Celine: I’m Celine McLoughlin a product owner working in DWP Digital on Bereavement services.
Jenny: And I’m Jenny Vass. I work in Departmental Strategy, looking at the department of the future.
Celine: Earlier this month we attended a new course being developed by the GDS Academy aimed at bringing policy and digital teams closer together. The day started with us working in separate rooms which might sound strange for an event all about bringing us together but it was an excellent way for each area to find out more about what the other did and put ourselves in their shoes for a while. In the afternoon we came together to think about how by working together we might be able to achieve more.
Jenny: I’ve worked in digital outside government and came back into government to make use of skills I learned on the outside. This course is a great example of the ways government is getting better at working across disciplines.
Policy from a digital perspective
Celine: As someone who has worked in policy and with ministers previously I hadn’t realised just how little many of the people I work with in digital know about the policy process.
Jenny: We spent time in separate digital and policy teams learning about each other’s processes and the sequence things go through as they are developed.
Celine: We know that in digital it can be frustrating not to be “in the room” with policy folk and ministers to discuss ideas from the outset. Often by the time the digital teams get involved a solution has already been agreed with ministers and possibly even announced and this can make it very difficult to ensure we are designing based on user needs and meet the cross government digital standards.
Jenny: It helped to talk about the early stage development – the urgency around announcements and the challenge balancing the need for a timely response with what we know about using agile methods, user research and testing and learning. There’s a cliché that Whitehall is slow – but it often isn’t!
We have more in common than we thought
Celine: What became really clear as we worked through the policy making process is that we have more in common than we thought. The first step for policy making is to “understand the issue” – this is not so different from what we in digital call “framing the problem”. Crucially even though we might be using different techniques and calling things by different names we all have the same aim – to make things better.
Jenny: And at the end of the day, we’re driven by the same purpose. We want to produce an outcome that works for our users, the public.
Celine: We talked about the One Team Gov movement – that’s gaining traction around Whitehall – pushing working across disciplines. I’ve come away from this with lots of questions for what I can do in my team to try and make this happen. We are working directly with policy and operations in my area to combine our efforts and skills to take a whole service view to come up with ideas to improve user experience.
Jenny: We spent most of the day agreeing we needed to work together closer and earlier. Since then, I’ve been connecting more with other teams doing transformational work, started spreading the word about working across boundaries with One Team Gov. I’ve also begun writing Weeknotes, so that I can share what I’m working on digitally.