actual costs cited!

Finally, it is important to state categorically that a “digital first” policy does not prejudice against those who can’t be or don’t want to be online. Rather, by establishing a Public Information and Access team we can ensure that the vast majority can find what they want, quickly, via a digital channel, thus freeing resource to make certain that the estimated 20% not online can access information and services in different ways.

One month in I am relishing the opportunity we have; I hope that when you check back in a few months time I remain just as optimistic!

I hope to write more notes on an occasional basis. If you want to get in touch:

Tom Dixon

Digital stuff with a Devon flavour. Manage the Digital Delivery Team at Devon County Council. Can be contacted via @tom_s_dixon or tom.dixon@devon.gov.uk#localgovdigital

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