Government tech chief looks to bring more policy and delivery pros into digital roles

Joanna Davinson says digital function is working with HR colleagues to promote greater movement between disciplines
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By Sam Trendall

24 Sep 2021

Government’s most senior technology leader has revealed that she is working with colleagues in Civil Service HR to develop programmes encouraging officials from other disciplines to move into the digital field.

Joanna Davinson, executive director of the Cabinet Office-based Central Digital and Data Office, said that she would like to see more civil servants able to move from policy and delivery-focused positions into the digital, data and technology profession – for which she serves as cross-government lead. 

Speaking at Building the Smarter State conference hosted by techUK, which took place online yesterday, the tech chief said that the 17,000-strong DDaT profession covers a wide range of jobs, including many that are not reserved solely for those with high-end technical skills.

“I would like to see some movement between digital, policy, and operational delivery roles,” she said. “We have been working with HR on schemes where we can bring people in to DDaT; not all DDaT roles require an engineering degree. “

Davinson said that improving capability – both within the digital community and across the wider civil service – is a key objective for the CDDO, which came into being earlier this year.

“We are working on a capability strategy that has two directions,” she said. “Firstly, how do we upskill the general civil service? As a leader, you need to understand digital and data, and how it can help you deliver services and policies. But we also need clear standards for digital professionals across government, and the right kind of frameworks and career progression that allows us to recruit and retain the kind of people we need.”

Also speaking at the techUK event was Alison Pritchard, deputy national statistician and director general for data capability at the Office for National Statistics. 

She too cited the importance of supporting increased digital and data literacy in senior government officials, and revealed that the ONS has created a “data masterclass for permanent secretaries”, in which about 20 leaders have so far taken part – as well as Pritchard herself.

“It is about mainstreaming data in such a way that it can be used to support decision-making,” she said. “But we also need to grow our data science and engineering [profession] so that there is a route for them to become perm secs.”

The ONS training has already had an impact on Whitehall’s existing array of departmental leaders, Pritchard added.

“Instead of sitting round the table in meetings speaking Latin, we are now seeing perm secs using data science terms.”

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared

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