Leading in digital world - our digital leadership programme

16 August 2018

The breadth and pace of digital change means that capacity within organisations to understand, develop and implement new digital approaches is stretched. Addressing this requires leadership across London’s public services.

This does not mean that leaders must be IT or data experts. But leaders that have a basic understanding will make more informed, effective decisions and make sure that their services are able to respond to how technology is changing Londoners’ life chances and expectations.

At the end of last year the GLA partnered with Doteveryone on a pilot to develop a scalable model for self-directed, supported learning to increase the digital competence and confidence of the senior team at City Hall.
Two cohorts of GLA leaders will follow a 6-month programme of supported learning to develop their digital understanding and leadership relevant to the workplace. The pilot also supports Doteveryone to develop free, open, actionable content that others could use to support self-directed learning for leaders in their organisations. It is hoped that this pilot will inform future work with senior leaders across London public services.
The programme is designed around a series of 10 group sessions. The participants have authentic control over all decisions to do with the programme and the ability to gain access to, and choose from, a range of available and appropriate resources including digital mentors and guest speakers. Participants have regular access to a digital mentor who will help them explore their objectives and develop and reflect on their learning roadmap.
The idea is that participants will be focusing about things that are important and relevant for them and their organisation, rather following a pre-defined syllabus.
The first cohort has just finished and we wanted to share what we've learned so far.

What have we learned so far?

Digital does not have one overall definition. Thankfully the group avoided spending too long debating this! The key question to ask was 'What does digital mean to City Hall?'. This aligns everyone around a shared language and a common goal and should the answer will differ from organisation to organisation.
Digital understanding does not equal digital skills knowledge. Digital understanding means to understand and know the implication of digital, the internet, data, etc. Digital understanding is about adapting to, questioning and shaping the way technologies are changing the world. As digital delivery expert Janet Hughes (Doteveryone) says:
"It is somehow still socially acceptable for leaders to say that they don’t understand the changes that have been brought into our lives by digital technology (… ) although it affects most aspects of our lives and most aspects of the strategy and operations of most organisations."

Leaders need to understand enough about digital to make effective decisions, just as they do about HR, legal, procurement and finance.
Leadership in an increasingly volatile world means responsible leadership. Digital understanding and critical thinking are two key drivers of responsible leadership.  In a world of constant, fast progress and high levels of ambiguity, leaders need to develop and nurture an environment that allows and rewards critical thinking within leadership, teams and people. We want to encourage critical thinking within the GLA to help shift focus on exploring the questions and defining the ‘problem’ rather than focus on ‘solution mode’. We'd like the organisation to move from an ‘in time, in budget, in scope’ mentality to a ‘is this the right question’ mentality.

We’ve seen that, as the programme progressed, the cohort were able to identify challenges and take these back to City Hall. This led to decisions being taken to improve our project definition processes and prioritisation, as well as bringing new behaviours into the Digital Board. 

What next?

The second cohort starts in September 2018 and builds on the learning to date to include a range of themes for the programme to cover. In addition, recent initiatives such as the Local Digital Declaration and the Smart London Roadmap have made these themes even more relevant.

At the end of this programme, we aim to publish open source guidance, content and resources for other organisations to use. We will then share the results to inform future competitive procurement of such services for new cohorts of public sector leaders. The public sector leaders on these programmes will be expected to come together to form a code of practice once there is a critical mass of trained leaders.

A possible next step is to develop a pan-London digital leadership offer in conjunction with the GDS Digital Academy and other central government initiatives. 

Programme themes

A number of themes emerged throughout the first cohort and these form the basis of the programme for cohort 2 to explore and evolve. We anticipate that this evolving, participatory approach will create relevant and resonating discussion materials for teams and leaders across the City Hall.

The themes are:

  • User-centred design
  • How our own digital delivery works
  • Critical thinking - solving the right problem & solving it right
  • Collaboration and working out loud
  • Data and privacy
  • Agile and the Minimum Viable Product approach - what that means for leaders
  • Responsible technology
  • Automation

Your views

This is what we've learned so far. We'd love to hear about similar experiences, so please do get in touch at [email protected].

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