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Introducing a Head of Digital role to DfE

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: recruitment, Service design, service ownership

Shelves in a warehouse stacked with laptops

It’s a cliché to say the only thing that's constant is change. But as readers of Emma Stace’s recent blog post about our Digital and Technology strategy will see, change is something we’re having lots of in the Department for Education (DfE) at the moment.

In DfE we want to embrace change and uncertainty, to form an organisation that is comfortable dealing with complex, unpredictable and ambiguous problems. With COVID-19 and the dramatic rise in the use of technology in education our focus is shifting.

One of the ways we’ve decided to adapt is by mixing up how we lead digital in the organisation. We’ve rearranged what we do into 5 areas of work, and we’ve created a new role – Head of Digital.

Our new areas of work and teams

DfE Digital and Technology isn’t the only part of our department that does digital by default service design and delivery. There’s great work going on across DfE such as in the Education Skills and Funding Agency.

One of the things we’ve learned from the last year is that with so much going on across the department, we need to be much clearer about who is accountable for delivery. So we’ve re-set and reorganised our work to remove any ambiguity – if a new problem comes along it’s easy to see which area of work it belongs to.

These areas of work also help us form teams around common user groups, experiences, stakeholders and service patterns.

Here are the 5 areas, the user groups within each one, and typically where they work:

  • teaching workforce – our users are those training to teach, and teachers in staff rooms
  • quality of provision – our users are teachers and school leaders in classrooms
  • vulnerable families and children – our users are social workers in local authorities
  • school business professionals – our users are school administrators in school offices
  • services for DfE’s digital teams – our users are DfE staff in a DfE office, or working from home

The new Head of Digital role

a warehouse full of boxed up computers and laptops

We already have lots of teams, but constant change has led to a weakening of their purpose. So we’d like to recommit them to solving particular problems for our users. This means setting up long-lived multidisciplinary teams in each area of work with a strong mission. The Head of Digital role will help the new team leads to do this.

As well as championing long-lived teams, the Head of Digital will:

  • make delivering digital services to users simpler and easier for everyone involved
  • make DfE a great place to work for digital specialists
  • lead on digital across across the department, including making decisions about how we operate as a delivery organisation
  • work across government on common problems

We considered including some other responsibilities but we weren’t completely sure. For example, should the Head of Digital:

  • be responsible for making sure our people have the right skills?
  • be responsible for making sure things are done properly and at the right time (governance)?
  • be responsible for relationships with service teams across DfE?

We’ll start as we mean to go on by testing our ideas and assumptions.

I’m taking on this role for 6 months to set it up for success, and then based on our lessons we’ll appoint permanently.

If you think you might be interested in the role, or if you’d like to share your experience of a role like this, get in touch by leaving a comment below or on Twitter.

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  1. Comment by Nick posted on

    It's good to see this process out in the open, learning about what a head of digital should do. Do you think it should ultimately be a role in DDaT?

    • Replies to Nick>

      Comment by James Reeve posted on

      Hi Nick,
      I suspect that as we become an even more user-centred organisation and more people have a service mindset the role will need to evolve. I think that DDaT is a good jumping-off point for a role like this, but that ultimately the mission is for the whole organisation.

  2. Comment by Esther O'Sullivan posted on

    Hi there, I am the head of Digital for the Legal Aid Agency, in the Ministry of Justice. I would be very happy to share with you a description of my role and the strategy I am implementing.