The UK Government is about to hire a new Director of Digital Engagement. The submission deadline for applicants will pass in a few days time.
Whoever gets it will find the gig well-attended but demanding. They are going to have to play a long and blindingly brilliant set. It’s make or break. Pull it off and digital engagement goes mainstream; fluff it and it’s back to support slots on the campus circuit.
Just four years ago, when I started working with Government on digital engagement projects, you could count the people who were interested on two hands, easy. Today, digital engagement is known to every layer of government, factored into most communications and is building a head of steam in the policy-making process. True it’s still quite innovative and niche, but those in the vanguard are in demand and earn respect.
In some ways we may have come too far. At times I am sceptical of the value in an out-and-out Director of Digital Engagement. I think my preference would be for a Director of Engagement who has no bias toward on- or offline, with perhaps a Head of Digital working for them. A time-limited taskforce working with departments to stimulate practice, build core capacity and promote evaluation would also have worked well.
I’m also apprehensive about parts of the job description, particularly the target of ‘two departments whose use of digital engagement are recognised in the digital community as being world class’. Why only two? Why digital community recognition and not citizen satisfaction? And, in the absence of consensus on ‘best practice’ digital engagement in any sector, how is ‘world class’ defined?
Scepticism aside, the appointment will be an exciting moment. I count the creation of this post as one of the rays of recognition dawning across our democracy about the importance of digital media to good governance. It feels good to bask in that light. It’s an amazing job – high profile, focussed and hugely significant. I, for one, can’t wait for them to get started.
On that note, here is a suggestion to the new Director of Digital Engagement for six quick-wins:
- Don’t emulate, define… no government can claim it is ‘world class’ at digital engagement – no, not even the Obama Administration. The opportunity to lead is right there for the taking (and sharing). That’s the winning state-of-mind.
- Plug in to analogue… good engagement is balanced engagement. It may not be as high-profile, but ‘offline’ engagement is brimming with innovations; so seek out your peers from other disciplines and integrate your efforts.
- Go walk about… before going out to the market, tour around the government departments and agencies and you will be encouraged by all the great digital work that is going on already. You’ll meet people deserving of credit, people who want to help you deliver on those lofty targets.
- Codify it… develop a charter that sets out the responsibilities of citizen- and government-users of digital engagement. In particular, reassure the public about the sanctity of their data, so that they are more wiling to share the good stuff that makes for more informed and efficient policies and services.
- Prioritise delivery… the communications and policy communities are pretty well-versed on digital engagement, ‘frontline’ delivery staff not so much. Their competency is absolutely key to winning over the public.
- Take regular readings… pre, interim and post-activity evaluation is going to be all important for determining and justifying what has been achieved. But remember, give departments time to pull the figures together and not all big numbers are good numbers.
For some further reflection and good advice, have a look at http://digitalengagement.uservoice.com.
And, if any of the interview panel read this: don’t be tempted by bullying ‘wonks’. Know-it-all, pseudo-counter-culturals are ten-a-penny in this field; let’s have someone who is dynamic, objective and positive to be around.