Why we need to support and value #digitalinsurgents in our organisations

How can you imagine potential digital futures if you are not experimenting and experiencing them yourself?

There has been a significant focus on improving the the way the public sector uses ‘digital’ to modernise the interface between services and users but far less focus on how management within the sector is using modern digital technologies to improve personal, team, organisational and system wide productivity, effectiveness and collaboration.

The NHS England Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) seems to make no distinction between patient facing and internal management systems. It appears to focus almost entirely on the systems that support patient facing interactions with only one question on collaboration which has probably been interpreted within the context of patient management rather than organisational business.

Local Digital Road Maps (LDRM) are part of the Strategic Transformation Plan (STP) but the guidance focuses solely on ‘Point of Care’ and makes no reference whatsoever to digitally enabled management. So are we going to see implementation of STPs and LDRMs using email and attachments I wonder? What is the digital capability and capacity that is required to underpin successful delivery? How many STPs and LDRMs have been developed using modern collaborative digital technologies?

In many NHS organisations that I work with, there is a growing dissonance between the day-to-day experience of internal digital management systems for staff at all levels and the rhetoric and reality of patient-facing digital tools. Too often senior management speaks in a self-deprecating and apologetic way about their personal use of IT — formed by a set of self-limiting assumptions and poor experiences of IT — rather than acting as digital champions, mentors and pathfinders.

At individual level email overload, crowded back-to-back electronic calendars, complex shared-drive structures and intranets siloed within teams and organisations reveal a lack of investment in training and equipping our staff to survive and thrive in a digital world. The blanket application of Information Governance policies designed to protect sensitive patient data to internal management processes does not help either.

The assumption that staff can use the basic office tools most commonly available effectively is often misplaced if the PowerPoint presentations, Excel workbooks and Word documents I see are any evidence. The first thing that gets cut is internal training and how many organisations test proficiency in basic digital tools when recruiting or at induction to determine training needs?

I suspect that a simple MS office ‘driving test’ with failure leading to withdrawal of the ‘driving licence’ would see most applications removed from staff’s PCs and laptops. Some carry significant risks — for example the inability to design and maintain Excel workbooks properly. How many meetings actions are captured on the fly to a task management system (Outlook tasks for example) and delegated and tracked rather than laboriously transcribed to a Word table?

Many NHS desktops have only recently migrating from Windows XP. HTML5 compatible browsers are slow to be rolled out. A PA trying to book me onto a NED course run by NHS Improvement was unable to access the Eventbrite booking site as her browser was not compatible and the IT team were unwilling to load a current version of Chrome to allow her to do so.

With the proliferation of tablet and large format smartphones documents are still formatted for printing on A4 rather than viewing and navigating easily on a mobile screen.

At a time when system wide co-design, co-production and project transparency are essential to the development and implementation of STPs, Vanguards and new types of partnership email and attachments still seem to be the primary method of collaboration. Where collaboration solutions are in place they seem to be document collaboration rather than project collaboration — a focus on writing stuff rather than doing stuff.

But there are rays of light in the gloom. Individuals and teams are experimenting with and bringing into use new digitally enhanced internal business processes. Some of this is official. Some of this is happening (riskily) ‘below the radar’ driven by frustration at the gap between what is available as a matter of organisational policy and what is becoming more commonly (and cheaply) available elsewhere. There are examples of individual mastery of email and calendar overload by acquiring new personal ‘habits’ that need to be shared more widely.

Which is why we are trying to bump-start a #digitalinsurgents community for individuals and teams willing to share their experience of using digital tools to support personal, team organisational and system wide effectiveness, productivity and collaboration in the Public Sector. The intention is to build a portfolio of case studies, shared learning and peer support on a platform of common digital tools such as YouTube, Trello, Slideshare, Twitter and any other platforms you might recommend.

It’s early days — so if you want to be part of the initial Guiding Coalition pulling the concept together tell us why you should be part of it.