Government today is moving inexorably towards being open, innovative and digital. This is especially true over at Ministry of Justice Digital Services, where we’re putting ourselves at the forefront of organisational change.
We’re working on the Digital Capability Project, a business transformation initiative that aims to bring innovative styles of working to teams throughout MoJ. For us, ‘digital capability’ is much more than building a website or sending an email - it’s about embedding open policy making approaches like design thinking and Agile project management, in policy and operations alike. It’s a skills, culture and mindsets thing, with five key principles:
- Put user needs ahead of process.
- Start small, and improve from there.
- Make the most of digital tools.
- Manage risk, don’t be blocked by it.
- Feel empowered to innovate.
Starting from user needs, prototyping and iterating, and embracing digital tools and culture has huge potential to transform Government. That means greater productivity for departments and better outcomes for the citizen.
The output from the Digital Capability Project will be a cohesive training programme that complements the work being done by MoJ’s Policy Hub, an ideas space which brings together skills to tackle policy problems in new ways, and which we’ve blogged about here before. It will also complement the work being done to directly digitise individual public services by teams in MoJ DS, Government Digital Service, and beyond.
Understanding our users
Of course, we have to practice what we preach, and so we’re taking an Agile approach to solving the challenge of building digital capability. We kicked off with some initial research, and created a set of simple, high-level personas for the kinds of civil servants we met.
It’s been an interesting challenge to find out what the five principles of digital capability mean for different work areas, because there are some unique constraints in Government that don’t apply to the digital products for which Agile and design thinking were originally developed. So we’re refreshing our initial personas based on types of work role (for example, policy/corporate/operations, regional/London-based, and further subdivisions within those). This is essential to ensure our ultimate digital capability offering meets the key needs.
So what are we doing now?
Armed with our personas and our principles, we have been testing and prototyping a range of possible training interventions with various parts of MoJ to transform the way we work, and move civil servants along the route from persona A to persona C.
In digital-speak that means we’re in ‘Alpha’, and we’re starting small, focusing on principles one and two first. We’ve trialled a lot of stuff already, from bespoke user needs workshops, to an embedded Agile coaching programme, to a ‘Learning Agile by doing Agile’ seminar series. We’ve learnt a lot (turns out long-lasting organisational transformation of the kind that we’re aiming for isn’t easy!), but it’s been exciting and we’ve got some great feedback.
So, as one participant in our recent seminar series told us, we’re going to “keep fighting the good fight”, and iterate (and iterate again) on our prototypes to ensure that what we offer is relevant and of long-term use. We’re looking forward to entering our ‘Beta’ phase, where we add in the extra dimension of scaling up.
Open policy-making, digital capability, business transformation - it’s all the same sort of thing, and it’s picking up speed all over Government. That means there’s a lot of opportunity to be creative and innovative in this space. So if you have any ideas or contributions to what we’re doing, or are doing something similar, please comment below or get in touch. We’d love to talk to you.