'Our aim is to be more expert, engaged and collaborative': Joanna Davinson on setting up CDDO

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The Central Digital and Data Office's executive director tells us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
Joanna Davinson. Photo: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

By Civil Service World

24 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

Working with Paul Willmott, Tom Read and digital leaders across government to set up the Central Digital and Data Office and to reframe the relationship between CDDO, the Government Digital Service and departments. Our aim is to be more expert, engaged and collaborative in the way we work. 

During the recent spending review we worked with departments to build the case for the need to improve how we engage with citizens, how we use and share our data and how we manage the operational and cyber risks in our complex estate. 

The case was clear and compelling – with significant sums earmarked for investment in digital, data and technology.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?

By working with ministers, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, other functions and, most importantly, departments to develop a shared understanding of the challenges we face and by building a "coalition of the willing" to tackle them. 

We have set up a permanent secretary-level Digital and Data Board reporting into the Civil Service Board. 

We have reinvigorated our cross-government chief digital and information officer network and we have established chief technology officer and chief data officer councils to champion best practice, value for money and design interoperability across government. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?

Getting cross-government strategy, plans and commitments in place that enable us to invest available resources wisely to deliver a more personalised and joined up experience for users, with government services that are quick, accurate and easy to use. This includes making sure we have the right tools in place to measure progress and enough of the digital, data and technology skills and capabilities we need within the civil service.

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

I have always been fascinated by Aphra Behn – the first woman to make a living out of being a professional writer. The records of her life are very patchy, probably because being a woman she was excluded from the types of institutions that would typically hold the records. 

The glimpses we do have indicate she led an extraordinary life – from humble beginnings, she travelled all over, was a spy for King Charles II, imprisoned for debt (King Charles having neglected to pay her), managed to write her way out of it and built a literary reputation within her own (rather short) lifetime.  I bet she has some amazing stories to tell. 

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