In conversation with Kevin Cunnington: what’s on the horizon for GDS?

The UK has a world leading digital government, what is GDS planning that will elevate this status further by 2020?

For almost as long as GDS has been around, we’ve been in the top 5 digital governments, but we’re ambitious to lead.

What we do, and the way we do it, is respected by other governments and by large unilateral organisations like the UN too.

In total, we’ve welcomed over 180 overseas delegations from countries including Singapore, Colombia, Norway, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Australia and New Zealand. They are as keen to learn from us as we are from them. Sharing knowledge and best practice is vital to stay ahead.

In order to elevate our status, we will continue to focus our efforts on digital, data and technology capability development. The GDS Academy is a vital part of this and we will expand the curriculum to enable this, and encourage the adoption of digital methods across government and the better use of technology.

What cutting edge technologies is GDS currently looking at and for what purpose?

We published the Technology Innovation in Government Survey in August. It gave us a clear picture of the emerging technologies being used by, or being investigated by government departments and agencies. For example, at GDS, the GOV.UK team is using supervised machine learning to classify and order content.

The survey showed us that while there were really encouraging pieces of working being undertaken across the whole of government, there was certainly room to improve coordination and establish a more joined-up cross departmental approach.

Work has started on the creation of a strategy for emerging technology, which will be published in the spring. It will provide the strategic direction necessary to ensure that government works sensibly and pragmatically with the latest technology developments.

Following a successful pilot, we will launch the Emerging Technology Development Programme in October. It provides colleagues with the skills, knowledge and confidence to act as advisors as government employs emerging technologies to solve our most difficult problems.

How do you ensure that GDS is able to effectively collaborate on digital projects with government departments?

The return of GDS’s flagship conference, Sprint 18, provided excellent examples of how much can be gained when the UK Government works in collaboration. It was an event to showcase the transformative work undertaken by government. It was also an opportunity to look to look to the future.

We work jointly with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA): chairing the Transformation Peer Group, host the Transforming Together events and we published the 7 Lenses of Transformation which provides a practical guide for understanding complex transformations.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) presented how it has been using GDS’s step by step navigation approach and the UK Hydrographic Office showed technology it has developed with assistance from GDS and the Data Science Accelerator Programme.

Our relationship with Local Authorities is also very important. The UK’s local authorities provide crucial services. They are often the first port of call for those seeking help from government.

GDS was the proud co-publisher of the Local Digital Declaration in July. This is a set of principles to support local authorities of all sizes or capabilities to deliver digital services and platforms that meet the needs of citizens.

I think GDS has shown that by working in an agile way, by collaborating and having an innovative mindset, we can make government work better for users. This has often involved close collaboration with local authorities who share many of the same organisational and delivery challenges.

What has been your standout achievement with GDS since joining in 2016?

I’m proud to have led an organisation which has delivered so much to so many over the past 2 years – it really is difficult to single out one thing. It started with the creation of the Government’s Transformation Strategy and we’re half way through.

At this midway point, we are well on the way to creating one of the most digitally skilled civil servants in the world. We have trained 8,400 students at the GDS Academy and we are aiming for 10,000 graduates by the end of 2018.

The Digital Marketplace is also a huge success story. In the last year, £1.3 billion was spent through the Digital Marketplace, bringing the total to £4.22 billion. Almost half of government digital spend now goes to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)

Our work is guided by the themes of transformation, collaboration and innovation.

GOV.UK’s step-by-step navigation is a piece of work which unites all three. Through collaboration with other departments we have published 24 step-by-step journeys which help our users understand the task they have to complete with government and enable them to achieve it clearly and easily.

I am also proud of our work to ensure that GDS reflects the society we serve. To increase ethnic minority representation at all levels but with a particular focus on Senior Civil Servants, I will be taking part in a sponsorship programme. As a sponsor, I will advocate and support two ethnic minority senior colleagues.

We have mandatory ethnic minority representation on interview panels and a gender-balanced senior management team. One of our core values is to show what good looks like. We are proud that our initiative on diverse panels is now being adopted across the Civil Service for Senior Civil Servant job interviews.

Kevin Cunnington is the Director General of the Government Digital Service, and will be speaking on taking the government’s digital strategy forward, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.