It’s exciting times for digital in government. The Matt Tee review of COI pushed digital as a default option for communications; the Alpha.gov.uk project is re-designing government online from scratch (to mixed reviews); and today it’s been confirmed that digital director of The Guardian Mike Bracken will take up the new post of Executive Director Digital.
I think this is a really important sign that the approach to digital in government is maturing. Over the years I’ve seen many a large organisation try to mangle digital through its tried and tested ways of working only to be surprised when the results weren’t all they hoped. The iterative, non-linear, permanently-in-beta world of digital can have analogue broadcasters and politicians in a cold sweat.
Yet at The Guardian Mike Bracken made digital practices work in an “old media” organisation (albeit one that was already tacking in the right direction). Agile development, user experience, and product managers replaced waterfall projects, “big design” up-front, and project managers. He realised the promise in Simon Willison’s geek aphorism that “you can now build working software in less time than it takes to have the meeting to describe it”.
It won’t be easy. Whitehall’s attitude to failure is, understandably, radically different to a rapidly iterating commercial enterprise; there a huge legacy issues; and the relationship with big IT suppliers will need sorting out. But if he can bring about the same change in Whitehall, and inspire the rest of the public sector with it, we could see a revolution in public sector digital comms.