“We need a fundamental shift in how digital is positioned within government communications”

Blog post by Alex Aiken

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Alex Aiken introduces GCS’ new and ambitious digital skills transformation programme: Accelerate

Alex Aiken

Preparing government communications for the Fourth Industrial Age

Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning. Big data. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it is happening at unparalleled speed. So much so, that it has led many to describe the period we are entering as the ‘Fourth Industrial Age’. As government communicators we must not ignore these developments as they have the potential to fundamentally change the way we work.

I recently met with all government Directors of Communications to agree on an action plan to put GCS in the best position to capitalise on the opportunities ahead through a comprehensive, profession-wide two year programme – ‘GCS: Accelerate’.

Launching formally in June, Accelerate sets out an ambitious digital skills transformation programme informed by the findings of an independent audit the Directors of Communications commissioned last year. Its scope was far reaching with 22 departments, as well as the Environment Agency, taking part – the largest government digital audit to date.

For the first time, a Digital Capability Maturity Model was used to assess departments against the same standards. This meant setting out the digital skills each of the MCOM disciplines (Strategic Communications, Media and Campaigns, External Affairs and Internal Communications) needed to reach five development stages ranging from ‘early’ to ‘mature’.

The conclusion of the audit was clear: we need a fundamental shift in how digital is positioned within government communications.

Specifically, this means focusing our efforts on four areas:

  • leadership and infrastructure
  • creative standards
  • digital workforce
  • data literacy

The programme

Under the direction of a central leadership team, transformation will be delivered through a series of MCOM-related ‘accelerated learning hubs’ comprised of 54 experts drawn from across Whitehall.

These experts will spearhead digital excellence within each discipline by participating in, and providing direction to, learning opportunities for the wider profession, as well as setting standards in newly designed career profiles.

It is a major undertaking but one we must embrace. The digitally complex, data-driven and increasingly automated environment that we are entering presents opportunities to connect with our audiences in more ways and with more impact than ever before. There has never been a more exciting time to be a communications professional.

But becoming a technologically advanced, digital government communications service will not happen overnight so it is imperative that we all approach this challenge with a positive, committed mindset. That is why over the next two weeks we will be calling on colleagues from across government to help deliver this transformation so that it is shaped to all of our needs.

It’s a communications challenge, not a digital challenge

There is no communications discipline that has not been and will not continue to be transformed by digital technology. And so every one of us must think of it as fundamental to our roles and not just the responsibility of our digital colleagues. Indeed, this is going to be a central part of my own professional development.

We need a cultural and structural change in the way we approach digital and technology within communications – a recognition that it is not exclusively the domain of digital professionals, but one for all government communicators.

If you work in Whitehall and would like to get involved please make yourself known to your Director of Communications. Accelerate will expand to include arms length bodies from early next year.

I look forward to seeing how this programme unfolds and further cements GCS’ reputation for delivering world class public service communications.