‘Seeing colleagues step up at a time of such uncertainty made me very proud’: GDS DG Fiona Deans on 2020

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Fiona Deans, interim director general, Government Digital Service

By Civil Service World

18 Dec 2020

What are you proudest of your department or agency achieving in 2020?

Without doubt it’s our people’s resilience and resolve, and the sheer scale of digital government’s response to Covid-19. Seeing colleagues step-up at a time of such uncertainty, and work on services that enabled millions of people to access support, made me very proud.

So too did GDS’s future strategy for joined up and responsive government services: our bid was many months in the making, and received a clear vote of confidence in the outcome of the recent Spending Review.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

Inclusive leadership has been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve reflected on the fact I’d be unlikely to occupy my position today were it not for work done in the past to make workplaces inclusive for women. So in turn, I want to make GDS the most inclusive organisation it can be: somewhere where people from different backgrounds, with unique experiences and alternative perspectives, feel they belong and can thrive. I’m working with network colleagues and a reverse mentor to help iterate and improve my inclusive leadership skills, and I’m encouraging those around me to do the same.

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

If 2020 has proved anything it’s that you can’t always be sure what’s coming next, but fair to say we have plenty coming up. Right now, we’re focusing on continuing to support the EU transition and the Covid-19 response through our role as leaders of the digital, data and technology function.

We will continue to provide the public with better, more personalised public services, so you can expect us to be building on our work to deliver GOV.UK Accounts in the coming weeks and months. And of course, we’re getting ready to welcome GDS’s Chief Executive and the Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO), and are looking forward to working with them both.

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

Creativity is never in short supply at GDS. This year teams marked the countdown to Christmas by recreating the classic ‘doorstep’ scene from the film Love Actually (or should that be “GDS, Actually”?) to share on our community Slack channel.

This year’s holiday season looked quite different for lots of us, but seeing colleagues talking about their proudest moments from the year, or shouting out to a team or person who’s made a difference to them at GDS, definitely left me feeling festive.

Read the most recent articles written by Civil Service World - January 2021 CSW digital issue available to read

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