As a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), when I’ve applied for a new role most of the questions tend to be around transformation, service improvement, value for money and culture change. All elements that feature in every leadership role I can think of, irrelevant of the specialism. You don’t have to be a CDO to understand the importance of moving forward, taking people with you and using everything at your disposal to get a good outcome for your staff, your service and your citizens.
So why don’t we have questions about how digital can be utilised to take service areas forward when we recruit other senior roles?
I mean, digital is with us to stay. Many citizens have chosen to take digital routes to access services and information. Our teams rely on digital tools to carry out their jobs. We communicate and do business in a digital world. Our ability to flex and adapt is enhanced by our grasp of digital.
So when we recruit Chief Officer roles how do we make sure that prospective candidates know enough about what digital really means?
Don’t we need leaders who can support the application of digital thinking to service design, skills development, user research, delivery and continuous evaluation and improvement?
Of course we do. It’s another facet of leadership, like managing budgets, developing staff, making difficult decisions and representing your organisation. So do we probe that at interview? Are we looking for evidence that senior candidates ‘get it’, get how important it is to create the right sort of environment to ensure digital thinking thrives?
We’re not talking about technology or applications. We are talking about the essence of digital – people and their needs.
I was recently asked to sit on two interview panels for a Local Authority. The roles were Chief Officer roles. Neither would strike you as specifically ‘digital’. However, I had the opportunity to ask questions and look for answers which showed that the candidates would embrace digital, that they did have ideas for improvement and that they saw digital as a fundamental facet of their leadership role.
It was a great experience and I learnt a lot about what Chief Officers in Local Authorities do. The sheer depth and breadth of their services and the responsibility they have to deliver good quality, cost-efficiently and effectively over and over again.
Don’t ever think that Local Government is an easy gig, it really isn’t. And leadership, be it as an Officer or Elected Member is tough. Just day-to-day normality is tough, but can you remember the last time it was ‘normal’? Leaders in Local Government have had an exceptionally torrid time over the last 2 years and they are already seeing the pressures that the cost of living crisis is bringing.
It’s not a job for the faint-hearted.
Digital can help. What we can do is ensure that our leaders understand what digital means and are confident in trying new things and responding to the needs of our citizens in ways that we might not have tried before. We should be asking them about innovation and how they see the future. There is no reason we shouldn’t ask potential Directors of Education about the impact digital has had on education and how that could be developed further to prepare learners for life in a digital world. Or a Director of Social Care about how automation could help reduce the administrative burden of their service, or how mental health support applications have an impact on the well-being of younger people. Of course we can ask these kinds of questions, and I’m really hopeful that we do.
Us digital folks get the importance of using all the tools available to us. We can help with research, design, content, usability, accessibility and development which will improve services for citizens.
Everyone is digital to some extent now, but we don’t expect everyone to be expert in everything. What would really help is the understanding that digital is an ongoing part of service delivery, not a project or a piece of technology. Good leaders can help with that message and grow the right environment for that thinking to flourish. Then we can work together to continuously deliver better outcomes, better services, better lives. I mean, it’s why we’re all in this business, isn’t it?