As a new member of BIS’s digital capability team, attending my first ‘Digital CapabiliTEA’ session was the perfect way to get to grips with how departments are approaching the issue of improving digital skills. Whether that’s getting colleagues to listen online or building more innovative services.
We have a network of digital buddies in BIS and I’ll be working with a new set of digital champions, so it was interesting to see how others are using this initiative. A notably creative solution was DFID’s introduction of the ‘Digital Ninjas’. They act as mentors for the technologically-challenged among us, with the added incentive of gaining bronze, silver or gold status. By engaging with digital, which could be anything from writing a blog to creating a Twitter list, the DFID Ninjas gain credibility. They even get issued stickers according to their status, which have been illustrated by an artistic colleague. It’s clearly a popular initiative, no doubt due in part to the honour of being able to class yourself a ‘gold ninja’. Another inventive offering is the new digital passport that the Department of Health is helping to roll out, which documents your digital training.
A problem that kept coming up is the seemingly perpetual battle to dispel the fear that still surrounds the word ‘digital’. It seems that it’s not uncommon for people to see being ‘digital’ as synonymous with being profoundly technologically savvy – fixing laptops and writing codes. However as Tim Lloyd pointed out in his recent Digital Fortnight session at BIS, in reality being digital can be as simple as sending an email or searching for information on Google.
When it comes to reassuring people about digital, blogs are a great way to get the message across, but there is an obvious problem here: by using digital platforms to promote digital you’re effectively preaching to the converted. This near-paradoxical hurdle is the first challenge to overcome when trying to encourage people to engage online, and may need a different, more traditional approach.
Another point raised was how to measure digital skills levels. According to our own Digital Capability Review, around a fifth of the department considers themselves to have only a basic skill level, but it’s not unlikely that many of these people are vastly underestimating their ability. In the hope of combatting this, one department is developing an online assessment which determines staff members’ digital skills level with carefully chosen questions that ensure the respondents can’t overestimate or underestimate their ability. If this could be extended across the Civil Service then we could have a uniform way of measuring digital skills, meaning that you won’t unexpectedly go from ‘expert’ to ‘basic user’ upon visiting another department.
It’s clear that the Civil Service is covering huge ground with regards to being more digitally active, and it was great to hear how other teams are tackling the obstacles that arise. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, BIS will have its own army of gold ninjas, for whom using digital is an instinctive response. In the meantime, I look forward to doing my bit on the digital capability team.
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