One organisation, two leaders in digital public services in Wales

According to Myra Hunt and Harriet Green, shared work can have big benefits, especially when two people have been doing it together for a long time.

They are a month away in the roles of Co-Chief Executives of Wales’ Center for Digital Public Services (CDPS), but have worked as a team for 11 years, first to lead global digital transformation at the British Council and then as digital directors. at the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Green (pictured left) says, “We are two different people with different styles and abilities and are able to relate to a wide range of stakeholders and colleagues.

“But at the heart of it all is something about the quality of decision-making, because everything you do is discussed and peer-reviewed between you. Something doesn’t come to light unless it’s passed through both of us, and so it’s high quality and more clearly expressed.

“There are also two sets of energy – Myra works the first half of the week, I work the second half – so I’m fresh when I arrive and I’ve been thinking about the job. There’s room to think and operate in the role, and from my perspective, the organizations we work for will get high quality delivery from us.

It is striking, when speaking with them, that there is never any awkwardness in knowing who picks up a thread of the conversation; they seem to know when the other is ready to take over and say there is rarely a problem when other people have to pick up a conversation with one that they had with the other the day before. This is where Hunt picks up:

A conversation

“We try to make sure that we have communicated so much behind the scenes that if you start a conversation with Harriet on Thursday, I can finish it on Monday. It is our responsibility to ensure that there is no additional burden, and this ranges from stakeholder management, board reporting and performance management.

“As a shared work, we absolutely have to be linked, so we are quietly, at dawn or at the end of the day, doing a lot of pre-meetings to agree on the line to follow. .”

They are now bringing their approach to CDPS, an independent Welsh Government body set up in 2020 to support the design and delivery of public services in line with the Digital Strategy for Wales. It is a relatively small organization with around 40 people at present, but has been funded to operate during the term of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) until the next election in May 2026.

Last week, Green and Hunt released their first public statement outlining initiatives and priorities, which were generally underway at the time of joining.

One is a utility review to shape the CDPS project portfolio. The conclusions of its alpha phase should be published soon to draw the landscape and the maturity of digital services, followed by a phase, which will be completed by Easter, of researching exemplary interventions on which it can work with partners. of the public sector.

Details on this have yet to emerge, but Green says they include systemic issues such as where it might be possible to use more components and libraries, and interventions that would be relevant across Wales.

Identification of themes

Although there are many opportunities to improve specific services, at the moment they are more willing to identify themes. These include the need for more interoperable technology, a greater focus on service users, the need to improve digital inclusion – highlighted by the focus on online services during the pandemic – the need to ensure digital services support all areas of Wales, and the commitment to bilingual services.

“The other element is that there is a very strong political commitment to developing the SME economy,” Hunt said. “We have the M4 corridor, but we still have real challenges to create a thriving digital supplier industry.

“It’s really important that we open up our procurement in the public sector to encourage smaller suppliers to grow and diversify, and increase the number of digital start-ups.”

In this context, the CDPS held discussions with SMEs in the sector on how to facilitate their competition in public contracts.

“The Nirvana is that across the public sector in Wales we are able to expose this digital portfolio and this pipeline of work ahead, so businesses can invest and grow their footprint in response. It’s about visibility and transparency in purchasing and making things easier. »

Priority to integrated care

It’s no surprise that plans to support the integration of health and social care are in the works, and Green says Wales has advantages in ministers’ broad responsibilities and close relationships between departments concerned, which facilitates collaboration.

As a first step, CDPS recently launched a trial of a beta version of its Track My Request SMS notification service for people in need of social services help, in conjunction with Neath Port Talbot Council .

“It’s a real hot spot for us because it’s the point where interoperability between local government and health is absolutely critical,” says Hunt. “At the moment we are evaluating this work and looking at what service design can be done, and looking at the data and the digital envelope to enable local authorities and health to work effectively together.”

The organization is also focused on building digital skills in the Welsh public sector, with a small training team and a plan to create a network of partners to support the effort. This is partly due to the recruitment of apprentices and graduates, but both stress the importance of developing existing public sector staff in DDaT roles.

“We train civil servants, health workers, local government workers, senior managers, mid-level civil servants, and we have worked on learning programs and tried to work with learning organizations in the Land of Wales to ensure DDaT (digital, data and technology skills) are provided,” says Hunt.

Business Challenge

CDPS has so far supported around 100 people and will be training another 500 people in the coming months, but in order to scale it up it needs to assess the business model.

“Right now, we’re trying to figure out our business model,” Hunt says. “It is possible to top up our services, but we have to remember that some arm’s length bodies are very small and don’t have deep pockets.

“If we want to scale beyond the funding backbone, we will need to develop some kind of internal charging mechanism.”

The organization also plans to offer a hands-on level of support with the development of an online toolkit for digital initiatives. It currently includes a set of service standards, an agile terminology guide, and plans to develop technical standards.

While this reflects efforts by the Government Digital Service (GDS) for Whitehall, they say the standards and best practices will be tailored to the needs of Wales.

Unique Requirements

“The trick is to make the most of it, share the lessons and recognize that Wales is different and unique,” ​​says Hunt.

“We do interesting work with primary care, looking at how people have interacted with the NHS app, for example. It’s about whether there are differences between the English and Welsh experience and what might be behind these. We are pragmatic. »

CDPS has just appointed Rhiannon Lawson, a former GDS staff member, as interim standards manager, and Green says an important part of the role will be exploring where Wales needs to take a different approach to Whitehall with digital.

But Green stresses that they will work closely with GDS and the Central Digital and Data Office.

“We have very good contacts, we expect them to continue and will continue to sit on certain councils such as the diversity council and the GDS data group. For us, it’s about getting benefits wherever we can and there are definitely benefits to be had from the relationship with GDS.

Knowledge sharing

The other major element of the work of the CDPS is the sharing of best practices. It offers a series of free knowledge-sharing programs and hosts communities of practice, with the aim of influencing the way the public sector approaches digital projects.

“We’re looking for everything we do to be exemplary of something, so everything we invest in has to have an evolutionary element,” says Green. “It shows best practices in some area or shows an opportunity to solve a bigger problem.

“We seek to influence larger spending beyond CDPS; So, by setting Wales’ digital agenda and building consensus on how we respond to digital challenges and opportunities, we seek to influence spending beyond what we do ourselves.

It’s always a big ask, but they both say there are benefits to making the effort in Wales. It is a relatively small country in which the public services are not too deeply compartmentalised and civil servants have a stronger culture of collaboration. This promises to make the public sector as a whole more receptive to the work of CDPS.

“Wales is a really exciting place to work because people are very collaborative,” says Green. “There is collaboration rather than rivalry and a real desire to do things better, so we can spot opportunities across Wales to make a difference.”

CDPS will be participating in the UKAuthority’s Powering Digital Public Services online conference from March 9-11. More details and registration here.