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Thoughts on digital strategy

There was a really interesting discussion on the Guardian Local Government Network today, about Council Digital Strategies in 2014. Lots of really good points were raised, and it gave a great insight into all the work going on across the country. Unfortunately, I wasn’t about at lunch time to join in – but it has provoked me into few thoughts on how people are approaching digital strategy.

There is a temptation to try and get everything into a digital strategy, but in doing so, you can sometimes make it over-complicated. If your strategy has too many bells and whistles and is trying to solve every problem, then no-one is going to read it. No-one is going to understand how it fits together.

Digital services are ever-evolving, and putting specifics in a strategy is going to make it obsolete before it is dry. By all means, talk about social media and on-line services, just don’t get hung up with Google+ or Yammer – look beyond the technology or specific implementation of something, and talk about the service, and the problem it is trying to solve. When a digital service comes along, you should be able to apply some simple criteria from your strategy that helps you to evaluate it.

Your strategy is the thing that sets out a journey – where you are starting from and the problems you have, where you want to be and the general direction of travel.

Be Practical

Yes, everyone wants end-to-end, redesigned digital services that enable people to engage digitally wherever and whenever they are, but if you set that out to be your only deliverable, then it’s never going to get done. You can’t jump to the goal; you have to walk there. Put in practical steps that get you towards your goal. Some of these won’t be perfect, but they are better than waiting.

Look at gov.uk: it’s the biggest improvement in central government services on-line; it is truly revolutionary. On its own, though, it doesn’t solve all the problems – at the simplest level it was just a reorganisation and re-writing of content. It didn’t touch on the service redesign, and that’s because if they tried to do all the service design at the same time, they would still be there now.

Even the best service and process design takes time, and GDS are working through this currently. It is much slower work than the development of gov.uk, and they will get there, but they needed the success of the site to give them the momentum, and the remit, to be able to continue. Your strategy needs a mix of practical short, medium and long term actions, that can build momentum, and get the organisation bought in to what you are trying to achieve.