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On becoming Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office

I am delighted to have accepted a new position. To give it the full title, I will take the post of Executive Director of Digital Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office. I will start in early July. I am really looking forward to meeting the team at the Government Digital Service.

For someone with my longstanding interests in open data and technology development, the role is simply too good to pass. The role has many challenges, some specific in terms of delivery, and more generally to bring a culture based on new digital skills into the centre of Government in order to transform the delivery of online public services.

As it says on the description, this role aims to

“Change the model of government online publishing, by putting a new central team in Cabinet Office in control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments”

As I’ve been told several times already, it’s a huge challenge, and many Government digital projects have faltered in the past. But in my opinion, for the first time, all the elements are lined up favourably:

Crucially, Martha Lane Fox’s report sets out a clear strategy. It’s an excellent report, both challenging and inspiring. I took part in the original interviews for the report, and I will admit to a feeling of deja vu, as over the years I’ve had countless conversations on digital policy, freeing up data and introducing new digital skills to Government, and too often there was little to show as a result. Not this time. The report’s key findings are genuinely groundbreaking.

The next key issue which has often been lacking in the past was Ministerial backing and enabling cross-Government backing. Again, the response from Francis Maude and the backing of all Ministers removed a huge potential blocker.

Externally, the Open Data agenda continues to make third-party adoption and innovation easier, and the growing number of agencies and developers able to quickly create new publishing services and applications is a key part of the new Government digital ecosystem. The recent AlphaGov prototype shows the speed and cost reductions which can be gained when services are relentlessly user focussed.

So I signed up. I’ve been watching this unfold for 15 years. We’ve had some success at The Guardian in the last few years, but this challenge is far greater: to improve the quality of digital public service provision for every person in the UK.

I haven’t had time to think about success and the detail of what that will mean, but I know that in several years’ time there will need to be a culture of digital innovation at the heart of public service delivery, and those with new digital skills should consider working within Government as attractive as working for a technology company. I’ve had the great fortune to work with hundreds of digital developers, and I know at heart they they want to change the world and improve digital services from the users perspective. Now seems to be the time to give them a chance.

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