Building the skills needed to deliver great digital services

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Digital transformation is about people — the people who use the services we provide, the specialists who build and improve them, the managers that encourage and shape that work, and the executive and support functions who enable them to deliver.

People around a meeting room table look at screens containing blocks of information.

There are many people in government who are passionate about improving services, making people’s lives better, thinking and operating differently and putting people first.  

But these skilled digital professionals are still facing many obstacles and we’ve been talking to them to understand what they need to make change happen.

The state of the service

The last look at the Australian public service found 92% of organisations want to improve their digital capability in the next 3 years. Less than 20% have some kind of formal training to help.  

Our in-depth interviews with people across federal government organisations have shed light on what helps and slows transformation.

People are encouraged by…

  • getting to know the people they work with. One of the things we learned about digital specialists was their approach to peer networking and collaboration. They don’t stand for silos or barriers, they openly share and recycle for continuous improvement, and build on each others’ work. They challenge each other, love what they do and we all take from that.

  • building understanding through a user-centred mindset. In government, everything we do is for some kind of public benefit. Each piece of work has an end user with a unique set of needs. That’s true whether you work on policy, national legislation, services, websites, or financial and human resources decisions.

  • hearing stories and insights from colleagues across government. People want to hear about progress and success, and have those stories land in your inboxes just as quickly as the failures which usually get the attention. People want to celebrate people doing the hard work to make it simple, crave community and collaboration, and draw inspiration from thought leaders and champions of change. They make huge leaps learning by doing.

People are struggling with…

  • cultural and systemic issues which seem insurmountable. This includes fear of failure and processes that encourage coming up with fully formed solutions. It also includes hierarchies that discourage diverse thinking and group problem solving, or the staffing caps which see contractors filling skills gaps. Old legislation, policies and technologies including procurement rules also hamper transformation.

  • different levels of digital awareness. Many of those we spoke with felt they are tripping up on unhelpful terminology and management consultant speak, missing the practical opportunities in front of them. For some people, ‘digital’ means the same as ‘technology’. For others it’s an ‘approach’, a ‘process’, a ‘mindset’ or a ‘set of principles’. When most of us hear ‘digital’, most of us think to ourselves ‘that’s not me’. And while contractors can be a huge help to teams, it’s a challenge to transfer their skills to permanent staff.

  • the specialists that people need being hard to find. Whether data, developers or designers, it’s not easy to attract people from better paying jobs in bigger cities. Once in place, a lack of understanding of their skills and limited career path, limits how long we can keep them.

Speeding up this shift

With all this in mind, we are working with the Australian Public Service Commission to lift capability in the public service and address some of the obstacles.

Out of this partnership, a number of initiatives have emerged, built on the insights and expertise of people right across the public service and beyond.

No matter what stage people are at in their career, these will support organisations and passionate people in creating change.  

They include the following:

  1. a digital leadership program for senior decision makers. This has been developed and tested with a group of senior executives from 20 organisations. Dates for 2018–19 will be released in the near future.

  2. learning modules describing the digital skills and capabilities we need to train up our people. Developed with 50 specialists, 11 draft learning design standards have been out for comment. The first 4 will be released this month with the others going live within the next couple of months.

  3. mentoring and coaching for different skills and levels. Nearly 100 women in senior ICT positions are building confidence. 7 data specialists are prototyping solutions with CSIRO’s Data61. And we’re piloting group mentoring for more junior public servants.

  4. an expanded program for people starting out. We’ve placed more than 280 graduates, apprentices and cadets in government organisations over the last 2 years. The selection process is underway now for our 2019 program.

  5. events to learn and share. More than 75 events have gone out on our Eventbrite, communities, Twitter and LinkedIn over the last year. If you missed our conversation with Professor Genevieve Bell in March, watch it online. We’ll announce more events through our blog and social media so be sure to follow us.

Get involved

The work we’re doing to build skills and capability is one of a few priorities for this organisation.

If you want to get involved, make the most of the free help, training and busy communities we run. And know your feedback is vital to the DTA and Australian Public Service Commission improving what we offer.  

Finally we’re keen to share more stories. Help us celebrate progress by sharing the work that taught you something or showcased a new approach.

Get in touch through capability@digital.gov.au

Lucy Poole is head of digital capability at the DTA.