GDS chief Kevin Cunnington on building the digital, data and technology function across government and honouring Emmeline Pankhurst

Written by Kevin Cunnington on 20 December 2018 in Feature
Feature

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights.

Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, stands next to a statue of Emmeline unveiledin St Peter's Square in Manchester. Photo: PA

What was your highlight of 2018?

It’s been great to see GDS working closely with local authorities to help them with their digital transformation. Local authorities are crucial providers of public services – from keeping the streets clean or dealing with planning applications to providing support for isolated or vulnerable people – so it’s really important that we help them.

In the summer GDS co-published the Local Digital Declaration, with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and a group of local authorities and sector bodies from across the UK. The declaration is a set of principles to help local authorities deliver digital services. And we’re also helping local authorities take advantage of things like our common components, GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify – which are currently being used by 120 organisations across the public sector – and training through the GDS Academy.

This year we also held the first (of hopefully many) Let’s Talk about Race events, about how we can increase ethnic minority representation in the digital, data and technology function in the senior civil service. We’re looking at proposals like making it mandatory to have ethnic minority representation on interview panels for senior civil servants across departments.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?

The challenge for any leader in 2018, particularly in the public sector, is to provide continuity and momentum in fast-moving times. I’m incredibly proud of the work GDS has done over the past year: from announcing the GovTech Catalyst winners, which are projects that will bring private-sector innovation into the public sector, to moving to the next phase of GOV.UK: using machine learning to structure our content and allowing for voice activation and step-by-step service journeys.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

We need to continue to build the digital, data and technology function across government, so that organisations have the capability and support they need to transform. At GDS we are particularly focusing on how we can help government to use emerging technologies, continue to ensure our systems are secure, and make sure we can use data to its full extent.

We are continuing to build capability in these areas through initiatives like the Emerging Technology Development Programme, which will train a group of specialists so that they can be deployed across government to advise teams who want to use emerging technology. We are also launching GDS Academy courses on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?

This year marks 100 years of women’s suffrage in the UK, so I can’t think of anyone better than Emmeline Pankhurst, who led the movement for women to get the vote, to turn the lights on in my home town of Wimbledon.

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Kevin Cunnington
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Kevin Cunnington is the director general of Government Digital Service and head of the digital, data and technology function

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