In a previous job, my line manager told me that if I wanted to get on I would be wise to clearly “position myself” within the organisation. He thought that I should either position myself as someone who delivered policy campaigns, or as a digital expert.
I wanted to do both – I wanted to be a digital expert who delivered policy campaigns. And I thought at the time that the advice would probably be better suited for someone who wanted to position themself to do something very particular (like become an ambassador).
But it was good and well-intentioned advice. It’s good to plan your future career path. And in doing so, it’s useful to think about the perception of your role in an organisation. I’ve found myself repeating a version of this advice to the staff I manage.
The publication this week of the Martha Lane Fox review of Directgov and the wider government web estate made me think about this advice again.
It’s big news for government. And particularly big news if you work on government digital communication. If implemented in full, the recommendations – particularly Recommendation 3 about reinventing government online publishing – will have a huge impact on the role of digital practitioners in government, our output, and our value to departments.
There are really interesting conversations taking place now about the scope and detail of the recommendations, admirably and openly led in government circles on the blogs of Steph, Simon and Neil. The detail will determine the success, and we don’t have that yet. But it does signal a direction of travel for government digital communications, and for official health digital communications. So it’s as well for government digital communicators to think now about what it will mean for them.
There will be work to do. As Neil said: “there will surely be no immediate shortage of demand in Whitehall for people with practical digital expertise and the on-the-ground experience of getting things done in a public sector environment. It’ll take plenty of that to steer this thing home.”
There will undoubtedly be new and exciting opportunities for people with the ideas and drive to deliver this vision, and to make it work in departmental contexts. But the work will be different. Understanding how to use a particular CMS, or a long-established processes for generating content, may no longer have much value. The change will not be immediate, but I think we’d all be well advised to think about the skills we have which could be applied in any context.
I think this is a good moment to position ourselves clearly as digital communicators. In most cases, this will be about reinforcing the roles we occupy now, and demonstrating the value we offer.
For a government digital practitioner working in a department I think that means doing some or all of the following: designing strategic digital communication, planning the development of content for official channels, producing content (writing, filming, recording, editing, participating), managing social media channels and integrating them, building partnerships, monitoring and acting on online conversations, providing advice and support to ministers and officials on their personal digital presence, building networks across policy teams, delivering new or improved channels and processes to help deliver services, evangelising about tools and techniques, and training staff.
These are all transferable skills. None are dependant on a particular channel – they could be applied just as easily to direct.gov.uk or hmg.gov.uk as dh.gov.uk. Most are about applying digital communications techniques wherever they are most likely to have value. If we – as government digital communications practitioners – can position ourselves in this way I don’t think we have anything to be worried about. If it’s going to be digital by default we have a lot to be excited about.