What will a government digital comms person do now?

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.

In Management, Websites | Tagged , , , ,

7 Responses to What will a government digital comms person do now?

  1. Steph Gray says:

    Great post, Stephen, and that you do it here, on a corporate government domain too.

    It’s an area that fascinates me, and has done for a while, not least because of the breadth of skills you’ve outlined. In the comment on my blog post, Tom Loosemore (who advised on the Review) made an interesting point about commissioning. Traditionally, a civil service ‘commission’ is a demand to do something, from a senior person to a junior. The briefs can be of, shall we say, variable depth and quality.

    But in the new model, a bit like in primary health as I understand it, there may be a new world of commissioners and producers. That’s really interesting, because digital skills and teams are often more about producing than commissioning, especially when it comes to content and engagement through social technology. The skills of commissioning – creative vision, setting strategic goals, briefing and specifying well, working with a varied range of producers, gaining and using audience insight, providing feedback and making tough editorial decisions – stand to become really important (if the vision is translated as intended into reality, of course).

  2. cyberdoyle says:

    If its going to be digital by default then its to be hoped all you bright young things put pressure on govt to listen to the people in the final third. Those are the ones still on sub megabit speeds and even dial up. They can’t access your brave new world. For too long politicians without a grasp of physics have listened to the old boys brigade in ofcom and BT HQ. Next generation access can not be delivered through copper. We need fibre to every home, and with a level playing field brought about by government the market forces and communities can deliver it.
    Good luck, I really admire your skills, but spare a thought for us and don’t use any photos or videos on your sites. thx.
    chris

  3. Every now and then I tell myself that I should “position myself”. But i like having a broad range of skills, understanding web technologies and being able to explain them to people who dont. Sometimes it feels a little jack of all trades, but maybe there is some hope for me afterall !! Great post :-D

  4. Jenny Poole says:

    You’re right about the transferable skills. I think it comes down to flexibility of approach but singularity of purpose. A difficult balance to achieve at times, especially as our work becomes more high profile and as such failure more public. Not a task for the highly risk averse! Jen

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  6. Stephen Hale says:

    I lost some of the comments that were posted on this blog in the first couple of days. Sorry – it won’t happen again. Here’s a copy of what people said:

    Steph Gray:

    Great post, Stephen, and that you do it here, on a corporate government domain too.

    It’s an area that fascinates me, and has done for a while, not least because of the breadth of skills you’ve outlined. In the comment on my blog post, Tom Loosemore (who advised on the Review) made an interesting point about commissioning. Traditionally, a civil service ‘commission’ is a demand to do something, from a senior person to a junior. The briefs can be of, shall we say, variable depth and quality.

    But in the new model, a bit like in primary health as I understand it, there may be a new world of commissioners and producers. That’s really interesting, because digital skills and teams are often more about producing than commissioning, especially when it comes to content and engagement through social technology. The skills of commissioning – creative vision, setting strategic goals, briefing and specifying well, working with a varied range of producers, gaining and using audience insight, providing feedback and making tough editorial decisions – stand to become really important (if the vision is translated as intended into reality, of course).

    cyberdoyle:

    If its going to be digital by default then its to be hoped all you bright young things put pressure on govt to listen to the people in the final third. Those are the ones still on sub megabit speeds and even dial up. They can’t access your brave new world. For too long politicians without a grasp of physics have listened to the old boys brigade in ofcom and BT HQ. Next generation access can not be delivered through copper. We need fibre to every home, and with a level playing field brought about by government the market forces and communities can deliver it.
    Good luck, I really admire your skills, but spare a thought for us and don’t use any photos or videos on your sites. thx.
    chris

    Andy Christmas:

    Every now and then I tell myself that I should “position myself”. But i like having a broad range of skills, understanding web technologies and being able to explain them to people who dont. Sometimes it feels a little jack of all trades, but maybe there is some hope for me afterall !! Great post :-D

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