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What I learned working at Defra digital

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Defra services, Digital transformation
Government fast streamer Tarini Fernando
Government fast streamer Tarini Fernando

During my (short) time at Defra, I’ve had the opportunity to explore how to design and integrate a digital portfolio of work into a complex organization. I’ve spent time observing and trying to understand how programs come together, how business cases are put forward, how funding is allocated, and how projects are approved. And throughout, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside brilliant people who walk the ‘digital’ talk. Here are 3 things I’m taking with me as I venture forward to my next posting.  

Government digital is about people and trust

When I first joined the Digital and Technology (DaT) Fast Stream, I was thrilled, but admittedly, a little weary; I have never (and still don’t), consider myself a very techy person. My time at Defra has left me with a renewed conviction that doing digital in government is a people’s game — articulating a clear purpose and mobilising a team accordingly. Technology enables and good design establishes. But it’s a digital mindset that builds an interface between the two, keeping a relentless focus on users and interactions. In this confidence, I’ve been better able to able to grapple with the bits of the IT/tech world that remain an enigma while staying true to my first passion - putting people at the heart of what needs to be done.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up

When I first started my placement, I was tasked with developing a prototype for digital forms. The rationale for forms is clear – it makes life easier for users while typically reducing a department’s operational costs. But every department chooses its own course; is it a wholesale rationalisation and rehaul of all forms? Or is it digitising a form based on an end-to-end transformation of a business area? This lends itself to an even more interesting conversation: Where does a digital form end and a digital service begin? In trying to understand where and how digital forms at Defra could be initiated, I was privy to a greater lesson: the right idea at the wrong time is still the wrong idea. Patience is critical, particularly in a context where change is found everywhere.   

Excellence stems from being able to refine your art; carving opportunity out of the ordinary

Knowing digital in theory and building digital capability in practice are obviously, two very different things. And of course, it takes time to build the experience and confidence necessary to translate theory to practice. My impatience was just about getting the better of me when I read Dan Barrett’s blog post on Cake as Work. This was a simple post that reminded me that digital principles are transferable; if I choose to, I can be as disciplined as I want to be about building ‘digital muscle memory'. I’m walking away with a greater desire to think creatively about where and how I can incorporate a digital ways into my daily decisions.  

Thanks @DefraDigital - it’s been a great time!

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